Last month saw the opening of Bouchon, the French bistro at the newly restored historic La Palma building on Galiano Street just off Alhambra Circle. It is the latest creation of Thomas Keller, the chef/proprietor behind three-star Michelin restaurants The French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York City, as well as the newly starred Surf Club Restaurant in Surfside.
Considered one of the best chefs in the world, Keller’s accolades are astonishing, including being the first USA inductee into the prestigious Master Chefs of France. Chef Keller has already opened Bouchon and Bouchon Bakeries in California, Las Vegas, and the Middle East, and brings to the Gables the same seasonally-changing French dishes, along with regular bistro offerings such as escargot, steak frites, and mussels.
We caught up with Chef Keller after the opening with a few questions on the latest arrival to the Gables cuisine scene.
How did you come to Coral Gables?
It was a friend of mine, actually the same friend who brought me down to the Surf Club seven years ago. He’s always encouraged me to open something in Florida… He introduced me to Marc [Schwarzberg] at La Palma and we just fell in love with it… And I love the community of Coral Gables. I’m honored to be here, and very lucky to have that spot. So, I don’t take it for granted. It’s a beautiful location and a beautiful community.
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Do you think that Florida is up and coming as a food destination?
Florida has always been an important culinary destination for chefs. There just weren’t as many of them before. But name any [culinary] community and it really is borne out of the number of chefs who have abilities these days. It just goes to show you how our culinary culture has expanded to offer opportunities for chefs in different parts of the country. There’s just so many of us now that we want to expand, and so we’re expanding into areas where traditionally there was nothing.
Where did you learn to be a French chef?
That’s a long story. I didn’t go to culinary school, [but] I’ve been practicing French cuisine since 1977 through any of the cuisine books I could read, any chefs I could work for, and then, ultimately, living in France for almost two years. It’s always been my goal to be a French chef. And so you learn as you go, you study as much as you can, and practice as often as possible. And, hopefully, you achieve a modicum of the goals that you set out for yourself.
This will be the latest of your Bouchon bistros. Will it have a new twist?
I don’t believe in twists. It’s kind of a strange thing when you think about it. No, it’s Bouchon — it’s classic French, it’s a classic French bistro. That’s what we’re really trying to represent. We’re not trying to represent a historic perspective and have a twist about it. No, this is history. We want to make sure that we appreciate and respect and be responsible about what a bistro is.
What’s your philosophy as a chef?
It’s very simple. Our goal is to nurture people, that’s our philosophy. And we nurture people in many ways, including ourselves. It’s not just our guests. We nurture ourselves and our team, through training, through mentoring, through the conversations that we have with each other — and the food that we source, the farmers and the fishermen, the foragers and the gardeners, the hundreds of them from around the country who bring us this extraordinary, nutritious food. So, it really boils down to the idea of nurturing one another.
To what do you attribute your success?
There’s no one thing that makes a person successful. It’s just hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance, patience — those are the words that I use to describe my success. And then a lot of it is the support of hundreds of people, right throughout my career, who have encouraged me to do this and the things that I’ve done, and the support of my family. That’s what makes a person successful.
I’ve been very lucky…. Timing is always a benefit — when you’re in the right place at the right time. If you have the right skills, the right knowledge, and a little bit of luck, you end up like me.