Without Thomas Keller, Food GPS might not exist, so it was a thrill to be able to finally meet the master chef at the opening of his most recent restaurant: Bouchon Beverly Hills. He personally greeted everybody who attended his launch party, a memorable soiree that dazzled the palate and with a crowd that was peppered with celebrities like Ludacris, Aziz Ansari, Larry King and Pierce Brosnan.
The genesis of Food GPS dates to December 29, 2004, when my friend and I went all-in at Per Se, requesting the absolute maximum. Over the next five hours, Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Benno lavished us with 16 courses each, with almost every course different. It was a mind-blowing meal, one that I couldn’t wait to share with as many people as possible, strangers included. Per Se was my first post and continues to anchor my restaurant coverage.
Almost five years later, I had an opportunity to share that story with Keller, and he seemed happy to hear it. We walked upstairs and were greeted by an ice globe ringed with Petrossian caviar, a lavish sign of things to come. Down the long corridor, we discovered a wonderland of food stations, each loaded with enticing options. Planks of wood supported four different kinds of charcuterie – two made with white wine (Genteel + saucisson sec Basque) and two made with red wine (Rosette de Lyon + Nostrano) – plus cuts of house-made country style pate seasoned with brandy and thyme.
Another table hosted tantalizing cheeses, including a caterpillar-like arrangement of tangy, firm goat cheese from France’s Loire Valley; and Pleasant Ridge, a cow’s milk cheese aged 18 months in Wisconsin. The accoutrements included fresh black Mission figs, candied pecans and honey.
The raw bar was showcased platters of fresh-shucked clams and briny Beau Soleil oysters, plus impeccable mussels and jumbo shrimp.
The spotless kitchen featured twin counters lined with savory hors d’oeuvres and plats principaux, many pulled from the menu, including red wine-braised beef short ribs, Croque Monsieur, massive frite cones and Beignets de Brandade de Morue, crisp-sheathed cod fritters seasoned with garlic, thyme and bay leaf and topped with fried sage. Others tastes were exclusive to the event. including the prized pork belly BLT with twin crostini saturated with pork juice and pesto.
I also got a peek at the videoconference system, with a wall-mounted flat screen that allows chefs and staff members at Bouchon Beverly Hills to communicate with other restaurants in Keller’s restaurant group.
Outside on the patio, overlooking a courtyard that separates Bouchon from the Montage, a bartender made a specialty cocktail made with Pineau des Charentes (similar to St. Germain, only sweeter) and Chandon champagne.
We finished the moveable feast in the pastry kitchen, which was transformed into a jaw-dropping dessert station with plates of every conceivable pastry, including almond-scaled financiers, an upmarket take on the Oreo and the restaurant’s signature bouchons – chocolate corks.
Bouchon even unleashed a three-tiered tower of macarons.
The massive restaurant even hosts a room dedicated solely to bread baking, which featured an intoxicating aroma and hosted a mountain of baguettes, epi, rosemary rolls, country loaves and more. Batches are produced twice a day in the exhibition oven, before lunch service and before dinner service.
The opening party was a real show should have impressed even the most jaded celebrity in the crowd, and for me, it was also a great way to be able to remember the origin of Food GPS.