Because Thomas Keller is now the president of a restaurant group and not just a chef, he doesn't get into the kitchen as often as he once did. But that doesn't mean he's changed his perfectionist ways. Touring the work site of his new Bouchon restaurant in Beverly Hills, he stops to remind a workman that the spaces inside the walls need to be vacuumed before being closed up. That's inside the wall, right? A place that no one will ever see? A place that won't even be exposed until the wall is taken down sometime way in the future? Doesn't matter. Keller would know it was there, and it would bug him. "They all think I'm crazy," he says, laughing. "But there's a right way to do things, right?"
The new Bouchon, in the city of Beverly Hills' Gardens Building, across a small park from the Montage hotel on Canon, is still in the roughing-out stages, but Keller insists it'll be ready to open by Nov. 18. It will mark a significant step up from his previous Bouchon restaurants -- more than 17,000 square feet stretched across two floors, built at a cost of more than $10 million. There will be a grand staircase at the entrance and a racetrack bar stocked with Champagne and shellfish. Open for lunch and dinner (no Bouchon Bakery, unfortunately), it'll seat about 200 diners if all the spaces are maxed out (there's a lot of seasonal outdoor seating on patios and balconies).
The chef will be Rory Hermann, who had worked at Keller's fine dining Per Se in New York and has spent the last year soaking up the Bouchon system, rotating between the restaurants in Yountville, Calif., and Las Vegas. "I want to get to the place where all of our Bouchon personnel come from a fine-dining background," Keller says, explaining that he expects the same level of rigor in the kitchens of the more casual restaurants as he does from the French Laundry and Per Se.
"The dishes seem simple, but they're not," he says. "They may cost less, and the ingredients may be less expensive, but a lot of the time they're even more complicated to prepare. Think about it: Make a mistake with a steak and you've wasted eight minutes and one piece of meat. Make a mistake with blanquette de veau and you've wasted an entire shoulder of veal and a whole day's work.
"Everything has a process, and you have to pay attention at every step of the way," he says, getting even more excited. "Toasting a piece of bread is a process! You have to pay attention, and you have to get everything just right to have a good piece of toast."
It seems as though it's taking a village of contractors to make this new Bouchon. Adam Tihany designed the interior. Tim Harrison from Harrison & Koellner designed the spacious kitchens (more than half of the total square footage is for cooking). Houston/Tyner is the architect. Shawmut Design & Construction is the contractor.
But Keller is still deeply involved. "They call me about the shape of the grommets," he says, kind of complaining, but not really. "I guess they know me by now."