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Scored French Laundry Resos in October but Thomas Keller won't be there

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I'm so excited that I was able to get a reservation for dinner at the French laundry in October! My husband and I no longer live in San Francisco and will have to plan a trip to the West Coast for this dinner. I just found out that Chef Keller and much of his staff will be in London for the pop up FL in early October and will not be in Yountville.

I'm second guessing whether we should keep the reservation or not given that this meal will be a stretch for us financially and we want to have the best possible experience. Should we keep the reso or cancel and try again for another time?

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. in all honesty, ever since he hired his first chef de cuisine (and especially after he opened per se in NY), he hasn't reliably been in the kitchen most nights, so i wouldn't worry

    3 Replies
    1. re: vulber

      Vulber gives a truly great answer. Let me add that I am certain that FL is so well run that very few would note Keller's absence. Unless seeing and meeting Keller is one of your main desires, just go there anyway and enjoy the experience.

      1. re: vulber

        Keller being gone would not be unusual, but he's reportedly taking over a dozen staff members with him.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Yes, Keller not being there doesn't bother me as much as the staff. I fear that the quality will suffer if he's taking all his best kitchen staff to London with him....

      2. Keller's staff is so well-trained that I would trust the dishwashers in the kitchen to prepare a fabulous meal...

        I don't think you would know that a portion of the staff is missing. He is such a perfectionist, he won't allow for there to be a lesser experience for anyone visiting The French Laundry. If he was concerned about it, he would close the restaurant (which he has done in the past).

        The French Laundry
        6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

        4 Replies
        1. re: CarrieWas218

          You'd think so, but it's hard to imagine that anyplace has enough slack to cover for over a dozen employees being out at once.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            who knows. maybe he's taking 6 from FL and 6 from Per Se? saves on airfare too :)

            1. re: drewskiSF

              Seems likely. Or a few from each and recruiting some former employees.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              wouldn't surprise me if he takes some from bouchon and ad hoc too; they tend to move around a lot between restaurants

          2. Given his obsession with perfection I find it hard to believe he'd do anything to compromise the experience - as long as Hollingsworth is still there with some of hus sous chefs I'm sure it will still be top notch.


            1 Reply
            1. re: uhockey

              The last time Keller had a "pop-up" in Hong Kong last year he also took Hollingsworth with him.

            2. I could see why you would hesitate to dine with the B team at an establishment you had been anticipating experiencing. The upside is maybe he'll leave behind a rising star or two who have something to prove. Also, if the dishes are poorly executed, you'll know early in the meal, and can address the problem. My take on the FL kitchen is there's a lot more monkey see, monkey do than the image lets on. I've had some meals from former chefs, and while competent, it was clear that not all Keller alumni are geniuses, even if they turned out Keller quality food while working under him.

              1. Just to add one more aspect: the kitchens at Per Se and French Laundry are linked by video screens so he can oversee what's going on in both restaurants. I'd be shocked if he didn't have a similar set-up installed in London.

                The French Laundry
                6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                5 Replies
                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Yes, well -- let's not forget about the time change . . .

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    keller has also admitted that these seemed like a much better idea than they actually are and are rarely used

                    1. re: vulber

                      Really? The articles I've read imply that they use them all the time, or at least, that they're on all the time, whether or not they're being actively monitored.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        The last few times I have been there and toured the kitchen, they were definitely on. Not sure how much interaction is going on, but they are a presence.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Rockpool in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth has a similar setup of monitors to watch the sister kitchens.

                    2. 'given that this meal will be a stretch for us financially'
                      You'll also have to plan a trip to the West Coast for this dinner..
                      I'd nix it..try the London location since your east coast and go around Thanksgiving..

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Beach Chick

                        You know, I think FL will perform just fine, but based around the uncertainty, if there's an anxiety or stress over it, they should nix it. Plenty of other great meals to be had.

                      2. I spoke to the reservationist today and he confirmed that Thomas will be taking Hollingsworth with him to London and will be right back after the tenth.

                        1. very few big name chefs cook every meal in their places, or even many.. sometimes none. your experience will be the same for the most part as if he were there - the food will be the same for sure. enjoy

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: thew

                            I think part of the concern is he's taking staff, including some who would normally cook your meal, with him.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              i get it - but I'm pretty sure he's not going to leave his flagship in poor hands

                              1. re: thew

                                That is probably what White Star thought about Edward Smith.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  Ooooh, that's cold . . .

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    My son reminds me there is no need to worry with reins in capable hands sous chef Molly Brown.

                          2. Alice Waters hasn't cooked in the Chez Panisse kitchen since 1983, but no one cancels reservations because of that, and TFL is a much more professional restaurant. The most important characteristic of a top-level (Michelin 3-star) professional restaurant is consistency. I wouldn't worry about it.

                            Chez Panisse
                            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                            1. It's one meal.

                              If a stretch financially, why bother? I certainly wouldn't. You can likely sell the reservation.

                              Hey, invest in cooking at home with best groceries. You might buy some things you don't now have and acquire the ability to cook great chow. Not to mention being way ahead $$-wise.

                              Some take out a loan to say they ate there. Call me crazy, but that's nuts.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Waterboy

                                "You can likely sell the reservation."
                                I am not sure that is possible.