Japanese Executive Chef Yuji Tani, of Tokyo’s restaurant chain House, recently made the trip to California with plans to attend the west coast’s version of the Fancy Food Show along with plans to tour the biodynamic wineries of the Napa Valley. However, at the top of his “to-do” list was an evening at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. I met Chef Tani’s American business contact Nobuko Oshima of Maneki PR firm in the press room of the Fancy Food Show, where she shared with me that the French Laundry was booked up months in advance and she didn’t think they’d have a chance of getting in.

Given the French Laundry’s immense popularity, the difficulty of booking a table on short notice is common knowledge. What Chef Tani’s party didn’t know was how accessible and personable the French Laundry staff is to others in the business under the leadership of Executive Chef and owner Thomas Keller. A well-placed telephone call to one of Keller’s assistants netted the prized booking, and what took place next was a testament as to why Keller is one of the most respected chefs in the business.

Chef Tani, his wife Junko and marketing associate Nobuko were warmly greeted and seated when they arrived at the restaurant. A personal visit to the table by Chef de Cuisine Timothy Hollingsworth revealed Junko’s exhaustion after the long trip from Tokyo. Hollingsworth immediately took over and arranged a special 4 course meal of Oyster and Pearls, Veloute of Parsnips, Truffe Risotto and a fruit plate for Junko, which aided in her recovery from the jet lag, while Chef Tani and Nobuku got to leisurely make their selections off the menu of the night.

For those who have dined at the French Laundry, you are familiar with the warm, cozy, intimate feel of the elegantly restored farmhouse, located at the edge of the residential section of Yountville, a little suburb adjacent to the Napa Valley. Here, attention to detail is the name of the game. When Keller agreed to open his newest restaurant Per Se, located in New York City, he did not want to sacrifice the intimate feel and personal attention diners were used to receiving. Taking advantage of all that technology has to offer, a large screen with a satellite feed was installed in the kitchen so French Laundry staff could communicate with Per Se staff, and Per Se staff could communicate with the French Laundry staff. “We use it more for connectivity than anything,” says long time Keller assistant Ms. Keefer.  “Thomas and the kitchen feel connected seeing their colleagues on the other coast, who mirror their philosophy and are working towards the same goals as they are. It is also used for training and for trading of ideas, as each can show new protocols etc. The impact and improvements are more immediate.”

The impact on a professional chef visiting from halfway around the world was also immediate, as well as profound. 

The experience was more than we could have ever have imagined,” says Nobuko Oshima, founder of  San Francisco based Maneki PR firm.  “They were sophisticated, yet easy, not overpowering. The ingredients were simple. Everything was so fresh. The techniques were amazing. Everyone at the restaurant made sure we were comfortable, had everything we needed. And we had a great conversation with the sommelier,” Nobuko added, as she noticed some saki wines on the menu.

Japanese Executive Chef Yuji Tani

When asked what the most significant event Chef Tani experienced while dining at the French Laundry, he replied with a very big grin, “The tour of the kitchen. I was shown so much, and as a chef, it meant the most to me that I would be given such an honor. In all my travels throughout Europe dining in Micheline Star restaurants, I have never been invited to see the kitchen. That was very, very cool!”

Chef Yuji Tani oversees a small group of 5 restaurants in the Tokyo area, filling the roles of both Executive Chef and Managing Director. House, the main restaurant, is a bistro style French restaurant in Nishiazabu , Tokyo, Japan. The smaller bistro type restaurants feature Italian Cuisine, focusing on fresh, organic and natural fresh ingredients. The web sites listed below are in Japanese. House is a subsidiary of the company Welcome. Welcome also holds the license for Dean and Deluca, Japan.

http://welcome.jp/    http://tms.cibone.com/        y.tani@welcome.jp


By Ellen Walsh