Chef Thomas Keller shows his easy, user-friendly side

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chef Thomas Keller, who is known for his innovative but complex dishes, shows off his simpler, cozier side in his newest cookbook.

Undated handout photo of chef Thomas Keller. REUTERS/Handout/Deborah Jones

“Ad Hoc at Home” is inspired by the familiar, comfort food served at Keller’s casual restaurant, Ad Hoc. The book also contains tips about how to make a better fried chicken, a better pie crust, even better eggs.

Ad Hoc, which opened in 2006, is located just down the road from his Michelin three-star flagship restaurant, French Laundry, in Yountville, north of San Francisco.

A full dinner at Ad Hoc runs about $50 a person, compared to a recent $240 dinner tasting menu at French Laundry.

The 54-year-old Keller spoke to Reuters about his view on home cooking, fine dining and why he is an easy dinner guest.

Q: What do you want people to learn from the new book?

A: “It’s about the experience of sharing food. It’s about reducing the efforts you put into the preparation, which is very important, as well as the quality of the experience and the products.”

Q: Your other cookbooks seem geared to the professional chefs and advanced cooks. Did you have to do change your recipes for the home cooks in this book?

A: “My first book had a lot of great recipes that were accessible for the home cook. But then you have to qualify the home cook. There are some home cooks who have better kitchens than I do in restaurants. This book is written with the idea of my restaurant Ad Hoc in mind. The reason Ad Hoc came to be is really about a restaurant that is easy, that you didn’t get anxious about. It’s about what we make for that day, and what we make that day is really driven by the market.”

Q: Does “Ad Hoc” reflect your current point of view as a chef given the turbulent economy?

A: “I’m not trying to make a statement about where we are at this point in the economic world right now. I’m a fine-dining chef. There is room for every kind of dining in America. It’s all based on what your need is.”

Q: What is the state of fine-dining in America today?

A: “I think fine dining is alive and well. We like to celebrate. There is nothing like celebrating in a fine-dining restaurant. That level of cooking is wonderful to experience.”

Q: What do you cook for yourself when you are home?

A: “I don’t cook for myself because I’m rarely home. When I do, I cook very simply. I usually cook one-pot meals like roast chicken and vegetables. I do stuff on the grill.”

Q: If a home cook were to make you dinner, what could he make that will please you?

A: “Whatever you cook well. People have this misconception about cooking for chefs. Chefs understand the efforts. They understand the thoughts that go into it. When you understand those things when they are cooking for you, it becomes very pleasing.”

Q: So what is Thomas Keller’s favorite food?

A: “I eat everything.”


Caramelized Sea Scallops (serves six)

5 oz kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 cups boiling water

8 cups cold water

12 U7-grade sea scallops (about 1-3/4 pounds), preferably dry-packed, tough side muscle removed from each one

About 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) clarified Butter

1/2 lemon (optional)

1. Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Combine the salt with the boiling water in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cold water.

2. Add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes (no longer, or the scallops may become too salty). Drain the scallops, rinse under cold water, and arrange in a single layer on the paper towels.

3. Heat the clarified butter in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and begins to smoke. (Although you may be tempted to use a nonstick pan, a stainless steel pan will produce a more beautiful caramelized exterior.)

4. Sprinkle the scallops lightly with salt and add them to the pan, without crowding. (If necessary, cook the scallops in two pans or in 2 batches; if they touch, they will steam rather than caramelize.) Cook, without moving the scallops, until the bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3-1/2 minutes. Turn the scallops and caramelize the second side.

5. Transfer the scallops to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.

Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney