Through some stroke of strange scheduling, the famous chef of French Laundry fame, Thomas Keller, came to Torrance for a book signing event. Lucky for me, it was at the local Borders, a mere minute walk away from my house.
Caught up in some website work, I didn't actually get to the bookstore until about an hour into the event. I had my doubts about how many people would show up in Torrance - we are after all, a suburb filled with nearly every imaginable chain restaurant (although, strangely, Applebee's is missing!) and are decidedly low on famous restaurants. I did not expect to find Mr. Keller talking in a semi-circle with a group of only about 15 people though.
Probably forced into this more intimate encounter by an embarrassing (for Borders and Torrance!) lack of fans, it was nonetheless a very positive development for all of us who did come. We got a much more intimate look at Mr. Keller and heard his stories in his own words, thoughtful pauses and elder-statesman diplomacy inclusive. It struck me that Mr. Keller seems to be in a different phase of his life now, more introspective and more aware of both his diminishing shelf life as a master chef and his impact on the industry. Especially interesting was hearing his urging of some of the aspiring chefs-to-be at the event to "plan ahead" and to have an "end-game strategy" because, as they should all know "you can't do this the rest of your life - it's too physically demanding."
Given how small the group was, even I got to toss in a couple questions - informed by my recent trip to New York. I inquired about how this East Coast-West Coast beef developed and what he thought of it. Diplomatically, he replied that David Chang was playing into the media machine and - in much more polite words - was basically young, arrogant, and stupid. Mr. Keller also answered my question about who he was most excited about - Corey Lee and Jonathan Benno of course came up, and a couple others that I've unfortunately forgotten (oops!) He noted that he doesn't actually get out that much, but he did offer up Michael White at Marea as having some of the best pasta around right now.
Finally, I caught him on his way out of the store while browsing his cookbooks and threw in one final question - what was HIS take on Shake Shack (he earlier professed to be a big fan of In and Out.) Diplomatic as always, he didn't say it outright and he threw the question back at me.. but I knew... he's a Double Double man. However, perhaps to throw a bone back at NYC, he did say that they make a mean burger at "The Burger Joint" in the Park Meredien (on my list for next time!) as well as throwing up the Corner Bistro and a place I haven't heard of - "Rare." Coming from a self-professed dreamer of having his own burger joint... well, let's just say I have two more NYC burger places on my list to try now.