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The French Laundry Chef’s Tasting Menu

Once upon a time, in the middle of the rolling hills of Napa Valley with miles of blooming grape vines in the small town called Yountville, the best chef in all of the cooking kingdom prepared a meal of nine courses for his house full of guests.  Each diner was the center of attention at a beautiful table set with fine linen, French Limoges china, polished silver, and a spray of fresh wildflowers.  The service was gracious and impeccable; the food on each plate arranged like a Picasso.  As each course was eaten, the diners proclaimed it the best ever tasted – until the next course arrived.

As I emerged from this fairy tale experience, I was amazed not only by the food preparation, presentation, and taste, but also by the quiet camaraderie of the service team.  Everyone was in a good mood, and the food tasted better for it.

As we closed the place down at midnight, we were treated to a quick tour of the kitchen. Nine chefs were seated around a table, pencils and paper in one hand, beer or wine in the other, preparing the next day’s menu.  No menu is ever the same.

The next morning I found myself in line at the Bouchon Bakery (originally built to bake for the restaurant) with a server from the night before; we were both looking for a good coffee and a sweet.  She suggested Keller’s brownie bites for the road, and told me that Thomas Keller, the acclaimed chef and owner of The French Laundry lives in the house behind the restaurant.  Of course, I made a pilgrimage back to find it – lovely French provincial house that would make Julia Child proud – surrounded by gardens.

Across from the restaurant are his acres of organically grown vegetables and herbs, and room for the lovely little chickens to roam – Silkie Bantams.  These chickens are smaller sized with fluffy down instead of feathers and little fluff balls on tops of their feet.  Not to worry; they are not used for the meals – just for their eggs.

The meal had finally ended the night before, but not before a few surprises at the end: Keller’s doughnut holes with cappuccino ice cream and hand-made chocolate truffles with six different creamy fillings (my favorite was the lemon) – and a goodie bag-to-go of shortbread cookies.

I thought I may have dreamed it all, but I did have the menu as proof of being there.  Yes, it is expensive; you might cringe at the price.  But, go, if you can.

 Keller’s heavy cookbooks are on display at the restaurant; he’s authored at least four himself, and contributed to others.  I browsed through them briefly, and may look for them in the library to relive my experience.

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