On the Occasion of Spoon and Stable’s Opening, Some Thoughts on the Fellowship of Chefs
Thomas Keller–attired in his preferred civilian ensemble of black turtleneck, sport coat, and jeans–entered the open kitchen at Spoon and Stable, Gavin Kaysen’s brand new Minneapolis restaurant, during a pre-opening party last Thursday night, and shook hands with every cook on the line. To casual observers, if they noticed at all, it probably didn’t seem like much — a friendly, supportive greeting from one of Gavin’s mentors, who also happens to be one of the most acclaimed chefs in the world.
But to anybody familiar with kitchens of a certain caliber, and their history, those handshakes had great significance. At Keller’s restaurants, chefs, cooks, and commis “shake in” and “shake out” with each other every day. It’s such an ingrained aspect of life within the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group that former French Laundry chef de cuisine Timothy Hollingsworth once told me that if a member of his brigade failed to make the rounds at night’s end, he’d phone that person up the next morning to ask if he or she was upset about something.
This is not unique to Keller’s restaurants–the ritual of shaking hands with one’s colleagues is a sign of mutual respect, and respect for the work at hand, that is observed at great restaurants all over the world, including Cafe Boulud, where Gavin was executive chef before decamping for Minneapolis back in the spring. And shaking hands in another chef’s kitchen … well, that’s a special sign of respect and solidarity all its own. I don’t know Thomas’s inspiration for doing it, and I was trying not to bug people with journalistic questions the other night, but one of his heroes, the great French chef Paul Bocuse, famously did just that, frequently making a beeline for the kitchen when visiting a restaurant, even sometimes entering via the service entrance rather than the front door. Many who cooked at Le Cirque in the 1980s vividly recall Bocuse’s frequent visits decades back, and the thrill of shaking hands with him.