Lap of Luxury: Per Se
On Wednesday, September 30, Chef Thomas Keller's restaurant Per Se was awarded three coveted Michelin Stars for the 11th year in a row. In this latest installment of the Lap of Luxury, we visit Per Se in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan to spend time with Chef Keller and take a tour of his kitchen.
Chef Keller describes dinner at Per Se as a commitment, in terms of both time and money. At $310 and 12 courses, his tasting menu isn't something you can pop in and experience in an hour and a half. Spend an entire evening here, and Chef Keller hopes his staff will show you, at the highest level, what a great restaurant should be.
The dining experience at Per Se isn't just about the food. Chef Keller wants that experience to bring a smile to his customers' faces, and that begins in the dining room. Keller says he took one look at the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center and knew this was the spot for him because of the view. Positioned right at the height of the trees at Central Park, the restaurant lets diners look over the park but also feel as though they're a part of it.
All 64 seats at Per Se overlook Central Park, while behind them, Chef Keller's kitchen churns out the culinary magic, which is a little different each day. A good portion of the menu changes daily, and is defined by what vegetables are fresh and available in the markets. Chef Keller says guests at Per Se can be assured that they're getting the best ingredients with the most flavor because they're in the height of the season.
His favorite regular menu items are the Salmon Cornets, which resemble ice cream cones; the Oysters and Pearls which, he says, have hardly changed in 20 years; and finally, the Coffee and Doughnuts.
Chef Keller gave us a grand tour of his kitchen at Per Se, and shared some of its secrets. For starters, there is a true respect for time. Underneath every clock, in all of his restaurants, whether Bouchon, Ad Hoc, The French Laundry, or Per Se, is a sign that reads "Sense of Urgency." Chef Keller believes that sense of urgency allows his chefs to finish the task at hand with time left to learn what they want to do in the future.
Attention to detail, even when it comes to the kitchen lighting, is all part of this ultimate dining experience.
The Per Se kitchen is lit in the same tone as the dining room, so when the chefs look at a piece of beef cooked medium rare, they'll see it the way their guests will.
Chef Keller boils down cooking in his kitchen to two essential elements: ingredients and skill. He believes everyone is capable of cooking well. Chef Keller says cooking isn't really complicated, but believes people are afraid to use fire and knives because they think they'll get hurt.
So what is the proper way to use a knife? Chef Keller says it's important to get as close to the blade as possible. Holding a knife from the back of the handle gives a cook very little control. He also jokes that it's important to sharpen your knives, because if you cut yourself with a really sharp one, you won't feel it.
In the Per Se kitchen, every person has a specific and important task, whether it's chopping vegetables or preparing desserts. And there is very little overlap in ingredients. Per Se has a no repetitive clause. If one chef is using corn then another can't. Each ingredient can only appear once on the menu.
All of his chefs do share one thing though: desire. Chef Keller says their desire to succeed in the kitchen trumps everything else. He says they constantly search for perfection in everything they prepare, knowing they'll never reach it, but will somehow achieve excellence.