I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.
I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller) and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.
In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough.
When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.
Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.
The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them.
Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.
Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.
Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California.
And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.
I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage.
This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster, scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.
I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.
In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us.
Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.
Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.
Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.
I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art.
To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street.
We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.
Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.
I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.
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CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder
40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk
150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar
10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso
½ T Kosher Salt
100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)
360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk
2 T Rum
480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream
1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract
In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.
For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.
Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.
Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm.
This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.