After 16 years in business, 16 years spent changing the world, 16 years which saw it being called America's best restaurant and owner and chef Thomas Keller become one of the most famous white jackets on earth, the French Laundry is celebrating by throwing themselves a little party.
In-n-Out and the French Laundry, together at last
And how does one of the country's most talented, groundbreaking chefs and a crew that's like the French Foreign Legion of line cooks mark the auspicious occasion of the restaurant's 16th anniversary?
With In-N-Out burgers, of course.Thomas Keller has long been a devotee of the California burger chain. He loves the place, eats there often, and has even been quoted saying that he'd like to someday open a burger joint of his own--kinda wine-focused, but based on the In-N-Out model of doing one thing only, but doing that one thing better than anybody.
"My first experience at In-N-Out Burger inspired me to do a hamburger restaurant. I've had it in the back of my mind for sixteen years but I haven't gotten around to it. It's kind of a secret fantasy. It would be a hamburger restaurant based on wine so the genesis of it needed to be Napa Valley. I could have opened one in Las Vegas or New York years ago, but I always wanted to save it to have the original be in Napa Valley."
And then there was this, when asked about opening a burger restaurant during a long interview in GQ:
"I don't know if it's my dream restaurant. I think it's a restaurant I've always wanted to do because of my love for hamburgers. When I was a kid, McDonald's was always a treat, and I think what's happened is, as my generation grew up on hamburgers, there's never been the restaurant that's grown up with us. There's a lot of great hamburger restaurants out there, but there's nothing out there that really resembles, to me--I don't want to say a gourmet hamburger, because that's not what I'm trying to establish, but a restaurant where you can have a really good hamburger and a really good bottle of wine. My palate's changed from a hamburger at McDonald's with a Coke to a hamburger at Diane's with a beer, to a really good hamburger with a great glass of Zinfandel. And really, the idea was spawned in L.A. when I went to In-N-Out burger and saw the quality of a chain like that. That place is pretty good. That kind of restaurant, with a different level of service and a different level of beverage, would be really fun. Unfortunately, the idea came to me sixteen years ago, and I still haven't executed it, so I'm really behind the curve! Most of my colleagues have already done hamburger restaurants, so I don't know if I'll see this through."
So with all that, it makes sense that he'd celebrate the Laundry's Sweet 16 with a truckload of Double-Doubles. The man has taste, there's no doubt about that. Economics and business models aside, In-N-Out wins so many loyal fans simply because it offers the best drive-thru burgers made anywhere in the country and maintains a very strict control over every single one of its remarkably small number of outlets just so that no one can ever say that they've had a bad In-N-Out burger. I've never had a bad one (and have driven thousands of miles just to get one on at least one occasion). No one I know has ever had a complaint. In-N-Out shows exactly how fast food can be done well.
Which, in itself, is such a revolutionary concept that it doesn't surprise me at all that Keller has his eye on doing his own version. After 16 years of the French Laundry and the pressure of running not just the best restaurant in the country but all of the other mini-empires under his command, I'd think that running a little burger joint in Napa would be very appealing to a man like Thomas Keller.
And while I still don't think he could do a burger better than In-N-Out, I would love for him to try and prove me wrong.