Thomas Keller: The best restaurants that you were aware of — if you picked up a Michelin Guide, if you picked up The New York Times, even New York Magazine or any magazine that was either a travel or food magazine, or had a food section in the newspaper –at that time, were always talking about the great restaurants in France and the great chefs. Where else would you aspire to go if it wasn’t the best? I mean if you’re going to go to France — which was arguably the best country, had the best food, the best products, the best chefs, the best restaurants — that’s what you wanted to do. So I set my sights high. It took me quite a while to get there. It was about three-and-a-half years of trying to find somebody in France that was actually going to commit to giving me a job before I actually left America. Many times the advice was, “Well just go. You’ll find a job. Just go. Just go over there. Somebody will hire you.” I wanted to make sure that I had somewhere to go to. I wasn’t convinced that I was just going to travel to France and knock on somebody’s door, but in reality that’s actually what happened.
Where I ended up having the commitment from was a one-star Michelin restaurant in Arbois — which is in the Jura, which is in eastern France just below Alsace — a place I had never heard about before, a restaurant I had never heard about. But someone suggested I write them and I did. And I arrived at the front door and a large matronly woman met me and she was very harsh, and she took me up to my room, which was this small cubicle with a window, but the window was covered with dust, which I thought was dust. And that was my room. It was poorly lit, and I had to arrive at work the next morning in the kitchen downstairs at 5:30 and they would show me what to do. And the kitchen downstairs at 5:30, my first job was to shovel coal into the ovens. And I realized that my window wasn’t covered with dust. Well, it was covered with dust, but it was covered with soot, with coal dust. And the kitchen that I was in was nothing like any kitchens that I had been in in America. And I realized that that’s not why I came to France. And three days later I packed my bag early in the morning and I snuck out the door and caught the train and went to Paris and ended up staying at a friend’s apartment for almost two years and literally knocking on people’s doors for a job. Fortunately, my persistence paid off and I had eight different stages in observation, permission to have observation at a restaurant.