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World Chefs: Keller shares memories, spotlight in latest book

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thomas Keller, one of America's most respected chefs, shares the food memories of his childhood and his time in France in his new book "Bouchon Bakery," which is also the name of his chain of pastry shops in the United States.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thomas Keller, one of America's most respected chefs, shares the food memories of his childhood and his time in France in his new book "Bouchon Bakery," which is also the name of his chain of pastry shops in the United States.

Keller is the only American chef who owns two three-Michelin-star restaurants - Per Se in New York City and The French Laundry in the Napa Valley wine region in California.

Earlier this year, Britain's Restaurant Magazine named Per Se, which opened in 2004, the world's sixth best restaurant. Keller also earned the magazine's lifetime achievement award.

Like his four other books, his latest effort is a collaboration. He co-wrote it with his top pastry chefs Sebastien Rouxel and Matthew McDonald along with food writers Susie Heller, Michael Ruhlman and Amy Vogler.

The 57-year-old spoke to Reuters about the book, his pastry chefs and his place in the culinary world.

Q: Why did you collaborate with the leaders of your pastry team with this book?

A: "If you look at my other cookbooks, it's always been a point with me to share these opportunities with those who share their skills and expertise with the general public. That was the reason why I did the book. Sebastien is one of the best pastry chefs in America. His techniques are unparalleled. I'm not trying to pretend that I'm a pastry chef by writing a book about baking and pastries. Nor am I trying to be a bread baker. I have Matthew McDonald, who is one of the best bakers in America. To be able to highlight his skills in the bread section was very important as well."

Q: How did your time in France change your view about pastry and bread-making?

A: "When you are in France, especially in Paris, there were three or four boulangeries of different significance just on the block where I lived because they had pastry chefs with different levels of skills. You went to different ones for different things. To have a fresh baked baguette everyday was extraordinary. Anyone who lived in Paris for any length of time would say eating a fresh baguette is pretty special. Bread plays a real important part in the experience of the diners. To make sure we have the opportunity to significantly impact the experience by controlling the production and style of the bread was very important to me."

Q: Do you have a favorite dessert?

A: "It depends on the day ... There are so many things I love. I think anything that's done really, really well. For me, that's really something I really appreciate. I think one of the things that really resonate with the individual is that idea that eating, and eating through that experience, they have a memory. We are always trying to do something that's good. Why put something on the menu that's not very good?"

Q: The book emphasizes weighing ingredients over measuring with cups and spoons. Could that be difficult for home cooks?

A: "One of the things about pastry ... it's such an exact process. The most exact thing you practice is with weighing. There is an exactness to the execution, which gives you every opportunity to be successful."

Q: French Laundry and Per Se are among two of the best restaurants in the country. Bouchon Bakery is a success. What more would you like to accomplish in the culinary world?

A: "I have accomplished today everything I wanted to accomplish, more than I ever dreamed was possible. Right now, I'm just focused on the restaurants we have and the book I just wrote. Let me enjoy this moment before you ask me what I'll be doing tomorrow."

Pecan Sandies for my mom (Makes 1-1/2 dozen cookies)

1 ¾ cups + 1 ½ teaspoons all-purpose flour (250 grams)

¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans (80 grams)

4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (170 grams)

¾ cup + 1 ¾ teaspoons powdered sugar (90 grams)

Additional powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (convection) or 350°F (standard). Line two sheet pans with Silpats or parchment paper.

2. Toss the flour and pecans together in a medium bowl.

3. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the 90 grams/¾ cup plus 1¾ teaspoons powdered sugar and mix for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, until just combined. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there.

4. Divide the dough into 30-gram/1½-tablespoon portions, roll into balls, and arrange on the sheet pans, leaving about 1½ inches between them. Press the cookies into 2-inch disks.

5. Bake until pale golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes if using a convection oven, 22 to 25 minutes if using a standard oven, reversing the positions of the pans halfway through. (Sandies baked in a convection oven will not spread as much as those baked in a standard oven and will have a more even color.)

6. Set the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely. If desired, dust with powdered sugar.

Note: The cookies can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney and James Dalgleish)