Thomas Keller's response to a bad review

 Thomas Keller cookbooks

One of the biggest negative restaurant reviews of the past year involved Thomas Keller's lauded New York City restaurant Per Se. Back in January, Pete Wells (who we discussed earlier this week) downgraded the establishment from four stars to only two. Chef Keller spoke with Town & Country Magazine on the fallout from that review and what the future holds for Per Se and his other restaurants

The bad review was a shock to Keller and stood in stark contrast to a long line of successful ventures for the chef. His iconic restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, California, has been hailed as the best restaurant in the United States. Several Bouchon bistros and bakeries - in California, Las Vegas, and New York - have also done very well and received rave reviews. It's still difficult to get a reservation for The French Laundry over 20 years after it opened. 

Per Se opened to great reviews, and as recently as 2011 was named the best restaurant in the city. "It represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant," Sam Sifton, then the NY Times restaurant critic, wrote. In 2016, however, Wells found "a slow creep of mediocrity and missed cues." Two weeks after the disastrous review, Keller wrote a letter of apology to diners. 

Several months later, he told Town & Country what he had learned from the experience. He admitted that he and his staff may have become complacent. "I learned that, maybe, as a team we were a little bit too arrogant, our egos too exposed," he said. Keller's strategy for fixing Per Se is simple: concentrate on winning people back "one guest at a time." He continues, "Our goal is for every one of them to walk out the door and say, 'What the hell was [Wells] talking about?'" 

1 Comment

  • Jane  on  9/16/2016 at 10:07 AM

    Thomas Keller is such a class act. Rather than hitting back as a lot of chefs do after a bad review - the reviewer doesn't know what he's talking about, he just came on an off night, etc - Keller acknowledges standards have slipped and vows to improve. I went to Per Se (once!) for a big birthday and it was one of the best meals I have ever had. But this was 10 years ago and it may well not be the same now. But if anyone can bounce back from a setback like this it's this chef - he is such a perfectionist and inspires the same in his staff.

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