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Even the best chefs can keep learning at The French Laundry

The conversation starts and ends with Thomas Keller when speaking about American-born chefs who hold multiple three-star Michelin ratings. His Per Se in New York City received the distinction the past three years. The French Laundry in California’s wine country has earned that status. His Bouchon bistro has earned a one-star rating. Needless to say Robert Corey was pretty excited to be able to take a sabbatical to work and learn at The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Corey runs The French Manner personal chef service in the Denver area and also teaches the culinary arts at The Art Institute of Colorado. He took a few minutes from his rugged schedule at The French Laundry (he’ll be there until later this month) to email me about his love for food, working at such a prestigious restaurant and eating a 24-course meal… He even provided a recipe for you to try at home.

So I love food…for all the emotions that it triggers in myself and the responses from clients and guests. Food is a summation of cultures, economies, attitudes, sensibilities and theologies. It can be simple or grand yet it is always personal. Cooking is the result of my education in anthropology, geography and culinary arts. It embodies my love of the theater and the sense of teamwork found in a life of athletics and games.

That's why I became…a lover of parties, of special events, off-site caterings and restaurant dinners. My parents were always having dinner parties and large family events/reunions. At the heart of these nights and days, apart from guests and family members, lay food—food, glorious food. Any place where people gather and there is food and wine; it is bound to be interesting. Food is something that we all cling to and can bring many people together.

Learning culinary skills never stops…astounding me. Just when I think that I am on the cutting edge or have perfected something from the past, there arises another intriguing aspect of this craft. My time at The French Laundry has been a remarkable awakening for me. I know that I have much more to see and learn in my next 50 years.

I am about halfway through my sabbatical at The French Laundry, which has…been a life-changing experience. This sabbatical and stage has re-invigorated me and re-clarified my goals; to teach and embellish my business.

It has been everything I…expected, hoped for and prepared for—only much more. Everything is entirely over the top, top shelf and beyond reproach.

The craziest epiphany to date…is certainly not crazy. My most recent epiphany is very simple in its clarity—I am built to teach. I have an affinity to demonstrate clearly and precisely and to coach and guide cooks in their path toward perfecting method and technique in the kitchen. I truly adore and love my other job—as a personal chef—which clearly drives my culinary passion to its greatest heights. Along that path I, too, will be closer to my expectations of perfection.

I just ate a 24-course meal...which astounded me at every turn. I love to cook but I truly relish being served. From the opening glass of Roederer Champagne to the cellophane gift-bag of shortbread cookies (tied with the blue and silver ribbon displaying The French Laundry laundry pin) given every guest as they leave the restaurant—it was a colossal success. Inventive. Imaginary. Inspired. Purity of flavor. The trademark petite courses that has made the tasting menu such an impressive undertaking was top-notch. Exacting service and attention to detail. Multiple plates for single courses makes one feel ultra-special and a dutiful gourmand. Twenty-four courses with nearly the same number of wine tastings made for a delirious experience. I can only wonder what lofty expectations a guest carries into the restaurant—and to what level they are met or exceeded. It is a titanic effort in the kitchen to bring the tasting menu to life on the plate and the coordinated effort to serve this meal with grace and timing is a pleasure to behold. It is indeed a pas de deux.

I didn't expect…to work as hard as I have. Five to six days of a constant 12-hour shift in a bustling Three-Star Michelin restaurant where I am clearly as more aged than the wine or balsamico is tiring, to say the very least. I’ve been there and done that, and now I appreciate what it is that I do now.

When I return from California in March, my home will…be complete. I have gained a new appreciation for my family; my wife, children and friends. As an anonymous 17-th century English poem states; “Absence makes the heart grow fonder...”

And my culinary students will…be asked, “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail,” (Dr. Robert A. Shuller). We will be re-opening Assignments Restaurant along the lines of really good refined contemporary cuisine. There will be a grand re-opening (and re-awakening) at 675 South Broadway—stay tuned.

And my private chef clients will…be amazed, delighted, thankful, blown-away and completely satisfied.

You should spend a good amount of money on a private chef …when there is a calling for that special event, that evening to-die-for or the opportunity to say and give thanks to friends and family. When that moment comes, I’ll be there.

My favorite cuisine to cook…was, is and will always be French Provincial Cuisine—rich, powerful, simple and elegant. This cuisine tugs at my heart and my apron for it speaks of history, method and technique. I also love to cook my food to driving rock and roll music. I love the dichotomy of that act.

But sometimes, I actually do other things, such as…take care of my home and family, take long walks with my wife and the dog, watch sunsets and mountain vistas, travel and get an afternoon nap every once in a while. And try to play as much golf as possible.

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