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A Great Chef Fires Up The Heat, 'Ad Hoc' Style

Nov 11, 2009 (Morning Edition)

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Thomas Keller is one of those chefs people speak of with awe. His restaurant, the French Laundry, in the little town of Yountville in California's Napa Valley, is a place where people spend hundreds of dollars to dine. But down the street, the chef's homier eatery, Ad Hoc, serves meals family style, with no menu choices whatsoever.

Depending on the night, Ad Hoc diners might feast upon Keller's caramelized sea scallops, accompanied by iceberg lettuce slices, rainbow chard and brownies for dessert.

Keller's new cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, features recipes from his restaurant. He describes himself as a man who is drawn to the kitchen.

"I can't go to somebody's house and not help in the kitchen. I don't care if it's chopping parsley or peeling onions or whatever. It's just part of my nature," he tells Renee Montagne.

Though he's famous for food that often resembles high art, Keller appreciates the power of the humblest of tastes, like Skippy peanut butter and Heinz ketchup. Keller, who was raised by a single mother, says the restaurant and the cookbook celebrate the foods he would have loved as a kid.

"I remember years ago chefs wanting to make their own ketchups in their restaurants," he says. "[But] nobody really liked it. Everybody wanted to get a bottle of Heinz. It's because we grew up on those flavors."

Keller says that for him, cooking is an exercise in nurturing: "It's about nurturing our guests, your loved ones. That's what it's really about. About giving somebody something that not only nourishes their body, of course, but also nourishes their spirit."

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