Thomas Keller did not grow up eating in restaurants like The French Laundry, his world-famous Michelin 3-star restaurant in Yountville. As a boy he ate Dinty Moore stew out of a can. “I’ve liked stew since I was a boy,” he confided, “even when it was Dinty Moore out of a can, which it often was in a household of five kids and a working mother.”

Goodies at the Bouchon Bakery, one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants in Yountville.

Born at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, Keller is the son of a Marine Corps drill instructor. But his father abandoned the family when the children were very young, leaving Betty, his auburn-haired mother, to raise the boys on her own. She headed off to Florida to start their lives anew. There she found work as the manager of the Palm Beach Yacht Club, the starting point for her son’s glittering culinary career. This was where he entered the restaurant business, finding work as a pearl diver—old school lingo for a dishwasher—before gradually moving up to cook.

Thomas Keller.

“I wonder if I love the communal act of eating so much because throughout my childhood with four older brothers and a mom in the restaurant business, I spent a lot of time fending for myself, eating alone—and I recognized how eating together made all the difference,” he recalled. “The best meals are the ones you eat with the people you care about.” Continue reading