It's All About Finesse, Sharing, And Family

Today I met one of the chefs I am most inspired by: Thomas Keller.

A few weeks ago when I was shopping at Williams-Sonoma, a regular occurrence in my life, I saw a sign advertising that Thomas Keller would be at the Copley location signing copies of his newest cookbook on May 8. I wrote it on the calendar as soon as I got home.

His newest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, became one of my favorite cookbooks from the moment I plopped down on the couch with it and turned the first page. Actually, to be completely honest, it probably became one of my favorite cookbooks as soon as I ran my fingers over the cover, which resembles a chalkboard with a drawing of a pig.

The entire book is incredibly approachable, and I love Keller's voice and tone throughout. Ad Hoc, unlike Keller's more upscale cookbooks, for lack of a better term, focuses on eating at home with family. And that's just one of the many reasons I like it. Keller's sense of humor is evident throughout the pages of the book, where you'll encounter such quotes as "I do love to spoon" and "shh... The lamb is resting."

 Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:

"To be able to sit around the table, passing food, sharing stories of the day, with the sense that for an hour or so, the outside world can be set aside, is a gift to embrace."

"When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter your circumstances."

"The first time you make gnocchi, if it comes out right, it's probably because you got lucky." (My gnocchi still does not come out right after three tries, and this makes me feel a whole lot better.)

I've already made several recipes from Ad Hoc, including the fried chicken, the whole roasted chicken on a bed of root vegetables, the asparagus and tomato-bacon stew, the rack of lamb, the cupcakes, and a couple of salad dressings, and I can't wait to work my way through the rest of the recipes.

At about 9 o'clock this morning, the best boyfriend in the world (he's beyond supportive of my passion for all things food-related) and I left the house and headed to Copley to stand in line for the signing, which would begin at noon. When we arrived around 9:30, we saw only two others in line and ran off to get Starbucks. We returned with caffeine and took fourth place in the line, which grew down the hall and around the corner, parting only at the doorway of Louis Vuitton (wouldn't want to prevent people from buying super-expensive handbags -- I say while toting my favorite Coach bag), over the next couple of hours.

While waiting for Keller to arrive, I ended up venturing into Williams-Sonoma and purchasing two more of his books. I figured this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet him and have him sign his cookbooks. And since I am so enamoured with Ad Hoc, chances had to be good that I would come to love Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook just as much.

We also got to know our neighbors while we stood in line. It's always fun to be surrounded by those who love food and cooking as much as you do. The two and a half hours passed easily as the conversation kept flowing. We drifted from talking about The French Laundry (wanting to go or having already been) to discussing wineries to sharing our own restaurant and cooking experiences. I definitely think I made some new friends.

And it didn't hurt that Williams-Sonoma provided us with some freshly baked mini cupcakes as we patiently awaited the arrival of Keller.

Once the signing began, Williams-Sonoma employees escorted seven people at a time into the store to form a mini line and await a chance to meet Keller. When Jeff and I got up there, we chatted with Keller a bit while he signed my books. I talked to him about how much I love Ad Hoc and how happy I am that I started working at a bakery almost a year ago. (I probably babbled a bit -- I had had a lot of coffee.)

He was so friendly and clearly interested in what we had to say. I mentioned that we were going to try to come to one of his California restaurants next year, and he told me to let him know when we were there. I only hope that he would remember me among that large group of people he was in the midst of meeting. It's not very likely he will, but I feel all the more welcome at his restaurants because of that simple, sincere comment.

All in all, it was definitely worth getting there early. I learned when I went to meet Ruth Reichl that being near the end of the line is not as much fun because the person you're meeting will be tired by the time they get to meet you. I was happy I was among the first ones to meet Keller and that he is as pleasant and grounded as his writing makes him seem. I was awestruck, but I also felt completely at ease in his presence.

I'm all the more inspired to work my way through Ad Hoc now, and I'm excited to see what Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook have to offer. And I'm so very grateful I had this opportunity to meet him!

Have you met anyone who inspires you in the kitchen?