He also loves BMWs, having owned a multitude since the late 1970s, when he bought his first new car, a 320i. No retiring enthusiast, Keller keeps his machines in prime sight at his California restaurants.
So it is not entirely surprising that a man known for experimentation and a love of the roundel badge would become one of the first owners of the new BMW i8 hybrid supercar.
Just before receiving the keys to his futuristic future ride (and preparing a dinner for other freshly minted i8 owners and assorted BMW VIPs), Chef Keller took time in California to give us his thoughts on cars, childrearing and, of course, cooking.
Brett Berk: How does your approach to food and cooking jibe with BMW's approach to the i8? Do you see any areas of overlap or connection?
Thomas Keller: I think that both of us are deeply rooted in tradition, but at the same time [are] forward thinking and on a constant quest for evolution. That’s the important thing. There are other things – integrity and quality. But it’s in the classic quest for evolution: what is going to make something better, what is the best.
What attracted you to the i8?
I’ve always had a strong bond with BMW. My first car was a BMW and I still have it today, so I’ve had it for decades before this. It’s a 320i, and I bought it when they launched that, when they went from the 2002 to the 320 – the beginning of the 3 Series. I actually still have every BMW I’ve ever bought. It’s hard for me to let them go. I have a 5 Series Gran Turismo as well, and the i8 represents a total departure from just two years ago in terms of design and features. It represents evolution, and creativity.
How and where do you plan to use the i8? As your daily commuting vehicle? As a weekend car?
I’ll use it as much as I can. I don’t really commute because I live right next to the restaurant (The French Laundry, in the Napa Valley)! I’m going to display it in the parking lot of the restaurant so people can see it and get jealous. And then, I’ll use it for drives. The Napa Valley is a great place to drive.
We have several BMWs at French Laundry, and we want to be responsible for that relationship. Our roots go really deep. To have the cars in our parking lot really says a lot for our relationship. There’s a lot of synergy there, a great bond.
Are there any cars on your dream list?
It’s coming. It’s right here now! This is my dream car. My first remembrance of the car was in the Tom Cruise movie. Mission Impossible. That was the first time I saw it.
What is the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you in a car?
Being pulled over when I was a youngster after I’d had a few beers. Fortunately, they let me go instead of taking me in or calling my parents. When you deal with the authorities at a young age without your parents knowing, it can be terribly frightening.
Do you have kids of your own?
No I don’t. And I’m the reason why!
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