First Alice Waters, then Emeril Lagasse. Now you can add another name to the list of brand-known food figures who have wandered into Charlotte lately.
Thomas Keller, executive chef and owner of French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in New York, will make a stop Nov. 19 at Charlotte's Johnson & Wales University for a book signing and cooking demonstration from his new book, “Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide.”
Which probably raises two questions: Can you see him? (No, the demo is only for J&W students and invited guests). And: what's sous vide?
Sous vide is a professional cooking technique that involves vacuum-packing foods and then holding them in hot water at precise temperatures for controlled amounts of time. Although some joke about very expensive “boiling bags,” some chefs have been captivated by the technique, which results in food with velvety texture and intense flavor.
Keller, nationally known for his imaginative and innovative cooking starting at the French Laundry in California, has worked extensively on the technique. His book, which also features dramatic photography, has been awaited for almost a year in haute cuisine circles.
Keller's Charlotte trip will be only his second for the book, after starting in New York, and is the only event planned in the Southeast, according to a publicist for the publisher, Artisan Press.
So why Charlotte – and why Johnson & Wales? Keller had heard favorable reports about the facility, according to the Artisan spokeswoman. And he's interested in presenting the technique to culinary students.
He also could have heard of Charlotte's J&W campus from several students. J&W students Adam Smith and Charlie Reid served externships, or unpaid work experiences, at Per Se in New York in 2006. And Andrew Wright, who was profiled by the Observer in 2004, took a job as a commis, or kitchen assistant, at French Laundry after he graduated from J&W last May.
Even though Keller plans no public events on his visit, you could rub elbows with him at a Charlotte restaurant. He's expected to arrive the evening before, which could allow time for dinner. The place hasn't been picked – but we're guessing it won't be takeout fried chicken.