The Surfacing Revolution

It goes without saying that Thomas Keller, chef at the iconic French Laundry, knows kitchens. After all, he holds multiple three-star Michelin ratings, and he’s the only United States chef with the honor. Over the years, he’s been father to countless cookery innovations—so when it comes to kitchen remodels, it’s wise to see what the master chef is doing. Keller purchased The French Laundry in 1994, and he’s brought the Yountville dining establishment to worldwide acclaim. In 1900, The French Laundry building started life as a saloon when a Scottish stonemason constructed it out of river rock and heavy timbers. Over the years, it served as a residence, a restaurant and an actual French laundry—hence the name.

A few years ago, Keller decided it was time for a change and hired Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, a renowned international architecture firm, to breathe new life into the beloved classic. No less than the Louvre in France served as the inspiration. In an interview, Keller says: “This renovation was more of a rebuild; it was really about redefining the future for the restaurant.” 

That Louvre famously juxtaposes sleek modern structures (think the giant glass pyramid in the courtyard designed by I.M. Pei) with classical architecture (as in the Palais du Louvre itself). In this restaurant, that means the original French Laundry coexists with contemporary additions that include a modern-lined kitchen and an annex, built to support the main kitchen’s functions. The new workspaces include cutting-edge elements such as elevated prep areas, solar panels and Dekton countertops and workbenches.

Last year, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, engineered stone surpassed natural stone as a countertop choice. That trend is reflected in this kitchen, where the countertops, workbenches and walls are crafted from Dekton. “We chose Dekton for a number of reasons,” says Keller. “It has a high resistance to heat, scratches and stains. From an aesthetic point of view, it’s stunning.” The new, high-contrast space is visible to guests through the windows of the kitchen’s fritted glass walls, as it’s a tradition of the restaurant to take diners behind the scenes. As Keller says, “This kitchen affords us the opportunity to have our guests come in and spend some time there without feeling like they’re in the way.” - Mary Jo Bowling

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