musings SPAM The French Laundry Thomas Keller

The SPAM Laundry?

I saw on a recent eGullet Forum thread that Thomas Keller once prepared a SPAM tasting menu at The French Laundry for one of his friends. This momentous event in SPAM-dom was chronicled in the May/June 2001 Saveur magazine by winemaker Jayson Pahlmeyer of Pahlmeyer Wines, who was the (lucky?) recipient of the SPAM tasting menu.

As an ardent fan of both SPAM and Keller, and because I featured newly converted SPAM fan Anthony Bourdain on this site a couple days ago, I went looking for the article but couldn’t find it on Saveur’s Web site. I ended finding a copy of the magazine on eBay for $5, so I bought one and transcribed it so you can read this funny story.

I love that Keller embraced SPAM as a viable ingredient and committed himself to the “joke” by creating an entire tasting menu based on a meat product that is both loved by so many (like me) and reviled by others (most of my non-Asian friends). It shows both his keen sense of humor and versatility as a chef, and I became enamored by SPAM’s potential for greatness in Keller’s hands.

For the record, I still haven’t had the chance to eat at The French Laundry (reservations are probably the toughest in the world), but I am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to experience it first hand. In the interim, visits to Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc keep me happy…for now. ;)

(Thomas Keller picture from the Ad Hoc Web site.)

Thinking Pink: Can a Master Chef Make Four-Star Spam?
Jayson Pahlmeyer
Saveur Magazine, May/June 2001

Most people would probably say I’m a man of decent taste. After all, I own Pahlmeyer Wines, a top-rated boutique winery in the Napa Valley and I relish eating in fine restaurants. But ever since my student days in Hawaii, where more Spam is eaten than anywhere in the world, I have loved that spongy pink meatstuff. I make no excuses for my habit, and why should I? Nikita Kruschev credited Spam with the survival of the Russian Army in World War II. I own a Spam tie, a Spam hat, and Spam boxer shorts, and until fairly recently I thought I’d never have too much Spam.

Then two years ago, I celebrated an eye-popping Wine Spectator review of my 1996 merlot with dinner at the French Laundry in Yountville, which I consider to be one of the world’s best restaurants. I wore my Spam tie, and Thomas Keller, the chef and my friend, began ribbing me about it. I ribbed him back. “Thomas,” I said, “would you cook Spam for me sometime? I really like it.” Little did I know what lay in store.

I’d forgotten about the exchange when, a few months later, I took my family to the French Laundry as a treat for my kids. To the table came Thomas’s cornets—tiny ice cream cones filled with salmon tartare and créme fraîche. But I didn’t get one. Instead, the waiter presented me with cornets of minced spam. Ah yes, the Spam! I chortled to myself. Fine, Thomas, now we’re even.

But I was wrong. As the family lapped up lobster consommé en gelee, I got consommé with floating bits of crescent-shaped Spam. As they savored cucumber sorbet and dill sauce, I had tomato sorbet with a Spam chip. Now, I love Spam, but Spam has its place, and I wanted French Laundry food—especially since I was paying French Laundry prices. I pleaded with the waiters, but they could not dissuade relentless Thomas. And so my wife and kids grinned at me over a succession of jewel-like dishes while I confronted Spammed -up parodies of them: potato blinis with Spam emulsion, truffle omelette with Spam “rissole” and the final blow…Spam custard “servien son boîte” (served in the can). I stagged out into the night, family snickering behind.

I have not touched Spam since. I’m working up to it, though; every Father’s day, my kids make me breakfast—Spam and eggs and sourdough toast.

UPDATE: I received the unedited version of The SPAM Laundry story from Jayson Pahlmeyer’s friend Andrew Kubersky shortly after I wrote this and published excerpts in a separate post.

3 replies on “The SPAM Laundry?”

I am the author of this story. I wrote it for Saveur on behalf of Jayson, my old friend. The original story was much funnier and was unhappily shortened by Saveur.

Too funny for words. I can see Jayson turning as pink as the Spam itself as course after course slinked out of Keller’s vaunted kitchen. I, too, have eaten at the Laundry and my memory is better — one night late in summer Thomas came outside as a dozen of us were absolutely stuffed (and besotted) with what looked like an NFL football on a platter and proceeded to cut off ribeye steak sized slices of fois gras that we all greedily dove into with gratitude. Proof that you cannot overeat if it is really awesome food. Now, I think Jayson needs to go back for the Spam slicing midnight experience! Thomas, will you oblige?

Andrew, perhaps you and Arnold could work out something where the whole story was posted? I’d love to see your original work.

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