Authors@Google: Corey Lee

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 09.04.2010

Cynthia: Good afternoon, we are thrilled today to welcome Chef de Cuisine of the French Laundry.
He's been hard at work the last few months putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant
Benu which is set to open later this summer. Corey started his career at the age of 17
at Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York in the dining room actually.
But he soon discovered that his passion and skills were better suited for the kitchen.
Since then, he has worked for some of the greatest restaurants in the world.
And eventually landed in the French Laundry in 2001.
He spent a year opening Per Se, Thomas Keller's restaurant in New York as well.
And while he was at the French Laundry, the restaurants were the only one to receive three
Michelin stars when the guide first launched in California in 2006.
That same year, he also won the rising chef award from the James Beard foundation.
He also co-authored "Under Pressure" which I believe is actually on sale on that little
table, and you can sort of purchase a copy after the talk.
Which documented many of the techniques and recipes that he developed during his time
at the French Laundry and Per Se. I also took the liberty of Googling a few
fun facts about Corey. He is the sort of ambassador, the cultural
ambassador of cuisine for Seoul I believe. His guilty pleasure is American Chinese food.
And one night, and you'll have to tell me if this story is correct, or if Google is
incorrect here. But one night after work, he was searching
his fridge for food. Found bacon, spinach and eggs, and the next
day, he developed a new dish for the French Laundry.
Cynthia: So without further ado, you know, I'm sure you have heard enough of my speaking,
and let's hear Corey give his talk.
Corey: Thank You
Corey: You know, I started working in restaurants right after I graduated High School.
And that was in 1995, I was 17 years old. So I've been working in restaurants for 15
years. Now when you work as a chef in a professional
kitchen, you work a lot of hours. 14, 15, 16 hours a day.
So it's very easy to kind of lose touch with the world outside of the restaurant.
And certainly for me, it was always a challenge keeping up with current events.
Especially when it comes to technology, the advancement is so quick, and the world is
changing at such a rapid pace that it's hard to keep up.
And I think for me, Google is a really good example of that where I didn't see the development
and then just kind of woke up one day, and it was everywhere.
I mean, it was this world phenomenon. It just kind of happened overnight for me.
And so when Cynthia asked me to come down here and talk about my experience at the French
Laundry and plans for opening a new restaurant, I'd never heard of this event that you guys
do. This talks at Google, Authors at Google.
And you know I wasn't really sure if you guys would find any of that interesting, you know.
Cynthia assured me that a lot of chef's had been here in the past, like Alice Waters,
[Inaudible], Thomas Keller and that was really daunting for me because these are like culinary
icons and internationally recognized chefs. So I decided to go online and research a little
bit about this event that you guys do, hoping to find something that would give me a little
more confidence to come down here. So I Googled Authors at Google, Talks at Google,
and I saw like Salman Rushdie, Condoleezza Rice and President Obama, and I.
Not exactly the kind of reassurance I was looking for but.
[Laughter] Corey: Anyway I mustered up enough bravado
to come down here and I'm really glad I did, because seeing the campus is really amazing.
And being able to see it firsthand I think is a pretty unique opportunity.
And it certainly confirmed my suspicion that you guys are gonna take over the world.
And probably the biggest mistakes I ever made was selling my Google stock a couple of years
ago. So anyway, I'm really happy to be here, so
thanks for having me. I'm just gonna talk a little bit about what
I'm working on now, which is opening a new restaurant in San Francisco.
And opening a restaurant is something that happens all the time and you go to new restaurants
all the time. But I don't think there's a lot of information
out there about what the process is about or what's involved in opening a new place.
And, so I'm just gonna talk a little bit about that.
I think I should qualify that by saying each restaurant is different.
And the deal and the structure of that business is unique.
For me, when I talk about the process I went through, the first I had to do is really acknowledge
how many people in our industry came out and offered their guidance and their support.
People like Michael Mina who I think he has 16 restaurants now.
And I've never worked with him. I've met him a few times, but he reached out to me and
said, "Hey, anything you need." Introduced me to his real-estate broker to
help me find a space. Offered his kitchen when I was prepping for
events. Helped me staff when I was no longer at the
French Laundry. So, it's pretty amazing.
I mean he did that just to be collegial. Or people like Grant Atkins and Nick Kokonas
of Alinea who really shared with me the process they went through in opening that restaurant.
And I learned an enormous amount from them. And then there were just so many people out
there. People like David Chang, Dan Barbara, Daniel
Prelude, who whenever we needed something, you know right away, sure, whatever you need.
And I think that kind of camaraderie is really special.
And then of course there's Thomas Keller who was there for me and supported me long before
I ever decided to open a restaurant of my own.
I started working for Thomas as Cynthia said in 2001.
I spent some time in New York opening Per Se.
And I came back to the French Laundry and I've been the Chef de Cuisine there until
last summer, July of last summer. That restaurant is a very special place.
Especially for me. I mean I kind of grew up there.
I started there when I was very young. I spent basically my entire 20's working at
the French Laundry. So it was certainly a difficult decision to
leave and try to do something on my own. But once I made that decision, I think there
was really no looking back. And I started to think about it very seriously
in 2008. That's when I told Thomas I wanted to do something.
And at that time, I really had nothing. I didn't have investors, I didn't have partners,
I didn't have a prospectus. I didn't even know how you go about doing
that. And actually the first place I looked at.
The first commercial space I looked at to rent was on September 15th, 2008.
And that was the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
And so here I am this young chef wanting to open a new fine dining restaurant and we are
in the middle of one of the worst economic climates ever.
It's not really the best time to go out on your own and try to raise money to open a
restaurant. But in hindsight, and I'm not really sure
why, you know I never really lost confidence. And certainly a lot of that had to do with
the support I had from Thomas and my colleagues. And sure enough, we got an offering together.
And I met a group of people who will become my core partners.
And together we formed an entity that would own and operate the restaurant.
And then what we did was we took a small portion of that entity, and divided that into really
small shares and offered it to various people in the Bay area.
People in a variety of fields like law, finance, tech, hospitality.
And what that did was that allowed us to have a network of partners who would bring clients
and promote the restaurant and talk about it from their perspective industries.
Now we have a really great group of partners in the restaurant.
The name of the restaurant is Benu And I'm not sure how many of you have tried
naming something; whether it's a child or a new business.
But it's a really, really difficult thing to do.
And I certainly agonized over it. I flipped through encyclopedias, read through
dictionaries and I don't know different languages. Looked for a name in songs and poems.
But it was a really difficult process. But once I found Benu, there was really no
looking back. For me, Benu has kind of a playful sound to
it, like a cartoon character. But it also, you can't identify where it's
from. It's hard to know where the origin of that
name is. Some people think it sounds French, some people
think it sounds Japanese. It's actually an Egyptian word.
It's the Egyptian equivalent of the Phoenix bird that stands for rebirth and renewal and
longevity. And certainly those things are things you
identify with when you start something like a new business.
And longevity is certainly something that you hope to achieve in a new business.
So it can really relate to it on many different levels.
Once we got the name, it was coming up with the design or the logo for the name.
Because I think that's a really important thing.
Often that's your first impression of the restaurant.
For guests, it kind of sets the tone for their experience long before they get there.
And for a lot of the staff, it sets the tone for the work environment before they start
working there. So that was an important thing.
And to do that, we collaborated with a designer in L.A. named Andrea Leonardo Madden.
And she's a very creative and thoughtful designer. She has a small studio in West Hollywood called
the Am Project. And we e-mailed back and forth for months.
We sent each other pictures, ideas. And through all that communication she extracted
a common thread which was an importance placed on a process.
So it wasn't just about the end result of something, or the end logo, it was the process
we went through to get there. And so this is the Logo.
And it's actually six different fonts. And you can see that coming together.
And what that does it that generates a 7th font which is the grey.
And that's the common area that they share. And so in that, it's alluding to a process
like cooking where you take many different ingredients, you combine them,
and you're creating a new flavor or something new.
But you're still maintaining the integrity and the identity of each individual ingredient.
And this process of going through that really helped me find the concept of the restaurant.
And it even helped me pick the location and what kind of building it should be in.
Cuz its one thing to have it conceptualized in your mind, but when you start talking about
it aloud and answering questions, it helps you realize in a really different way.
The building is actually located in the SoMa area of San Francisco.
And it's a very interesting area because there's so much modern development.
The building itself is a historic building built in the early 1900's.
But it's surrounded by the Four Seasons, the SFMOMA, the Yerba Buena Center, George Hart
Museum, all this residential development. So it's this historical little place that's
surrounded by a lot of modernity which is very interesting.
To design the place we worked with an architect in New York who specializes in restaurants.
His name is Richard Bloch. Richard and I first met in New York when I
was there opening Per Se and he was designing Masatake Yama's restaurant next door in the
Time Warner Center. Have you guys heard of Masatake Yama?
He's a pretty renowned sushi chef. And when you go to his restaurant in New York,
the second you walk in, you're in another world.
You're not in New York anymore; you're not in the Time Warner anymore.
You're in this experience that's been crafted for you, and it's really
special. And a big part of that is the interior design.
And so I was an admirer of Richard's work long before we ever worked together.
Together we designed the restaurant. And it's a, I think a comfortable warm restaurant
that's modern. There's some accents of luxury.
But it's not about opulence; it's really about kind of an understated elegance, a little
more subtle. Now when you decide to open a restaurant or
you do any kind of remodel, you definitely need an architect.
I mean that's essential. But what I was really surprised at was that
we needed to work with a lot of other designers as well.
And part of that is because we did so many things that were custom.
And that was really important for me because I wanted to offer an experience that was unique.
And that was tied into the food, the porcelain, the tabletops, the materials used in the dining
room. And in order to do that and offer a whole
experience, you have to do a lot of custom things.
Another designer that we worked with is a man named [Inaudible Name] and he has a studio
in San Diego called Blue Oculus. And he's a designer who really understands
how to balance aesthetics and function. And together we designed a few tabletop pieces.
Now when you're dealing with table top pieces, it can't just be about the aesthetic value
of it because you're interacting with these things.
These pieces have specific functions, so it's really important to balance them.
And he's someone who really understands that. One of the things we worked on was a utensil
rest. And a utensil rest seems like a pretty easy
thing right? It's just a piece that flatware sits on top
of. But when we started to develop it, we explored
so many different concepts. And you can see a few of them here.
We worked with different shapes and different materials.
Some were actually really, really elaborate, but we kept coming back to something a little
more simple. And this is kind of the shape we started to
work on. And this is something that's very natural.
It's not geometric. It's something you'd find in nature.
You'd find something beautiful just by itself in nature.
Maybe it's like a river stone, that's very smooth from years of water running
through it. So once we decided on the shape, we started
just playing around and looking at different materials, different colors.
And this is a mockup of that piece. And then we worked on the scale of it.
How it would look with the different pieces of flatware.
And then we finally decided on the material which was wood.
And then we tried different kinds of wood. And then finally we settled on African black
wood which is a very, very dense wood that's often used for musical instruments.
And you can see that there. But the grain of the wood is really beautiful
and the feel is really smooth. It's like satin.
And our tabletops are this charcoal ash earthy color.
And that with the dark wooden utensil rest; it makes for a very natural backdrop to the
food and for the flatware. And you can see that big mark in the silver
just kind of pops up at you. Another huge collaboration regarding design
that we did was for porcelain. And I feel really fortunate to have had this
opportunity because I think it's rare for chefs to design their own porcelain.
And what you can do is come up with specific shapes and pieces that are really tailored
for the kind of food you are serving. For this we collaborated with a designer.
A Korean [Inaudible Name, porcelain maker name].
And they're kind of an iconic manufacturer in Korea.
Being Korean myself, I knew about their company and their pieces from when I was very young.
And always associated with something very fine.
Fine food, fine cuisine. So I visited the factory a few years ago.
And I saw some of the most beautiful pieces. And it was really on par with my Zen from
Germany or some of the great houses in France. And I knew that when I opened a restaurant,
I'd want some of those pieces included. And then when we started working on Benu,
I contacted them and asked if there was an opportunity to collaborate on a design.
And basically we just started working on it right away.
So you can see some of these pictures. These are some of the prototypes and samples
we worked on. And then in this picture you can see some
of the final pieces that we're going to manufacture. There's basically four concepts.
There's the white transparent glaze, there's the white mat, there the black mat and then
there's the celadon. So those are some of the pieces there in the
different shapes. And then we also worked on technical patterns.
So this is a cloche with turtle shells and lily pads.
And the one on top is sea urchin shells. And that could be something that's used to
close ce viche that's based on sea urchin. So it completes the dish.
It's not just about the food, but the porcelain in the serving piece as well.
This one here is a hen etching of a lobster. I don't know if you can see that, if you can
make that out. But there's basically an etching of a lobster.
And that could be used in conjunction with a dish that's centered around lobster.
This one is black truffle monis borum. And this is actually one that I'm particularly
fond of because my mother did the design for that.
The artists in Korea had never seen a black truffle.
We don't have black truffles in Korea. So when they were asked to paint one, I mean
they had no idea what they were painting. So my mother helped and we worked on that
piece. But again this is a cloche that can be used
for a dish that's centered around black truffles. And this dish is actually a black truffle
custard that's made with a puree of black truffles.
And it fills a cavity in the bottom of a bowl that's meant to hold that custard.
So it holds about 60 grams of custard. And on top is a broth.
And for me the combination of bullion with the custard is one of the great texture combinations
that are out there. And so this dish was specifically designed
for that. The other thing you see on that dish up top,
is well, for lack of a better word; it's kind of a sustainable shark's fin.
Does everyone know what shark's fin is? And how that's harvested?
Being a chef, and being Asian, I can certainly appreciate the culinary and cultural value
of shark's fin. But it definitely presents some moral and
ecological concerns. So what I wanted to do was develop a dish
or technique that was an homage to shark's fin.
And with that tradition in mind, but not actually use the fin itself.
The interesting thing about shark's fin, even though it's something that's very revered,
I mean it's something that was cooked since I think the Ming dynasty.
It's a very luxurious ingredient. It's often served at celebratory events, like
a wedding. The interesting thing is its all about texture.
That's really what makes it unique. And the texture is simultaneously brittle
and elastic and gelatinous all at the same time, and that's something that's very rare.
But the actual flavor comes from whatever stock it's cooked in or bullion that it's
served with or the sauce that it's prepared with.
So the flavor I knew I could get because it's not coming from the shark fin.
For this particular dish, I based it on a very traditional Cantonese preparation, like
a soup supreme that's made with chicken of jing wa ham or kind of Chinese ham, aromatics
and then it's stewed together and usually the shark fin is brazed in that.
For this dish, we actually added some truffle peelings so that we can tie in the truffle
flavor to that dish as well. And also it's an interpretation of that classic
dish. So we had the stock, now it's finding the
texture. Have you guys heard of hydro-colloids?
Hydro-colloids. It's something that's used pretty commonly.
Lately it's been used in kind of the fine dining realm.
If you haven't heard of hydro-colloids, you might have heard of some of the dishes that
are made possible using that. These days, you see it like sphere's everywhere,
like liquid ravioli's whether they're gel or in a shape of a sphere.
Or if they're something that's liquid in the center and they explode when you bite into
them. And if you haven't had that or heard of that,
I'm sure you've had salad dressing from a supermarket.
You know it's kept emulsified and the herbs are kept evenly dispersed using various hydro-colloids.
Or it's used in ice cream to prevent crystallization so you get a better mouth feel.
Or gummy bears. They're kind of everywhere. And the manufacturer of one of the hydro-colloids
or many of these hydro-colloids actually is a company called CP Calco.
And they're based in San Diego. And there's three people there that I've been
working with for a few years now. There's a team that's comprised of Henry Monty,
Ted Russen and Amy Wong. And they've come up to the restaurant, given
lectures and we've worked together on learning how to use all these various things.
And so on one of our research trips down to San Diego when I was working with them in
the lab, we worked on replicating the texture of shark's fin.
And we went through many tests, and it was a series of trial and error, but we finally
got a texture that is really similar. I mean almost, it's hard to separate shark
fin from this. So I'll take you through this dish.
It starts with that broth I was telling you about which is chicken, the ham, truffle and
it's all stewed together. And then to that broth we add a combination
of hydro-colloids and we put it into a squeeze bottle and squeeze it into a water bath with
calcium and it's the reaction between the two that's causing it to gel.
And we do it in a squeeze bottle because the round shape resembles the shape of the shark
fin. Or the individual strands of the shark fin.
And then you can see in here that we've achieved kind of that elasticity and gelatinous quality
of shark fin. And then you can see in this picture that
we also achieve kind of the brittleness of shark fin.
And for those of you who have had this in the past, if you look at it with the transparency
and the color, I mean it's really identical to shark fin.
So let's see, this is the bowl with the cavity that holds the custard, the truffle custard.
And then that gets baked and then set and then once it's set we plate the rest of the
dish on it. And that's dungeness crab and then the shark
fin with some of the braising aromatics and ham.
And then we serve this with some of broth, some of that chicken and ham broth that was
the base for the shark fin itself. So that's pretty much it.
Well thank you very much for having me. It was really a pleasure to come down here.
I think Cynthia is gonna have some Q & A, is that right?
Cynthia: So the floor is open to questions. Because we only have one mike, I'll just have
to repeat the question for the benefit of YouTube audiences as well our VC offices.
So if there's a question just raise your hand.
>> When are you opening your restaurant?
Cynthia: When are you opening your new restaurant?
Corey: Well we're in construction right now. And I'm not sure if anyone has ever remodeled
a house or been involved in any kind of construction. It's one of those things that, sure we have
a target date. We're supposed to get the space back in the
end of June. But you know we fully understand that there
could be some, some construction delays and that's perfectly normal.
But we're shooting for mid-summer.
>> What are the cross streets again?
Corey: It's on the corner of Howard and Hawthorne.
>> Google Maps. [Laughter]
Cynthia: Any other questions?
>> Are you taking reservations now? [Laughter]
Cynthia: The question was, are you taking reservations now?
Corey: No actually, the last thing you want to do, the worst thing is to accept reservations
and not be able to honor them. So we'll actually open the book up a month
before we open. Once we get the space back.
Cynthia: I think I saw a question there. yes?
>> Those were really like nicely done videos and photography.
Is this general publicity that you prepared, or were you playing with it for other reasons
and you thought about posting them online for free publicity?
Cynthia: The question was about the very nicely prepared videos and whether that was going
to be available free for publicity.
Corey: Well we actually took those videos in my apartment last week for this presentation.
[Laughter] So we're not that organized yet.
>> YouTube
Corey: Right. No but it's, you know I think that these days,
a website is a huge part of a restaurant. And it's a preview of the restaurant, you
know. Before you go and invest time and money into
the restaurant, usually you check out the website and see what it's about.
Certainly it was part of that development. I'm sure maybe some of these images might
show up on the website. But really we just did it for you guys. [Chuckles]
Cynthia: Next question.
>> Are you able to talk about the menu yet?
Cynthia: Are you able to talk about the menu yet?
Corey: Sure. Absolutely.
The concept is -- there'll be two menus. A tasting menu and a la carte menu.
And the tasting menu will change whenever it needs to whether it's based on availability
or just being inspired to change it. It's not gonna change on a schedule.
And it'll be a full experience. Kind of an elaborate tasting menu.
Anywhere from 9 to 14 courses. And the number of courses are gonna change
as well. Because it's not really about the number of
courses that's important, it's about the experience as a whole.
Sometimes it takes 14 courses for me to deliver a certain experience.
Sometimes it's 8, sometimes it's 9. It's not really about that, but it's a long
experience. The other one is an a la carte menu.
And there'll be different sections where you can choose how you want to dine.
So there'll be fish and shellfish, meat, poultry, salads, soups, appetizers.
And you can decide how you want to eat, how much you want to eat and how long you want
to eat for. And I think having both of those are important.
I think certainly in the fine dining realm, we've gotten away from the a la carte menu
and we've kind of been doing the tasting menu. But I think an a la carte menu, especially
for a new restaurant and a young chef, it's important to you know make that restaurant
accessible and approachable and let people come in and try it out.
And it also makes the restaurant not just a special occasion restaurant.
Whether they can come back for a dish they've had already or they can come back and have
a couple of courses and go out. It just makes the restaurant a little more
Cynthia: I think I saw a wrist at the back there.
>> I jumped in sort of midstream, so I apologize if I missed this earlier.
First of all, thanks for coming, it's great to see you here.
Favorite restaurants either in the San Francisco Bay area, or sort of in the country more broadly.
I hear inspiration a little bit from Grand Alinea, from [Inaudible Name].
But are there other favorites of yours?
Cynthia: The question was favorite restaurants.
Corey: Well that's kind of a loaded question cuz I have a lot of friends out there.
Corey: Surely in the Napa Valley, living up there, there's a restaurant called Redd.
It's owned by Richard Reddington who is a close friend of mine and for me, sitting at
the bar and having some bar food there is something I used to do very regularly and
something I look forward to. There are just so many great restaurants in
America. And the pace at which restaurants are improving
is really astonishing. And there's great restaurants all over the
country. There's certainly the ones that I think are
leaders. Restaurants like Alinea that are actually
breaking new ground and redefining what the eating experience is about.
But there's also restaurants that are very traditional and kind of the [inaudible] for
a certain style of cuisine. And that's very important as well.
But I mean truly to answer your question, I mean there's just so many out there.
>> That's fair.
Cynthia: Yes, question in the front.
>> Do you consider wine pairing when you design your menu?
Cynthia: The question was whether Corey considered wine pairing when designing the menu.
Corey: Well actually there's a sommelier you know who'll work on that.
And our restaurant is definitely a food driven restaurant.
There are wine driven restaurants. And wine is certainly a huge part of the experience.
And I think more than specific dishes, I think it's important to make sure that your wine,
your cuisine is a style of cuisine that's compatible with wine.
And I mean sometimes it's not even wine, it could be other beverages too.
But being able to offer something that's compatible with wine is an important consideration.
Many people come to a restaurant and they want again you know the full experience.
And it's not just about the food that's prepared in the kitchen, but it's the wine, it's the
interior, it's the service and all those things have to work in harmony.
Cynthia: Yes, question at the front.
>> Are you planning on having cocktail offerings as well?
Cynthia: The question was whether there's a plan to offer cocktail offerings.
Corey: We're gonna be a wine focused restaurant. And there's many reasons for that.
I think that for the style of food that we do, wine just works better than high alcohol
spirits or distilled spirits. And the other thing is we don't have a traditional
bar. It's not a place where you can have you know
once course at the bar. You can do that at the table, but it's not
really at the bar. But it's really about you know what kinds
of beverages work best with the food that we serve.
And it comes out to the lower alcohol beverages like wine, sake.
Cynthia: I think I saw a question in the white coat there.
>> What are your favorite go to's for comfort food?
Cynthia: Favorite go to's for comfort food.
Corey: Comfort food. Certainly Asian food is a big part for me.
And comfort food is I think just what you grew up eating in your house, I think that's
the ultimate comfort food. For me, I haven't lived with my parents in
such a long time that you know those are kind of rare opportunities.
So sometimes I'm forced to eat the American Chinese food that Cynthia was referring to.
But comfort food, my favorite comfort food, I like fried chicken.
I mean I think that's a winner every time. But there's again, there's just so much good
food out there. But it's really simple one pot dishes.
And whether it's a stew or Ragu, something that doesn't take a lot of time to prepare.
That chicken soup that you saw stewing, I mean that's a meal in itself.
You know, some good vegetables and a nice chicken and some ham.
I mean, that could be a meal.
Cynthia: I think I saw another question there.
>> Did you consider other locations like Napa, New York?
And why did you choose San Francisco?
Corey: I actually did consider one of those locations you mentioned which was New York.
I lived in New York for many years. My family is, the family that I have in the
states live in New York. And at first it was something I went back
and forth on. But ultimately I chose San Francisco because
I've been working in the Bay area for many years now.
And I've developed relationships with great purveyors.
And it was hard to justify losing those relationships to go to New York.
And then also working at the French Laundry, I developed a rapport with a lot of our guests
who are in the Bay area. So again it was hard to justify losing that
client base just to go to New York. But ultimately I think that San Francisco
is a smaller community of Restaurants. And New York, they have so many wonderful
restaurants. And restaurants open and close throughout
the year and you don't even hear about it. But in San Francisco, I think there's more
of an opportunity to make an impact in the landscape of restaurants, and be part of the
community. So that was the main reason.
Cynthia: I think I saw another question somewhere there, yes.
>> [Inaudible question]
Cynthia: The question was whether the cuisine served will be influenced by Korean cuisine.
Corey: Well you know that's kind of a question that I get asked pretty often.
Maybe not necessarily specific to Korean cuisine, but it's, you know, what kind of food are
you gonna serve? And it's a really difficult question to answer.
And there's not really -- it's not a quick answer.
And it's something that I guess when you decide to open a restaurant, everyone asks you that
what kind of food are you going to server? And when you're talking to potential investors
and they say, " What kind of food are you gonna serve?"
And you give this long winded answer, it's kind of a tough one too.
But I think at a certain level. A certain level of dining, or certain level
of cooking, it's about personality cuisine. And it's about offering that and reflecting
that in your food. Your personal experiences, the experiences
of the people who work with you, the other people in the kitchen, things that you're
inspired by. And unless you're doing very classical food,
like classical Chinese cooking or classical French cooking, it's modern cooking.
And modern cooking is about being influenced by everything that's going on around you.
And these days, chefs are traveling, chefs are writing books, chefs are interacting in
a way that they didn't do even 10 years ago. So the world is becoming smaller, certainly
in the culinary world. And how can you not be influenced by all these
amazing things that are going around you. So whether that inspiration comes from Korea,
to answer your question, or that comes from France or Europe or America,
it's not really about identifying the country that you're associated with.
It's about being open to inspiration and then interpreting that for something that's unique.
Cynthia: I actually have a question of my own.
So I notice a lot of your presentation was devoted towards you know the porcelain and
the place setting. What surprised you most when you were going
through this process of you know opening your new restaurant that you never expected?
Corey: There's so man -- well there's a lot of things actually.
I mean it seems like every time you climb a mountain, you know you get to the top and
there's a whole range behind it going through this process.
There's a lot of things that I was surprised at.
Certainly working with all the city agencies is something that I had no experience with
and that's certainly a challenge. And San Francisco is notorious for being you
know more challenging. But you know there's -- it was amazing not
only how many designers we worked with as I talked about, but how many different professionals
are involved. Whether it's structural engineers, engineers,
architects, mechanical engineers. And they're such an important part of the
process. And you really can't do it without them.
That even a small restaurant, like a 66 seat restaurant that we're opening requires all
the same kind of professionals that a 500 seat restaurant would require.
So it's not really about the size. And to open this little project, there's just
so many people involved.
Cynthia: I think I saw a question there.
>> Yeah, my question is about in general owning restaurants.
So obviously you spend tons of time you know deciding and planning for all of this.
And then the fine details of the restaurant. But with the days that you're not there.
Like for example like you can't work seven days a week all the time.
[Inaudible] How do you make sure that the restaurant maintains
like your like personal goals for it when you can't actually be there in person.
Cynthia: The question was how to maintain a restaurants personality, when the chef isn't
Corey: Well, for our case, it's a little bit different than someone like Michael Mina.
A restaurateur of that caliber. For us, we're only gonna be open 5 dinners
a week when we first open. And it was really because of that concern.
We're a small restaurant, and it's hard for a new group of people to work and maintain that standard and that
consistency when you're not there. So that was kind of the reason why we did
that. In a case like Michael Mina or Thomas Keller
or Daniel Boulud that kind of restaurant chefs. There's a huge network of support.
And you know at some point in Thomas's career, he was working all the time in the kitchen.
And he had you know 15 or 20 cooks that worked with him.
And over the years, those cooks began to not only understand his standard, they really
started to embrace it and also a part of enforcing it.
So it's really empowering the staff to take on more responsibility.
And then eventually, they can lead the rest of the staff for you.
And acclimate the new people that are coming in with your own standards.
So for every restaurant that Thomas has and I'm sure Michael Mina has, there's a chef
there who's probably worked with them for a long time,
understands the expectations and can reinforce them.
Cynthia: I think I saw another question behind there.
Yes? No.
Any other questions? Yes here.
>> [Inaudible question]
Cynthia: The question was trends in the culinary world?
Corey: Well you mentioned kind of these impromptu dinners that are coming up.
I think that's just, you know I've never been to one of those.
But I think as a chef, I'd find that really challenging.
Because it's hard to cook out of your restaurant. I mean you spend so much time, energy and
resources to custom that restaurant so that you can deliver a very particular kind of
experience. And when you're out of that environment and
you no longer have the kitchen that was designed to do your food.
Or you no longer have the pieces that you're used to serving on.
It's very difficult. What I find really interesting however is
those impromptu dinners that are done by amateurs. I think that people have an interest in food.
Not only from an eating standpoint, from a cooking standpoint.
That's kind of growing. You really see that, and that's something
that you notice. Whether it's people who are buying professional
equipment for their home or people who are taking cooking classes just
for fun and not for any kind of -- not to pursue any kind of professional job.
But it's amazing how high the level of home cooking has become.
And when we did -- we actually did a dinner with Alinea and the French Laundry to celebrate
the release of Alinea's book and the Under Pressure book.
And there was a group of amateur cooks in New York who replicated this fourteen course
dinner. I mean they bought all the equipment, all
the serving pieces. And they just did it for fun out of their
-- in their house. And it's that kind of thing that I find really
amazing. Is that people are understanding food in a
whole different way, and they actually wanna participate and be
interactive in the process?
>> [Inaudible]
Corey: You know, that's a, that's something that's pretty relative.
Avant-garde food I think. For me again, it's about being open and aware
of what's going on around you. Certainly a big movement is the science behind
cooking, and understanding why things happen, and understanding how you can achieve new
things by understanding the basics. And I think that's a really important thing.
And it's amazing you know how long cuisine has been around.
It's been around forever. Well certainly as long as we've been around.
And there's so many misconceptions about food, and the science behind it.
And I think that's certainly becoming kind of a prerequisite these days for chefs, to
really understand the science behind what they're doing.
Cynthia: I think that there was a question there.
>> I know like Thomas Keller, his attitude is that when a customer goes to French Laundry,
whatever they want, he's willing to do. And then there are other people, other chefs
who are like this is my menu, and I'm not gonna deviate from that.
And so you were talking about having an experience when you cook cuisine for the restaurant.
So how do you fit in that system? I mean do you feel like the customer can get
what they want, or do you have an experience that you want them to have and they cannot
change that?
Cynthia: The question was whether -- what's the best way to phrase this?
Whether there's a sort of set fixed experience that Corey would like to deliver, or whether
it's more of a customer oriented experience.
Corey: You know, well first of all you're absolutely right about Thomas's philosophy
on that, where if you come into one of his restaurants,
whatever they can do, they'll do for you. And he's certainly someone who taught me the
value of that. But there's actually a server at the French
Laundry who kind of has a catch phrase. And it's "Don't let the guests get in the
way of their own experience." And I think there's some merit to that.
Because sure you want to be accommodating and provide good customer service.
But there are points when you know you need to steer guests in a direction that whether
they don't know it at the time, you have to believe that they'll enjoy it more.
So as long as you're thinking about the guests, and wanting to do something special for them
and please them, I think that's what's really important, is
kind of the motive behind that.
Cynthia: I have another question. So you're obviously, you're sort of relatively
early in your career. But you have had a lot of experience in the
culinary world now. What has been the greatest obstacle you've
had to face to date?
Corey: Ooh. I think it might have been the San Francisco
building department actually. [Laughter]
Corey: No, I mean there's a lot of challenges. I think working in a restaurant is challenging
because of the time that's involved. It's a tough job, and it's not only tough
on you, but it's tough on your family. And it's tough on people that love you and
the relationships that you're in. When you're never gonna have that Friday,
Saturday off. You're not gonna have you know 5 days to go
on vacation in the summer. You can't get Friday afternoon off to see
your niece go to Kindergarten for the first day.
Things like that. That's generally been the biggest challenge.
It's balancing your professional life and your private life.
And it's a commitment to a lifestyle in many ways.
Cynthia: Are there any other questions? No?
Oh, yes, one question from the front.
>> [Inaudible question]
Cynthia: The question was what are the lessons you've learned from Thomas Keller, and what
will you bring from the French Laundry?
Corey: Thomas has actually taught me a lot of lessons.
And a big one is the importance of your staff. And he's the one that completely empowers
his staff. And I think that a big part of his success
is that it's not about one person leading a team, it's about you know 30 people having
the same standards that you do and reinforcing those standards to the new people that come
in. Another thing is certainly a work ethic.
I think he's someone who has just a tremendous work ethic, and he leads by that.
And those two things are really kind of obvious character traits of Thomas when you work with
him and you know him. But there have been a lot of lessons, and
those two certainly being big ones.
Cynthia: Any last questions? Ah yes, one more question here.
>> This is actually a typical Google interview question.
What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
Cynthia: What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
Apparently it's a typical Google interview question.
Corey: I think it was not being a chef here at Google.
Corey: There's been a lot of mistakes, and you learn from those mistakes.
And one thing I tell all the cooks that I work with is you know, no matter how good
of a chef you are, no matter how good of a cook you are, you're
gonna make a lot of mistakes. But what distinguishes a good cook from a
bad cook is that a good cook can recognize those mistakes, and then have the discipline
to go back and fix them. So all those mistakes were very valuable.
And as long as you're aware of them and you learn from them, I think that's the important
Cynthia: Are there any more questions? Ok.
Thank you so much Corey for coming here to Google, we really appreciate it.