Lessons From Thomas (not Tim) Keller

On our recent honeymoon, my husband John and I vacationed in beautiful Napa, California.  Wine country in the fall is absolutely gorgeous, with golden seas of vineyards at every turn.  All week long, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, good wine and delicious food.

Thanks to our good friends Mitch and Jayci, on our last evening in town we snagged a reservation at Ad Hoc, a restaurant founded and run by renowned chef Thomas Keller.  We enjoyed an incredible five course dinner at this little restaurant in Yountville (an upscale neighborhood…think Winter Park except on crack!), down the street from his more famous Bouchon Bistro and The French Laundry restaurants.  

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Ad Hoc featured a pre fixe menu which changes daily. You don’t need to order anything; you simply wait at the table and enjoy each course that the chef prepares.  Here are a few of the dishes we enjoyed… (I apologize to my vegan/veg friends… I’m obviously not on a vegan diet right now…)

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Smoked Sturgeon with scallion-russet potato pancakes, beets and mache

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Braised Osso Bucco with creamy polenta, poached dates, roasted grapes, caramelized brussel sprouts, tfl garden squash fennel, toasted Virginia peanuts…

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Port from Portugal! (really…)

We also enjoyed a cheese course and a dessert course which was “Turtle” Panna Cotta (sorry no picture… I was too busy eating it!) The food was absolutely incredible.  

John always loves Wikipedia-ing everything, so later that week he had looked up interviews with Thomas Keller and was sharing some of what he had discovered about the chef and his philosophy.

Some people criticize this kind of fine dining, some customers insisting they should be able to at least select some menu items. They argue that all restaurants should provide options.  In a world where everything is customizable and we (seemingly) retain control over every inch of our lives from social media posts, technology (iPhone 5C or 5S and in which color and how many GBs?), type of car, rent or own, where to for lunch, (“hmm..Panera or Chipotle today?”) etc., some people find it absurd that the element of control is taken away in these restaurants, especially one that comes $50 a plate.

Thomas Keller disagrees.  His philosophy–like some in the fine dining industry–is that food/beverage is truly part of the hospitality industry.  Just like on a cruise, in a nice hotel, on a tour, you pay up front and trust that everything is taken care of.  You willingly give your money to Disney World or a four star hotel because you expect to get what you pay for.  

Keller says his job as a chef and restauranteur is not necessarily to crank out a better product, but to nourish people.  The goal is not leave all individualistic options up to the customer–although technically you have an initial choice whether or not you will step foot into one of his restaurants.  Rather, his goal is to invite us to surrender to an experience that can nourish and enhance our lives.  We trust his inventiveness, imagination and expertise as a chef and entrust him with the element of surprise.  There’s quality, and an absolute trust as a result.  

I can’t help but instinctively apply his personal philosophy of food to the experience of worship in the modern church.  Being behind the scenes of worship ministry, it’s easy to feel like I am getting seduced into providing the product of “a worship experience,” when I’ve missed the opportunity to truly nourish myself and the people around us.   As Christians, we are invited to be truly, deeply nourished by a relationship and intimacy with God and in turn seek to facilitate ways that provide the same nourishment to others around us.  In mega-churches, it’s deceptively easy to get sucked into a culture of perfection over excellence, performance over authenticity, and production over relationship.  There’s a battle that we constantly have to stay vigilant over fighting.  We have to repent and right ourselves when we inevitably start to drift once again.

My desire is to truly and continually seek nothing more than nourishment from God and nourishment for others.  

Jesus said in John 6:58, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Let’s seek true nourishment that can only come from true bread.  Let’s stop using people and start nourishing them.  Let’s recognize that we are all flawed, broken people that need more grace and more love every single day.  

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