Acclaimed chef Thomas Keller posted a public mea culpa to restaurant guests on Thursday, two weeks after The New York Times published a scathing review of his New York restaurant Per Se.
In the open message to guests posted on the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group’s website, Keller said his restaurants make every effort to provide guests with the best possible experience.
“We consider it our professional responsibility to ensure that every one of you feels special and cared for,” he wrote. “To us, it is imperative that we improve and evolve every day. We constantly examine ourselves, our menu, our service and our standards.
“Regretfully, there are times when we do not meet those standards,” he wrote, referring to the Jan. 12 critique by Pete Wells, who took the restaurant’s four-star rating down to two.
In the review, Wells described a mushroom potpie as a “swampy mess,” and compared a lukewarm matsutake mushroom bouillon to “bong water.” Poached lobster was deemed “intransigently chewy: gristle of the sea.”
With each fresh review, a restaurant has to earn its stars again, Wells said in the review.
“In its current form and at its current price, Per Se struggled and failed to do this, ranging from respectably dull at best to disappointingly flat-footed at worst,” he wrote.
In his response, Keller said the fact Wells’ dining experience did not live up to expectations is “greatly disappointing to me and to my team. We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down.”
Keller also pledged to do better.
“When we fall short, we work even harder,” he said.
No doubt restaurant chefs across the country felt Keller’s pain to some degree when Wells’ review was published. For a vaunted chef and restaurateur at the top of his game, it would have been easy to respond defensively or not at all to such criticism.
Winston Churchill once said that criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary and serves the same function as pain in the body. “It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things,” he said.
Keller’s letter, however, offers a lesson in class to all. Even a bad review can have a good result.