Chef-restaurateur Thomas Keller opens up to the Wall Street Journal Magazine today about the ongoing, four-year-long renovation project at the French Laundry in Yountville, something that he says began just with a rebuild of the wine cellar and has morphed into something far more complicated, including a newly opened 1,981-square-foot kitchen designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta, and 2,000 new square feet housing offices, a butchery facility, and wine storage, all totaling $10 million. There's also been a total makeover of the surrounding landscaping, and now he tells WSJ Magazine that there's one more phase to come: a small hotel on the property.
The two new buildings already completed are described as "a pair of modernist Scandinavian barns" by the magazine, and Keller says he was inspired by the 1980's addition of those glass pyramids to the Louvre by architect I.M. Pei elements of "timeless modernity" added to a classical complex of buildings.
And, Keller reveals that one initial concept, gladly abandoned, was to build a brand new, modern restaurant across the street, where the Laundry keeps a small plot of farmland. But Keller remained convinced they had to retain the original stone building, once upon a time a saloon that became a French laundry during Prohibition.
“We did a sketch for it,” [says architect Craig Dykers]. “I was conflicted with the whole thing,” says Keller, “because the restaurant has a reputation for being one of the top restaurants in the world. And it doesn’t represent that sense of luxury, like when I walk into Michel Bras, where you have these extraordinary architectural buildings. We don’t have that. It’s just a very modest building that we’ve had to kind of nurse along.”
One reason the start-from-scratch approach didn’t happen is that Keller got stuck on the restaurant’s name. If it moved, would he have to change it? “At the end of the day,” says Keller, still visibly relieved he chose to build around his original structure, “that’s not the French Laundry. What would I call it? The French Laundry Across the Street?”
The big news buried at the end of the piece is that Keller and his restaurant group have purchased the adjacent property, presumably referring to what's currently the Vintage Inn, for an eventual small (and no doubt violently expensive) hotel. Keller says it's a "natural extension" of the restaurant to provide a place to stay much like the new fine dining destination in Healdsburg, Single Thread, as Eater points out. And, he adds to the Journal, that after years cultivating his brand and his restaurant group, now over 10 locations strong, "My goal is to be able to retire from my other stuff and reimmerse myself in the French Laundry even more than in the past." (And that's presumably after the supperclub project at New York's Hudson Yards, announced last year, gets off the ground.)
Given that the French Laundry kitchen project has taken four years, one can expect the hotel to take at least that. But stay tuned.