It's been a rough year, PR-wise, for French Laundry chef and restaurant empire-builder Thomas Keller, and it looks like he's finally decided to abandon Twitter on account of the fact that he can't stop saying things there that piss off large swaths of the American public.
The most recent Keller tweet that drew the ire of many on the Left, as the Chronicle reports, was one in which he responded to the death this week of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul to whom he owed some gratitude for his own restaurant group's presence in Las Vegas. "You will be missed" was Keller's message to Adelson, but given that even Adelson's New York Times obit was headlined "Billionaire Donor to G.O.P. and Israel," you can see why this might not have been appreciated by those who don't like the G.O.P., or Israel.
Back in the early pandemic days of 2020, Keller drew some sharp criticism for his willingness to join the Trump White House's very corporate-leaning Economic Council for Restaurants. As Eater reported last April, Keller was "roundly mocked" by peers in the industry for taking part in the sham task force and even going so far as to call it an "honor." And in response, Keller went full tweetstorm saying "this is not a partisan issue" and calling out the "haters" who would dare mock his sincere efforts to help the industry.
"Whether the broken PPP, the need for business insurance relief, or the unprecedented economic hardship — each issue is dire. More than 15 million people’s livelihoods are at stake right now. Shame on those who think working with the federal government is reprehensible," Keller tweeted at the time.
But then it came to light last fall that Keller's restaurants were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the federal PPP loan program, getting $2.4 million for the French Laundry alone — about 17 times what the average Bay Area restaurant received, according to an ABC 7 analysis.
Keller has long been a king and patriarch on the Bay Area food scene, ever since putting The French Laundry on the international foodie map in the late 1990s and earning the moniker "Best Restaurant in the World" for several years running. He went on to build a restaurant group with Yountville-based Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, and Ad Hoc, as well as offshoots of Bouchon and the bakery in other cities, and the highly acclaimed — though more recently chagrined via a terrible New York Times review in 2016 — New York sister restaurant of the Laundry, Per Se.
Prior to the opening of his 200-seat TAK Room at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, his biggest new project in years, the New York Times did a 2017 profile of Keller that depicted him as an exacting chef-owner nearing retirement age who had not yet figured out what his plan would be to step back from his businesses. It also discussed the awkward fact that the type of fine dining Keller helped to perpetuate in the U.S. was on the wane, and was being supplanted by more casual spaces and diverse cuisines.
"It’s essentially haute couture, and we know haute couture appropriates from minorities and urban communities,” said Oakland-based chef Preeti Mistri in the piece, talking about her changing perceptions of the French Laundry. Further, she said in Keller's direction: "You need to go on your woke journey."
All of this not-great press was followed in late 2020 by the revelations that both Governor Gavin Newsom and SF Mayor London Breed had enjoyed group dinners at the French Laundry at a time of rising COVID cases and heightening lockdowns in the Bay Area — and while less effete restaurants have been struggling to stay above water. That may not reflect directly on Keller so much as it's another vague stain on the brand overall that his PR team would have liked to have avoided.
It's a wonder that he's been allowed on Twitter, to tweet himself, as long as he has, especially in an age when a single tweet can derail an entire career. But, here we are, and it's not clear whether the departure from Twitter is permanent or what, as his spokespeople have not commented.
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