A peek into Per Se’s kitchen

Ok, I promise this will be my last post about Per Se for a while, but there’s just been so much to say that it would be a crime and injustice towards you dear readers to cram it uncomfortably into one post!

So there I was two hours into our meal, camera in hand, feverishly snapping photos of some of the most beautiful food this side of the Seine in Per Se’s delightfully elegant, yet tastefully modern dining room, when our server approached me, looking right at my camera.  “Oh no”, I thought to myself, “this is it.  He’s had enough.  Per Se just doesn’t roll this way.”

To my great surprise, not only did our server not mind my incessant picture-taking, but he offered me the treat of treats: a guided tour of Per Se’s kitchen, or, the Holy Grail of Culinary Design as I call it (we’re on a first name basis like that).  What follows is my attempt at re-creating my tour through the spectacular, daunting, beautiful, and flawless origin of Thomas Keller’s masterpieces.

Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?  Nestled in between the dining room and the kitchen is the “cool down” hallway, which is a naked, calm space for servers to collect their thoughts after the hustle of the kitchen and before the bustle of the dining room.

The next room through that seemingly inauspicious hallway is the main room of the kitchen.   Here, food is garnished, completed, plated, and picked up.  It wasn’t entire clear which, if any, food is actually cooked in this main room, but it was where the majority of the chefs were, including the head chef.

Meticulous preparation comes to a close for each dish here before being whisked away by the servers

The main kitchen from the front, with the head chef in all white in the foreground

My tour guide insisted I capture this gem above the entrance / exit of this main kitchen area:

The term my tour guide was insistent on me capturing

As we continued through the main kitchen out the back, I was able to capture the main area from a different vantage point:

The main kitchen

Out of the main kitchen and down the rabbit hole!  The next room is probably an uncommon room in other kitchens, but in Per Se’s it makes complete sense.  It is a secondary main kitchen, which functions as an entirely separate and self-sufficient second kitchen for large parties.  The idea here is that a large party should not interfere with the timing or enjoyment of the other diners, and so a second kitchen alleviates this possible time crunch.  Here are some photos of it (there were no large parties that night, so it’s empty):

Another shot of the separate kitchen used when large parties are dining so as to not interrupt the service of the smaller groups

The next hallway contained yet another gem, an important message from Chef Keller to his chefs and a gentle, but important reminder about service:

Per Se in a sentence

Next was the specialized, custom-built oven that is used to broil, bake, cook, and otherwise prepare meats of all kinds:

Huge specialized oven used for meat broiling and slow cooking

Down another corner was what appeared to be Per Se’s espresso machine.  What struck me about this room, and indeed, the entire kitchen thus far, was that it looked better than brand new.  It looked spotless in the way that made me think it was cleaned top to bottom every hour, meticulously cared for like it was a living, breathing partner to the chefs and servers.

Where Per Se's amazingly delicious espresso is made

Next was Per Se’s truffle room.  No, not where they keep their frozen truffle mushrooms(which I hear they have an entirely separate freezer for), but where they create day-of and keep cool their decadent chocolate truffle creations:

The chocolate and truffle room from the outside, the interior is kept at a brisk temperature

Last, but certainly not least, was the bakery.  Interestingly, I was told that this bakery is actually used round the clock, as it is shared with Thomas Keller’s more casual restaurant Bouchon downstairs in the Time Warner Center.  Different pastry chefs of course, but the same equipment.  No wonder those mini baguettes are so good!

Per Se's wonderful pastry chef, originally from Cambridge, England

Finished cakes in the pastry room

Huge blender in the pastry room

To conclude, I’ll mention a few things about the tour that surprised me:

  1. It was eerily silent.  Everything and everyone was moving in perfect unison, as if they were actors in a play rehearsed a thousand times.  As a result, there was hardly any commotion at all.
  2. It was startlingly clean.  It was as if no actual cooking even occurred there.
  3. Everyone in the kitchen was genuinely nice.  Despite the rush they all must have been in, many stopped what they were doing to chat with me.  For example, the wonderful pastry chef is originally from Cambridge, England.

In all, Per Se’s was by far the most impressive kitchen I’ve ever seen, and at least 2-3 times the size of the dining room itself, I will remember it as the most substantially important aspect of the entire experience.  Walking into the kitchen, I could actually feel how proud the chefs were to be working in and with it, and I think that sentiment certainly finds its way into the food.  That level of dedication is difficult to fake.

Before you ask to see more photos from Per Se’s kitchen in bigger sizes, you should probably check out my photo page (I’m three steps ahead of you).

Mark posted this on September 2, 2008 and is filed under Pics and Videos, Restaurants.

9 responses to “A peek into Per Se’s kitchen” so far, care to add your two cents?

  1. I love all of the pictures and information!!! I am a culinary student at the CIA in Hyde Park, NY and it was amazing to get a behind the scenes look at such an amazing restaurant. I never knew that kitchens could be so beautiful and so immaculate. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. the coolest feature when i went there was the waste and bone disposer kind of a lazy susan built into the wall, dump cooked bones and waste so nothing was eveer left in the kitchen

  3. Great pics of the tour–I didn’t know they allowed pictures; thought they would be haughty about it. Should have brought my camera then.

  4. Joella – I’m glad you liked the photos! It was definitely a great experience receiving that tour, I was left completely in awe of such a pristine place.

    Matthew – I didn’t see that part, though it sounds really interesting. I guess that means I just have another excuse to go back!

    Esteban – I was actually very hesitant to bring my camera, and then when I actually went into the kitchen all the chefs were staring at me, but then I asked them and told them it would be without flash, and they all laughed and said it was fine. Definitely bring your camera next time, it’s well worth it.

  5. What fantastic authorship of a creative environment.

  6. thank you so much for sharing your special experience in the kitchen – I too had no idea any working kitchen could be so immaculate! fascinating – and appreciated!

  7. My daughter works there. It is even more joyful to work there than eating. I have worked in great kitchen in my youth. This is the Paramount.
    Jacky Robert

  8. Hi Mark, thank you for such an fantastic review and information about Per Se. I was there in March and my experience from eating at Per Se was awesome!! The pictures of Per Se was terrific. I also had the kitchen tour and I loved every minute of it (I love to cook). By the way, I would like your permission to use one of the picture for my family Xmas card (2nd pic from top) . My son is in that photo (my son works for Per Se). Please let me know. I would appreciate it. THANK YOU!!

  9. This is a very professional work… Congratulation…

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