Thomas Keller

Chef and owner of the legendary French Laundry and New York's three-Michelin-starred Per Se - among others - Keller has a new concept, Adhoc, in Yountville, California, that involves bur­gers and half bottles of wine.

Describe the moment you knew you wanted to be a chef.

July 1977: My mentor Roland Henin helped me make the emotional connection with cooking. I had just been cooking as a process before, but he taught me that cooking is all about preparing food for others and bringing them pleasure through food. This was a revelation and changed everything for me.

What snack would you leave on a plate for Santa Claus, to really tempt him?

Homemade potato chips, crème fraîche, osetra, and a 1983 Salon Champagne.

What one dish is always on your holiday table?

Creamed spinach.

Describe a holiday food memory from your childhood.

Thanksgiving was big at our house. My mother was always up at five a.m., cooking lovingly all day.

What chef from the present or past would you choose as your personal chef?

Either Fernand Point or Alain Chapel.

What is your advice to future chefs?

Be patient. Don't expect to be head chef too early. And be open to learning - it takes a long time to learn everything you need to know.

What ingredient can you not live without?

Salt.

What do you prepare at home for yourself and for your family?

Simple food - like pasta with fresh Parmesan and butter, or one-pot meals.