Chefs get accolades, but with Thomas Keller it's almost ridiculous. He has been called a genius, a wizard and an obsessive perfectionist. His French Laundry restaurant in California has been named the best in America. But duplicating perfection 3,000 miles away is nearly impossible. Except for Keller.

One of New York City's hottest tickets is his restaurant Per Se. We heard that Keller rethought every inch of restaurant design to make Per Se fly. To see what that meant, we asked for a tour.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What was the dream for this restaurant?

Thomas Keller Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller: It's The French Laundry, per se.

LRK: That's where the Per Se came from.

TK: In part it came from there. But as you walk toward the restaurant, you see the same image that you see at The French Laundry, which is the blue door.

The difference between our blue door here and our blue door in Yountville is this one doesn't open. Actually the glass panels next to it slide open so that you go in next to the blue door. We like to be playful, we like to surprise people and bring a smile to people's faces. That was one way coming in through the entrance that hopefully brought a smile to people's faces.

LRK: These big glass panels slide away all of a sudden. You're not sure exactly what's happening.

TK: You try to pull the door handle, nothing happens and you go in next to it. But then you walk into the entrance, which I think is really elegant. What we really wanted to do was create an elegant space, something that felt New York, that felt cosmopolitan, that had that sense of luxury to it.

Per Se entrance The entrance to Per Se (kowarski)

LRK: And very sensual. Could you take us into the dining room?

TK: Sure.

LRK: The room is on two levels; there are a few steps going up to a mezzanine. What's interesting is this is a small dining room.

TK: It is by seating capacity, it's very spacious in the amount of room between the tables. We have 16 tables, that's how many we have at The French Laundry, and it accommodates 62 people, which is the same number of guests we can accommodate at The French Laundry. That was done deliberately.

From a design point you have very, very minimal amounts of material. You have the stainless steel, and then you have this beautiful Australian walnut on the walls, which was actually taken from one tree.

Inside Per Se Inside Per Se (star5112)

LRK: I don't see any square tables.

TK: There are no square tables at all, they are all round tables. The round table has the sense of luxury about it.

The other feature here that was very important when we were designing the restaurant in relation to The French Laundry was the fireplace. This is actually a wood-fired, natural-fired fireplace, which is very difficult to put into a new skyscraper building in New York. It was something I was very adamant about.

LRK: It's a very warm-feeling room and a very peaceful-feeling room. Could we now go in the restaurant where it's warm but not very peaceful -- could we go to the kitchen?

TK: On the way to the kitchen we have one of the most important areas to me in the restaurant, and this is an area that we call the breezeway. This is an association with the connection of the two buildings at The French Laundry: the main building and the kitchen.

We learned at The French Laundry that it's a transitional point for the service staff to go from what we call a very violent environment to a very sensuous, luxurious, calm environment. The breezeway helps them make that transition. The importance of the materials in the breezeway is to prepare the service staff to step into a very luxurious area where there are the same materials. Philosophically it helps them transition from stainless steel to...

LRK: ...To the luxury and the sensuality. I don't think I have ever seen anyone in any restaurant think this out in this way.

TK: It's crazy.

LRK: We're walking through a wide, walnut-paneled area into the kitchen, which is completely covered, almost to the ceiling, with white tile and this French Laundry blue stripe going through it up at the top near the ceiling. The kitchen is not huge, but there's so much open space between the different counters and stoves. What am I seeing?

The Per Se kitchen The Per Se kitchen (star5112)

TK: When we did the kitchen here, we looked at the uses that we have at The French Laundry because philosophically we're doing the same food, the format of the menu is the same, the services are the same, everything is the same between the two restaurants. It was very easy for us to design a kitchen that accommodated each one of those specific uses in a comfortable way.

If you look at our menus or if you experience a meal here, you begin with several different canapés, whether it's the cornet or the oysters and pearls, and those come from a specific station. Jason, who is right on the corner of the stove, is our canapé chef. He has one of the hardest jobs in the whole restaurant. He'll do maybe 25 to 30 different dishes every day, and only two of them are ever written on the menu. The others we use for different things, whether it's a special customer, somebody who comes from our immediate family within the industry -- when I say immediate family within the industry it sounds funny, but someone from the industry, guests who are returning over and over again, or special people who come from The French Laundry and vice versa.

After that you'll bump over to where Anthony and Matthew are. They're doing first course. This is where all of the first course compositions come from. The two of them work in tandem to do those first courses.

The next thing you would see on your menu after first course is not appetizer or main course, we don't deal with it like that. It's canapé, first course, and then it goes to fish. Jeremiah, who's in the back corner, does all of the fish. He works next to Jason. Jason and Jeremiah work in tandem as well. Again, the same philosophy and same setup as we have in The French Laundry -- the specific lines of people.

LRK: There are teams?

TK: There are teams. Corey, who's our executive sous chef who spent 3 1/2 years with me at French Laundry, completes the team on this side. At any moment he'll be able to help Matthew and Anthony.

There are really no side obstructions other than the shelves on the stove. We're able to communicate with one another very calmly in a low voice, but also we're able to communicate with each other through eye contact. You get the evil eye sometimes. You don't have to scream at anybody anymore, you just give them the evil eye.

At work in the Per Se kitchen At work in the Per Se kitchen (bionicgrrrl)

Across from Jeremy is Phillip, who's our meat cook. That would be the next course; from canapé, first course and fish, then you go on to meat.

One of the things that is very important, and the same thing at The French Laundry when we designed this kitchen, was that everything can be seen from the chef's point of view. All dishes can be seen from the chef's point of view going out, which is very important. We can make sure that they look the way we want them, we can taste them at any moment we want to.

But the other thing that's very important is that the chef is able to see them on the way back. As they go out of the kitchen, they come back the same way. This allows us as the chefs to actually see what our guests are doing to time their food better, but more important, to actually see if they've enjoyed the food.

"What's wrong with that? They didn't like the hearts of palm?" "Oh no, chef, they're filling up." "You sure?" "Yeah, they want something else though." We want to make sure that our guests are enjoying their food. The way to really ensure a guest is enjoying their food? The clean plate club.

LRK: There's something here I haven't seen in other kitchens: You have white fabric taped over the countertops in some areas. Why is that?

TK: When we're plating our food, we want to see it the same way our guests see it. The other thing that you'll notice here is we have all incandescent lighting, there's no fluorescent lighting. It's very specific lighting designed to spot each different area as well as the work stations. It gives us the opportunity to see the food exactly as our guests see the food. That's very important for us.

The Per Se kitchen The Per Se kitchen (star5112)

LRK: These are the white tablecloths that your guests are eating off of.

TK: There are many reasons. It also encourages us to work cleaner. We want to make sure at the end of the day that our tablecloth is as clean as it began. You can tell the type of service that you had by the condition of the tablecloths at the end of the service. If they're really clean, you know you've had a really good, organized service. If they've gotten a little frayed around the end, you wonder what happened, why is that stain there?

The Per Se kitchen only represents one-third of the space back here, so we're going to walk back and I'll show you the other two areas and what they're specifically for.

LRK: This is one of the most luxurious setups I have seen.

TK: These are the knife drawers for all the chefs. Each chef de partie or each commis has his own knife drawer. I hate people to have bundles of knives stuffed in different areas, so I wanted to make sure everybody had their own space to keep their own things.

LRK: This is another wide, open area, open countertops, all stainless, white tile. What's this area?

TK: We've transitioned back into the private dining kitchen. When we decided to do private dining I said, "OK, we can't really do private dining and gastronomic dining in the same kitchen." We had to add another area, which we did. We added dining rooms for it and we added a kitchen for it, so this is the support for that.

It's basically set up and organized the same way as Per Se's kitchen. There are actually six stations around this large central island. The stove is here and this is the pass table, which during a service would be covered with linen as well.

One of the really important elements that I wanted to point out here is about our refrigeration. We don't have walk-ins, there's no centralized location for everybody to go to. A walk-in, as you know, is a refrigerated room where everybody keeps their products, everybody keeps their mise en place. Everybody goes to that area -- all the different chefs de partie. Because of that it typically could be cluttered, it could be crowded, it could be disorganized. It's one area at The French Laundry that we're constantly having to maintain.

Here I didn't want to have that situation, so we don't have a walk-in. What we did was we created these units, which are specifically sized to an area. For example, the fish butcher has one section, has one refrigerator. We broke down the walk-in. As you walk through the back spaces, you'll see each area has a designated amount of space and refrigeration that's close to it.

LRK: I wish I could do that in my kitchen.

TK: This is the prep room. This is where a lot of the commis work in the morning. When the commis comes in, he has a list that's prepared by his chef de partie the previous night. He's beginning the work, or what we call the mise en place, for the menu for that day.

LRK: So the slicing, the chopping. There's the butter. How many kinds of butter do you have?

TK: I think we have three different kinds of butter.

Downstairs we have two locker rooms. We have the men's locker room and the women's locker room. One of the things that's unique about that is that each one has its own shower. I remember when I was in Paris and I was working at Taillevent. They had a shower and it was such a luxury after working hard all day to be able to take a shower and then go out at night. It was kind of fun. That completes our journey.

LRK: Did you get exactly what you wanted?

TK: In principle, yes, but hindsight is 20/20. There's always something that you'd do a little different or tweak.

Looking at the staff, I'm very proud of all of them and what they've done. So much importance for me is placed on their ability to work comfortably with the right equipment. I have expectations of them to produce at a very high quality. Ultimately what that does for our guests, it gives them an experience that we hope is unparalleled.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.