Thomas Keller responds to the NYT review of “Per Se” for the first time

Thomas Keller (right)

Is it too late for Thomas Keller to say he’s sorry?

The famed chef and restauranteur finally speaks about that horrible review his famed restaurant Per Se received in the Times in January, and he’s quite honest about how it made him feel.

“It was devastating,” Keller tells Town and Country in a new profile. Not a huge surprise considering the critic Pete Wells called one dish “as murky and appealing as bong water.”

A few weeks after the review was published, Keller published a public apology for the service Wells received, writing “We are sorry we let you down.” He tells T&C that he also apologized to Wells personally, and he believes the critic was not vengeful in his attack on the restaurant but that maybe he and his staff were a little too assured of their high standing. “Maybe we were complacent… I learned that, maybe, as a team we were a little bit too arrogant, our egos too exposed.”

Among the problems Keller identifies? The fact that his staff did not recognize Wells — not as a critic, but as a repeat customer. “I told [my staff] ‘How can you miss a diner who comes in multiple times, even if they’re not a critic?’ Somebody should catch that, because it’s our job to track what people like if they come in more than one time. You have to make a connection.”

Keller, obviously, knows he and his staff can do better, and while he doesn’t anticipate being able to serve Wells again for a new review, he says his goal is for every customer to “walk out the door and say, ‘What the hell was [Wells] talking about?'”

Still, what Keller really wants? “You know what I yearn for? To have one restaurant.” Ah, the simple days. [T&C]