Why Thomas Keller Was Awarded France's Most Decorated Honor

It would be impossible to talk about the most celebrated chef in history without mentioning the name Thomas Keller. He is the author of multiple cookbooks, with "Bouchon Bakery Cookbook" making it to the top as a best seller for The New York Times, and he was named "Chef of the Year" by the Culinary Institute of America. According to MasterClass, Keller has more than 10 restaurants, for which he's received James Beard Awards for both "Outstanding Chef" and "Outstanding Restaurateur." 

Keller also has over three Michelin stars, deeming him the first and only American chef with multiple three-star Michelin Guide ratings, coming to a total of seven (via Fine Dining Lovers). In 2017, he won the Bocuse d'Or world cooking competition, named for the iconic French chef Paul Bocuse. Two of his most famed restaurants are The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery.

Indeed, French cuisine is deeply ingrained into the Keller zeitgeist. But don't get it twisted: Thomas Keller is an American through and through. He was born in Oceanside, California (per the Academy of Achievement), and his first restaurant, Rakel, opened in New York City. His father was even a U.S. Marine. Yet, Keller was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, the most decorated honor in France. Why?

Keller's career celebrates French cuisine

In 2011, the France Légion d'honneur named Keller a "Chevalier," meaning knight (via Cambridge Dictionary), in recognition of the chef's celebration of French cuisine at his U.S. restaurants. And, according to Eater, what better fitting title would be for Keller, who has promoted French food and stylings with diligence throughout his professional career? Disney-Pixar even turned to him as a culinary consultant on the 2007 film "Ratatouille," which was set in Paris, per Masterclass. And while Alice Waters and Julia Child are the only other American chefs to receive the Honor, this makes Keller the first male chef to share this title.

Perhaps his greatest accolade is the pious degree of reverence with which other chefs regard him. This was demonstrated by Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pepin, Robert Parker, and fellow Chevalier Alice Waters, who all nominated Keller for the honor (via Masterclass). And to top it off, Paul Bocuse presented the award to him at the reception held at Per Se, Keller's NYC restaurant.

Chef Anthony Bourdain (who happens to be of French descent, per The Register Forum) called Keller his "idol." "I see him as absolutely the most exciting chef in America at the top of his game," praises Bourdain, adding that Keller crafts his dishes with "a level of skill, diligence, and exactitude one would expect from a neurologist" (via YouTube). Indeed, the French Legion of Honor (and much of the professional culinary world) would seem to agree.