How An Ice Cream Cone Inspired A Signature Dish At The French Laundry

The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California has been astonishing diners and food critics alike since the 1970s when it was owned and operated by Don and Sally Schmitt, who aided in bringing attention to the Napa Valley area as a legitimate food and wine destination, per The Los Angeles Times. When Thomas Keller took ownership in 1994, he brought the restaurant to another level. Suddenly, people from around the world were clamoring for reservations to experience Keller's new take on fine dining. Critics raved, and the Michelin Guide awarded the restaurant its coveted three-star rating.

Because of constant innovation, consistency, and commitment to excellence, The French Laundry's reputation has not wavered. A number of Keller's dishes have remained constant and become iconic, with the flavors flooring guests after almost 30 years. His "Oysters and Pearls" dish comes towards the beginning of the nightly tasting menu, delighting with pristine Island Creek oysters and caviar, per Thomas Keller. Equally memorable is the unassuming "Coffee and Donuts," or cappuccino semifreddo with cinnamon sugar donuts, via Art Culinaire. Keller explains in a YouTube video clip from an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour," that most of his food has more to do with "revolution or inspiration" than it does with creativity. This philosophy can be seen in one of his signature dishes that happens to be inspired by an ice cream cone.

Dessert inspired an appetizer

One of the dishes that got a lot of attention at The French Laundry was the Salmon Cornet. Keller explained to Vanity Fair that a layer of red onion crème frâiche topped with a small dome of marinated salmon tartare is placed in a small, sesame seed-studded, cone-shaped tuile. Once assembled, it looks like a mini scoop of ice cream in a perfect little cone. Keller notes that he was inspired to create the dish after he visited a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor. Once interpreting it into salmon and crème frâiche, he "decided that every one who eats at the restaurant should begin their meal with this. People always smile; it makes you happy," he explains on the French Laundry Facebook page.

During the A Cook's Tour episode, Bourdain described the cornet as "playful" and "tasty." It was a very unpretentious inspiration for such an esteemed restaurant, but it worked beautifully and showcased Keller's superb talent. Keller also shared that his slightly conceptual dish, "Coffee and Donuts" came from his time working in Los Angeles. He would regularly visit a donut shop near his apartment where he'd order a glazed old-fashioned and a cup of coffee which became the inspiration for another of his classic dishes.