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Eater Contest: Thomas Keller's Winners Revealed!

Almost a month ago, we asked you to share your imaginative ideas and proposals for the next Thomas Keller restaurant, with the prize for the best idea being a breakfast/dinner combo up at Ad Hoc. We received all kinds of submissions, ranging from the innovative (interactive museum) to the simple (a charcuterie) to the far-fetched (a submarine resto).

As promised, we dispatched all the entries to Lord Keller himself, who was kind enough to judge the contest. Before we get to the Laundryman's favorites, we just had to share our pick in the Honorable Mention category:

A subterranean restaurant centered around root vegetables and red meats (and maybe genetically enlarged burrowing mammals). It will be lit only by candlelight, and wandering hunchbacked waiters sporting welding goggles will do tableside frying and flambes or tubers puled from the ceiling, the bursts of flame briefly illuminating the otherwise cavernous gloom. We would name it "Cave Keller" with cave being pronounced in the latin sense (like cave canis...). Real estate would be cheap, and other gimmicky cave stuff could make strong appearances in the menu, such as an in house cave aged gruyere.

And now, the big show: Thomas Keller's favorites. Coming in third place, we have the following proposal:

I think the next Thomas Keller project should be a fast food & takeout restaurant. Yes, you heard me – fast food, gone all gourmet and Kellerized, featuring fresh, local and sustainable ingredients, French sensibilities, and a bit of fun in the process. In an alternative, perfect world, everyone would have convenient access to Keller’s culinary genius. So why not reinvent fast food in a beautifully simple restaurant where you can order at the counter, wait a few minutes, then devour your delights at the modern, clean tables in the restaurant or take them home or out to a picnic. Picture this: walking up to the counter and choosing between a Keller chili dog - local grass fed sausage and cassolet on a Bouchon Bakery bun and the daily tartine with frites. To finish up, a cheese plate or an item from Bouchon bakery. Tuna tartare, soups (gazpacho, please), quiche, and a few daily specials like fried chicken would round out the menu nicely.

In my dream world, this emporium of quick delights is located in San Francisco proper, perhaps close to Dolores Park (for those picnics), or out on the Embarcadero - giving me daily access to fabulousness with quickness and ease.

The runner-up:

The Tavern on the Green lease is up this year in Central Park and who better to "over" fill the shoes of the late Warner LeRoy, than Thomas Keller.

With his mad-talent, he needs some major space to showcase all he's got and I can so see him going GREEN at T.K.s, "Tavern Keller on the Green." Strip all the over -the-top glitz that's been there for years, clear and clean up the space a la Ad Hoc, and return it more to the original look of when it was first used to house sheep.

Then I think T.K. should import some local sheep & goats ( for fresh butter and cheese) plant a huge organic herb/veggie garden to use in the restaurant. ( and have local inner-city school children involved in the farming to start them off early appreciating fresh veggies), keep the twinkling lights cuz they are so festive, and offer his style of food to the masses. Just think how many New Yawkers, Aunty Sue type tourists from Ohio, music and movie moguls will thrill at the opportunity of tasting Keller's food priced for the masses.

And the winner, as chosen by His Highness Keller, who really liked the idea of anonymity in the following:
Open a cafe in San Francisco, in a quiet neighborhood or a quiet corner of a neighborhood. (Perhaps in Bernal Heights or outer Mission or off the main drag in the Lower Haight.) It's small, maybe seats 20 or 25 people at a time. a few more at the bar. Make it the kind of place where the farmer who comes to deliver your produce feels comfortable stopping at the bar to have a sandwich or some pasta before he heads out on the long drive home.

Ideally, there would be wooden floors, a jumble of tables and chairs, an impeccably clean bathroom and the front of the cafe would face west and it would be almost all windows so when the sun sets, the light streams in like someone is pouring gallons of honey from the sky.

You should employ someone who knows how to make a handful of flowers shoved into a jelly jar be something that makes one pause and take a second look, and maybe even smile.

The food should be simple and served with an honest cheerfulness or at least an honest competence. It should be utterly and completely delicious. Knock your socks off, almost unbelievably good. Unexpectedly good. I leave those details up to you. it's your gift, after all.

But most importantly, no one can know this is your cafe. You must be completely and utterly anonymous. I'm sorry to say this but if people found out this simple little approachable cafe with the stellar food was part of your empire, it would ruin it. Nothing against you personally, but this is the price of fame. (But surely you know this?)

I wonder if might be interesting for you to go back to a place where your efforts are being judged solely on their own merit and not on your reputation. And, selfishly, I think it would be so wonderful for us, your average food loving public, to be able to eat your food not as some elevated high art, but an excellence that can be maintained simply and [accessibly], day in and day out. In the little cafe down the street.

Congrats to all the winners, especially the big winner, who we'll be in contact with. Many thanks to all who participated, especially those who submitted thoughtful submissions (there were many!) and Chef Thomas Keller himself. Merci beaucoup.
· Eater Contest: Conceptualize Thomas Keller's Next Project, Win Meals at Ad Hoc! [~ESF~]