Thomas Keller is the only American-born chef with two restaurants that have received three stars, the highest rating, from the Michelin Guide. Per Se, his restaurant at the Time Warner Center in New York City, which opened in 2004, was among the first four restaurants to receive Michelin’s top honors. The French Laundry, his restaurant in Yountville, Calif., in the Napa Valley, first won three stars in 2006 and remains one of the few three-star restaurants in the Bay Area. In 1997, the James Beard Foundation named him the best chef in the United States, and in 2007 he won the foundation’s outstanding restaurateur award. The year that Per Se opened, The New York Times gave it four stars, the newspaper’s summit.
Mr. Keller learned to cook as a child, helping to peel vegetables at the restaurants in Florida where his mother was a dining-room manager. He studied psychology in college but became a full-time chef when his mother was desperate for a replacement for a chef who had quit without notice. He first came to public attention in the mid-1980s at Rakel, in Manhattan. And in 1994, he and 50 partners bought a restaurant in Napa. It was called the French Laundry.