It's not every day that legendary chefs come to Houston. In fact, the last time Thomas Keller visited Houston, it was 1986. For one whirlwind weekend, however, Keller, Daniel Boulud, Jerome Bocuse, and the Bocuse d'Or USA team of chefs graced Houston with their presence.
First on their agenda was a visit to the Culinary Institute Lenôtre for a tour of the school and an awards ceremony in honor of Marie Lenôtre, who founded the eponymous school with her husband, Alain, son of the legendary French pastry chef and caterer, Gaston Lenôtre.
The purpose of the ceremony was to award Marie Lenôtre with the Chevalier Award by the French National Order of Merit. Bestowed upon French citizens who have demonstrated a commitment to public service, the Chevalier, or Knight award, is issued by the President of France.
The ceremony itself was short but meaningful. After a brief speech by Lenôtre's husband, Alain, each of the visiting chefs took turns speaking during the awards ceremony.
Thomas Keller, who owns the famed three-Michelin-starred French Laundry in Napa, along with several other restaurants in Napa, New York, and Las Vegas, was the first to address the students and attendees.
His short speech emphasized camaraderie and teamwork: "I just want to remind you that it's that person next to you, behind you, and in front of you -- that is your colleague, that is your partner, that's part of your team, whether you're working with them today or tomorrow or 10 years from now. What it really comes down to is you -- the next generation of young culinarians, who are working today, learning today to be the leaders tomorrow, and I want to thank you for your dedication and commitment to our profession."
Jerome Bocuse, son of legendary chef Paul Bocuse and owner of several restaurants in Orlando, Florida, took the stage and talked about the relationship between his father, Paul Bocuse, and Gaston Lenôtre, saying that "Gaston would be really proud of what you are doing here."
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Daniel Boulud, the famous restauranteur and also Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, then took the podium. He highlighted some of Marie Lenôtre's most notable achievements -- holding three degrees, establishing and maintaining the only accredited, French-owned culinary school in the United States, and starting the Gaston Lenôtre Scholarship, a Texas non-profit that has raised funds for, and disbursed more than 500 student scholarships since its inception in 2001 -- before presenting her with the blue pin of the Chevalier.
A book signing and lavish reception followed the awards ceremony.