One of the ways guys like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — and Steve Hanson, Jeffrey Chodorow and Keith McNally — are superior to the rest of us is in their inconceivable attention to detail. (You can spot future greats this way, too, I said, looking at Gabe Stulman.) I once walked a construction site with Steve Hanson and at one point he stopped mid-stride and mid-riff on the virtues of having one’s own laundry facility to note to his contractor that the sill in the doorway to the kitchen was 1/8” too low (not enough lip in the event of a spill). McNally is the king of not only understanding the things that could go wrong during service, but mitigating them. At Pastis, the place-mat doubles as your menu, you get your own bottle of tap water so bus boys don’t have to worry about filling glasses, and when there’s something to promote it’s on the postcard that’s dropped with the check: fewer moving parts.
On the other hand, above is what the trash can at Bouchon Bakery Rock Center looked like at 4:30 PM today. What’s my point? This is my point. All of these guys are equally good at the details. Yes, Keller Ops could do a better job of emptying trash cans, but The Tree is up at Rock Center and there are thousands of people on the plaza. It’s that he’s getting away with this and in it there’s another layer to what is universally accepted as the genius of Thomas Keller. Nobody is instinctively better at knowing when the media is looking and when it’s not.