Jonathan Ferguson returns from The French Laundry

After his three-month stage at The French Laundry Roux Scholar 2022 Jonathan Ferguson shares his experience of working at the three-star Michelin restaurant in Napa Valley, California.

What inspired you to choose to do your stage at The French Laundry?
I’d always wanted to travel to California to eat at The French Laundry, it had been number one on my list for the best part of ten years. Once I had the opportunity to go and stage anywhere in the world, it was quite an easy and natural choice.

Are there any new techniques or skills you’ve learned? Did you cook with ingredients that were new to you?
For me, the best learning experience was the way they develop, format and store recipes. The system at the restaurant was described to me as ‘bulletproof’ and it really was, to the point where any cook regardless of level or skillset could be handed a recipe and had every tool and resource to successfully produce what was expected.

Tell us about The French Laundry and how it differed from the restaurants/kitchens you’ve worked at before?
The restaurant itself feels very homely. The kitchen was incredible, every single small detail had been considered during its design, and no staff wanted for anything equipment-wise. The farm across the road was quite interesting too, as I arrived in winter, I got to see it slowly come back to life through my time there. The hierarchy of the kitchen was much more respected, and I was very impressed by that. In the UK I think it’s more common for staff in restaurants to argue and cause tension.

The French Laundry, Yountville

What have you enjoyed about staying in Napa Valley? What did you do in your time off?
I was lucky to receive many visitors from home and we explored the area together. A visit from Jack and Mitch Mitchell from TRUEfoods was great fun. We had some great meals, drank brilliant wine and it came at the exact time I was starting to miss some Scottish patter ( banter to anyone from the south!). Most of my time off was spent playing golf or visiting vineyards. Californian wine is not something I knew much about, so it was great to learn about it first-hand. I had some great meals over there too, the best of which was comfortably Ian Scaramuzza‘s cooking at Melisse in Santa Monica. It’s great to see another Scot making a huge mark on the Californian (and world) food scene. A surprise visit from my Dad, my brother and a family friend was very special too. He had spoken to the restaurant in secret and they managed to organise my days off around their visit without knowing a think until they arrived. To have the chance to dine at The French Laundry with them was the perfect way to do it.

What will be your lasting memories of this experience?
I think the best part of the experience was the people I met. In a brigade of 40 cooks, I find it remarkable that I was so welcomed by every single person, to the point I could happily spend a day off with any of them. I think that is testament to the ethos of not just The French Laundry, but the entire Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. On a personal rather than professional level, another highlight was meeting up with Brad, Rachel and Payne from Minus8, who hosted the Wellock’s prize trip to Canada. They took me to Disneyland and it was one of the best weekends I had in the US, another perfect example that The Roux Scholarship is the gift that keeps on giving!