Eli Kaimeh: As Chef de Cuisine of Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Eli Kaimeh leads a kitchen renowned for both its cuisine and its dedication to excellence. Kaimeh has been a member of the Per Se team since the beginning, starting as a Chef de Partie when the restaurant opened in 2004. His desire and ability, along with a deep understanding of Chef Keller’s culinary philosophy has prepared him to contribute to its continued evolution. During his tenure, Per Se has garnered many accolades including a 4-star review from the New York Times, a 3-star rating from the French-based Michelin Guide and inclusion in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List from the UK-based Restaurant Magazine. In 2011, Per Se was re-reviewed by the New York Times and maintained its 4-star rating. Most recently in April 2012, Per Se ranked 6th in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and earned the title of Best Restaurant in North America. Prior to his time at Per Se, Kaimeh honed his culinary skills in some of New York’s most highly regarded restaurants including Gramercy Tavern, Tocqueville Restaurant and Restaurant Daniel. He holds an Associate’s Degree in Occupational Studies from The Culinary Institute of America. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, food was always the focal point at the Kaimeh home. Cooking reminds him of watching his grandmother pass down family traditions and values to his mother and to himself. Keller: There were several points along the way that led to my becoming a chef. In July, 1977, I met Chef Roland Henin. He had a profound impact. He connected the dots for me. I learned the physical activity of cooking: doing 300 covers a night, for example. He also made me realize that the importance of having other people involved and that the whole point is the people in the dining room: To nurture them. There is inspiration all around you. It’s never one thing. You find it in in lots of different places and none of them you would want to predict. You just realize and embrace them. It can be being at the beach, reading, golfing, sports in the water. Lately, the last two years, I’ve been focused on golf. I love the determination involved, the rituals and the repetition--all that helps make one a good cook. Because I love repetition.
The oysters’ flavor and texture are directly linked to their environment, to the water they live in. The ones we serve at Per Se are rich, salty Island Creek oysters grown in Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts.
If we want to serve them hot, we poach them gently in beurre blanc. The acidity of the sauce (with vinegar and white wine) harmonizes well with the sweet and creamy facets of the oyster. One of our most famous amuse-bouches is “Oysters and Pearls,” a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oysters and sturgeon caviar.