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That's chevalier Thomas Keller to you

April 14, 2011 | 10:59 pm

The garden at the French Laundry in Yountville was packed Thursday afternoon. A few, maybe, were there for the Champagne, cornets of salmon tartar, tiny rounds from breaded frog legs and even what one fan dubbed "quiche shooters."

But for almost everyone, it was an opportunity to pay tribute to chef-owner Thomas Keller, on the occasion of his being named a chevalier in the French Legion of Honor.

Keller had an East Coast celebration a couple of weeks ago at his Per Se restaurant. Thursday's party was his West Coast version and in addition to friends and family drew a wide range of Bay Area culinary notables, including Cecilia Chiang, the 92-year-old founder of San Francisco's Mandarin restaurant, and Chuck Williams, the 96-year-old founder of Williams-Sonoma. Of course there were chefs, Roland Passot of La Folie, Keller's protege Corey Lee of Benu, Gary Danko, David Kinch from Manresa and Michael Tusk from Quince and Cotogna.

And this was the Napa Valley, so of course there were lots of famous winery names -- Dan Duckhorn, Naoko Dalle Valle, Dick and Ann Grace, Bill and Deborah Harlan, Annette and Doug Shafer and Ann Colgin.

Various speakers extolled Keller and his contributions. Chez Panisse's Alice Waters spoke on the importance of the Legion of Honor. Bay Area legends Margrit Mondavi and Williams extolled him as a worthy inheritor. His mentor, master chef Roland Henin, talked about Keller as a young professional. And I made some comments about his friendship and the kind of example he sets for cooks and writers everywhere. A representative from U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson's office presented a congressional resolution in his honor.

Then it was time for more Champagne, a couple more bites, and then off to dinner.

--Russ Parsons

Briana Marie Photography