(This articles contains affiliate links which means we earn a commission if you end up joining MasterClass. However, it is an honest review in which I outline the good and the bad of the Thomas Keller class).
I love to cook. I’ve been cooking since high school, trying my hand at all kinds of desserts, bread, roasts, you name it.
And like any eager student, I am always up for learning new tricks of the trade. Anything to help me better my cooking and increase the likelihood of my guests saying “damn this is good” instead of a polite nod.
So, I recently turned to MasterClass. When it comes to cooking, they’ve certainly brought in the big guns, er, big knives.
They brought in Thomas Keller—world renowned chef.
Armed with my cutting board, a santoku, and a freshly cleaned kitchen, I set out to take cooking lessons from Thomas Keller. All from the comfort of my living room.
In this Thomas Keller MasterClass review, I’ll tell you absolutely everything you need to know about this extremely popular class. What worked, what didn’t, and whether you should sign up to the class yourself.
Let’s get started.
What is MasterClass?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with MasterClass, it’s an inspirational new website with dozens of online courses from masters in their field.
And the instructors are true legends. From filmmaking with Ron Howard to writing with Neil Gaiman to comedy with Steve Martin, MasterClass leaves few stones unturned.
Nowhere else are the world’s most successful people teaching what it is that made them successful. That’s what I love about MasterClass.
The instructors share their knowledge in captivating video lessons. The production quality of these lessons are incredible. Think Hollywood-level production quality.
Not only will you be entertained, but you’ll learn fascinating new skills in the process.
For me, MasterClass has Netflix well and truly covered while we’re all spending more time at home because of the virus outbreak.
You can read my full MasterClass review here.
Who is Thomas Keller?
Thomas Keller is a chef and restaurateur. He owns and operates The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in Manhattan. Both of these restaurants were awarded and have retained three Michelin Stars—perhaps the highest and most coveted award in the food industry.
The French Laundry has been listed as The Best Restaurant in the World in 2003 and 2004.
He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest living chefs.
With this in mind, I decided to take his MasterClass, in hopes of learning all about food from a true master.
What is Thomas Keller teaching?
Thomas Keller is teaching cooking techniques. He has two classes and the first one (which is what I’m reviewing here) focuses on vegetables, pasta, and eggs.
Keller doesn’t start by throwing you into the deep end, instead, he starts with the concept of mise en place, which roughly means “everything in its place.”
When it comes to cooking, this means that you have all of your ingredients and tools out and ready to go before you begin cooking. This way, you don’t accidentally miss something, realize that you are out of vanilla in the middle of making a cake, or race to get your hand mixer while your chocolate is burning.
It’s an attitude, a quasi-feng shui style of preparation that is psychologically beneficial and keeps your cooking from spiraling out of control.
Thomas is teaching you this. He’s teaching you about what you can control and what you can’t. You can’t, for example, control the creation of an ingredient. You can, however, control which ingredient you purchase.
Quality ingredients matter, and he stresses that.
Post-ingredients, you (the chef) have much more control, and this is where Keller spends most of his time—teaching you the techniques of fine cooking so that you gain control over your food preparation.
Expert control = quality cooking.
How is the Thomas Keller MasterClass structured?
Thomas Keller’s class is arranged through 36 videos accompanied by a 119-page hybrid cookbook/workbook.
It’s an enormous amount of material.
Thomas Keller’s MasterClass is very much a “walk before you run” style of course. The first lessons are on cookware, sourcing ingredients, setting up your kitchen.
He wants to give you the tools to feel empowered. Being empowered starts with a strong foundation.
It reminds me a little of watching an old-school martial arts master: he trains you to start at the very bottom to build an expert foundation. No student can be too proud to skip the basics.
He teaches you how to hone a knife. He teaches you how to feel the balance of a knife. This is a course that stresses how critical these seemingly small elements can be. Foundation, foundation.
From there, he moves on to vegetables. The first actual cooking lesson is on blanching asparagus. I’ll be honest, it didn’t inspire a lot of excitement when I first saw it listed. Blanching?
I wanted to get to the fun things!
I was wrong. You have to perfect the basics. And he teaches you how to perfect them. And he teaches you why to perfect them. He doesn’t just say “blanch these asparagus bunches.” Instead, he shows you what blanching does (helps bring out those vibrant colors), and how to incorporate that into your cooking.
That is the predominant focus of Keller’s class — teaching you important cooking techniques that can be used in larger recipes.
In vegetables, he teaches you how to blanch, how to peel tomatoes, how to roast.
In eggs, he teaches you how to make mayonnaise. He teaches you how to make hollandaise, and then shows you how hollandaise can be used to create other sauces in turn.
He teaches you how to scramble eggs. Turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong for over a decade (whoops).
From there, he turns his attention to pasta, before wrapping up with lessons on essential philosophies. It’s an impressive cooking tour de force.
Who is this class for?
The Thomas Keller MasterClass is for the chef who is willing to learn and is comfortable perfecting basic techniques, over and over, until you achieve mastery.
This is not a class for the slapdash “good enough is good enough” chef. Instead, this is a course for a cook who understands that perfection builds mastery, and is patient enough to stick with it until the results speak for themselves.
It is also a class for someone who has access to quality ingredients and cookware. While many of the recipes are simple and do not require specialized tools, there are plenty of recipes that require less commonplace items.
You certainly can skip these recipes if you wish, but if you want to complete the course, you ought to work through them.
Who is this class not for?
As mentioned, this isn’t for the impatient chef. If you are going to roll your eyes at learning how to make mayonnaise, then you best be on your way.
Similarly, this isn’t for the chef who thinks they know better than Keller. This is a class for the humble learner who is eager to really elevate their cooking skills. The class is about learning how to be a better chef, a better taster, a better foodie.
It is not about showing off, nor is it about competition. It’s about mastering the basics.
If you aren’t dedicated to bettering your mastery of cooking, this class is not for you.
I wanted to talk about the scrambled eggs lesson to highlight what I mean about getting recipes right. I don’t know about you, but I was always taught a very specific way of cooking scrambled eggs. Whisk eggs with milk + salt + pepper + tabasco, put butter in pan over high heat, pour eggs, form curds for a minute, dump in plate.
Apparently, this way is wrong. Keller (and many chefs) stress using low heat only, as low heat keeps your eggs from drying out.
I felt a little miffed. I’ve been making eggs my way for my whole life and they’ve never been dry!
But, I decided, Keller knows what he’s talking about. I should give it a shot.
He has two different scrambled egg recipes, a French and an American. Both of them stress low heat, and both use creme fraiche as thickening agents.
It seemed wrong to me, but I took the plunge anyway. After all, this class is about learning (even re-learning) the basics — learning the precise way to cook your food. Something about his mantra of “always treat your eggs delicately” resonated with me, and I figured I ought to treat my breakfast with a little more care and a little less ego.
I don’t know if it was the extra butter or the creme fraiche, but damn those eggs were delicious.
I have a newfound respect for low-heat cooking. It gives you so much more control and a velvety texture.
What surprised me about this class
The main thing that surprised me about the Thomas Keller MasterClass was what it covered—and what it didn’t.
It focuses on vegetables, eggs, and pasta. There’s nothing about meat, dessert, or baked goods.
It’s stunningly simple in its breadth, but very impressive in the depth afforded to each subject.
Keller spends a great deal of time showing you how to poach an egg, how to make certain forms of fresh pasta, how to blanch and peel a tomato! I didn’t realize that each lesson would appear so basic, but that ultimately becomes the appeal of his class.
And there’s a sequel??
Yeah! If you like Keller’s Fundamentals 1 (the class I’m focusing on in this Thomas Keller MasterClass review), he follows it up with Fundamentals 2, which covers meats and sauces. It’s next on my list, but looks really promising! I can’t wait to figure out how to cook a duck breast.
The second Thomas Keller MasterClass appears a little more exotic and advanced than Fundamentals 1 (you learn how to cook cote de boeuf, fried chicken, schnitzel), but it appears to build upon the techniques you learn in Fundamentals 1.
Again, walk before you run.
How much does it cost?
On the other hand, you can pay $90 for just Keller’s MasterClass. While I am typically less inclined to suggest you pay a one-time fee for any of the master classes, Keller offers so many high-quality cooking lessons that even the single course at $90 feels really worth it.
Of course, I totally think that $180 for all of them is the better deal. Odds are, if you like one MasterClass you’ll like another (for example, check out our review of Gordon Ramsay’s terrific MasterClass).
I recommend checking out their course catalogue before deciding to shortchange yourself on purchasing only a single class.
Is it worth it?
Thomas Keller is a world-class chef who expertly explains how to perform the basics of cooking. He’s not showing you these difficult-to-execute techniques; he’s helping you build your foundation. Being taught your fundamentals by a true master is a rare opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Again, I think that the MasterClass All-Access Pass is the way to go (as opposed to the single class price), but the single price isn’t a bad deal at all when you factor in how much you get to learn from Thomas Keller.
Keller’s workbook is a big part of why this class is worth the price. The workbook isn’t just a recapitulation of his classes; it also holds the recipes, the materials you will need, and tables that explain the pros and cons of certain ingredients and kitchen materials.
He shows you what type of cooking material is good for what type of cooking task, along with its respective pros and cons. This type of material is invaluable. I really appreciated knowing when cast iron would be appropriate vs. nonstick. His workbook is full of all sorts of interesting tidbits and lessons that will help the aspiring chef.
The workbook also lists specific cookbooks that you should also purchase to practice your techniques.
It’s a nice touch.
What are the alternatives?
Thomas speaks about this at the beginning of his class. Traditionally, chefs would teach students through cookbooks. An alternative certainly could be one of Keller’s own cookbooks (which do run cheaper than MasterClass), though you do lose the video instructions from Thomas.
Additionally, you could watch some cooking demonstrations on The Food Network, or even some classic Julia Child episodes, but The Food Network doesn’t rise to the level of Keller, and Julia Child’s recipes sometimes can be hard to follow along with due to her outdated vocabulary.
I don’t know. I guess the only real alternative would be to take cooking classes, and those can be expensive!
I’d say that, for the money, Thomas Keller’s MasterClass is the best bet.
Thomas Keller MasterClass review: The pros
Thomas Keller’s MasterClass is an impressive deep dive into the fundamentals of cooking. The best parts are:
- Attention to basics. Thomas teaches the aspiring chef the importance of ingredients, technique, mise en place, and cookware.
- Perfection. Keller stresses that mistakes happen, and that you must always try again. Try again until you get it right. On the flip side, never be afraid to fail.
- Useful fundamentals. Keller teaches critical fundamentals that will allow you to expand your cooking abilities when tackling more advanced recipes
- There’s a lot of material. There are nearly 40 videos of lessons, along with a 100+ page workbook.
- Community is strong. Cooking communities are always active online, and Keller’s is no exception. There are scores of comments under each video with users helping each other out.
Thomas Keller MasterClass review: The cons
I loved taking his class, but here are the things that I wasn’t so keen on.
- No skimping. Thomas Keller’s class is geared to the individual who is willing to spend on quality ingredients and materials. If you’re looking to skimp, you might be disappointed.
- Recipes specialized equipment. Not all of us have a gnocchi board (I didn’t!). This class recommends using one. This can be frustrating if you’re not willing to buy a few extra bits of equipment.
- Walk-don’t-run can be off-putting. This class is purposefully paced slowly. Keller wants to walk you through specific, critical techniques (like making a perfect omelet), before pushing you to advanced recipes. If you’re just looking to tackle high-end recipes out of the gate, you may feel frustrated.
Thomas Keller MasterClass: My verdict
I learned a lot from the Thomas Keller MasterClass:
- I learned how to scramble eggs (the right way).
- I learned how to make agnolotti.
- I learned why we blanch vegetables.
- I learned a lot of what makes a simple recipe perfect.
- I learned what differentiates good food from superb food.
- I also learned that I have a lot to learn.
Thomas Keller’s Fundamentals 1 cooking class really is an invitation into a greater cooking world. He helps you build your foundation, before turning you loose to experiment and build upon his lessons.
It’s a great way to learn precise techniques of fine cooking that you can incorporate into your own home cooking.
It does require some specialized equipment for certain lessons, but the majority of them can be accomplished with only a few multi-purpose utensils.
Keller places an emphasis on quality of ingredients. By the end, you can taste the difference in your recipes when you raise the quality. He even has a homework assignment on tasting different types of salt. He pushes you to discern between fine differences and figure out your preferences.
I can’t wait to try that one out!