The original founder of world-renowned California restaurant The French Laundry, Sally Schmitt, has died at the age of 90.
Schmitt died on 5 March at her home in the Mendocino County town of Philo after several years of declining health, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported on Saturday.
Renovating a building that operated as an actual laundry in over four years, Schmitt and her husband opened The French Laundry in 1978. The restaurant quickly gained a reputation for its ever-changing prix fixe menu. The restaurant never had a sign outside, didn’t advertise or accept credit cards.
Chef Thomas Keller bought the restaurant from Schmitt in 1994 and turned it into one of the best restaurants in the world. However, Keller was always respectful of The French Laundry’s soul and kept Schmitt’s tradition of inventing guests into the kitchen. He pays tribute to her annually by serving one of her prix fixe menus.
“Sally operated from a minimalist kitchen that somehow reflected her cooking style,” he wrote in the preface of his book, The French Laundry. "There was nothing grandstanding about Sally’s food. Her repertoire employed Gallic touches but also drew on cherished elements of Americana: tomato soup, braised oxtails, cranberry and apple kuchen.”
After selling the restaurant, Schmitt bought an apple farm in Philo and continued to cook, teaching students who came from all over the country.
“I really have done just what I loved to do, which has always been simply to cook good food for those I cared for,” she wrote in her upcoming cookbook, Six California Kitchens: A Collection of Recipes, Stories, and Cooking Lessons From a Pioneer of California Cuisine. "That’s what mattered. That’s all that mattered.”