Chef Thomas Keller’s name is synonymous with quality and high standards. Considered both an innovator and a traditionalist, the celebrated American chef and proprietor has established a collection of restaurants that sets a new paradigm within the hospitality profession, including the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and Per Se in New York.
He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to be designated a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France.
In June 2021, The Supplant Company officially launched a new category of sugars called “sugars from fiber” with expertise and guidance from Chef Thomas Keller, who recreated his time-tested chocolate, ice cream, and cookie recipes using The Supplant Company’s sugars from fiber, for the launch.
Chef Keller kindly agreed to sit for an interview, and to share the story of his relationship with Dr. Tom Simmons and The Supplant Company.
Supplant: Thank you for agreeing to sit for this interview Chef Keller. Can you share how you came to know Tom Simmons and The Supplant Company?
Thomas Keller: I came to know Tom through Anna Bolz, who is the pastry chef at Per Se in New York. Tom’s team wrote her a very nice card, asking for any tips or advice regarding his new ingredient. Anna connected Tom and I; it was probably about two and a half years ago now.
Supplant: What was your initial reaction when you learned of The Supplant Company’s methods for turning unused plant fiber into a new category of sugars called “sugars from fiber”?
Thomas Keller: I was fascinated. Sugar is such an essential part of our experience with food. It’s associated with joy, comfort, satiety, and childhood; it’s a very social ingredient. Kids intrinsically love sugar.
But as we now know, refined sugar, in excess, is associated with health challenges — from diabetes to hypertension to obesity, and it has become pervasive in our food system. So instead of being a special part of our relation to food, it has become this central thing. It has grown out of proportion, become unbalanced.
Our restaurants exist to nurture, and deliver sustenance, nutrition, comfort — we care for people. We were drawn to sugars from fiber as an ingredient that could enable us to continue delivering these kinds of nourishing experiences in a way that is healthier, and better for the earth.
And it worked, everyone loved our cookies, chocolate, and ice cream made with The Supplant Company’s sugars from fiber; they couldn’t tell the difference.
Supplant: As a chef, what is it that you find most compelling about Supplant sugars from fiber?
Thomas Keller: I think it’s more than just one thing. Sugar is typically made in just a few different ways, so to learn that there was this new method for producing sugar from unused plant fiber, I was intrigued. I could see the potential, and I wanted to try it.
Here in the U.S. we don’t get enough fiber in our diet, we’re chronically short of fiber. We get plenty of carbohydrates, fats, sugars, protein — but not nearly enough healthy fiber.
It’s only about 5% of Americans who get enough daily dietary fiber. This causes a lot of health challenges for the nation, especially for children. Tom’s ingredient acts similar to fiber in the body, simply because it’s made from fiber. It doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike in the body, so it doesn’t lead to diabetes, or have negative effects on appetite, or metabolism.
The fact that it’s made from otherwise unused plant fiber, like corn, wheat, or oat husks, make it even more exciting as an ingredient. This means less new farmland, and more nature and biodiversity that is preserved.
Supplant: What is it like to work with Supplant’s sugars from fiber, in the kitchen?
Thomas Keller: I was immediately impressed by its performance. We’ve used it in many different ways. For example, we’ve caramelized it, melted it down, and sprayed it on nuts to make candied nuts. We’ve had a lot of fun modifying our existing recipes to include a percentage of Supplant, which is not always 100%, but sometimes is.
We’re experimenting with other dishes, including savory recipes. We’re taking tried and true recipes that people have been eating for 30–40 years. We’re replacing a percentage of the refined sugar with sugars from fiber, and seeing if anyone can tell the difference. They can’t.
Supplant: Can you tell us about your own relationship with sugar? How have Supplant’s sugars from fiber changed how you think about sugar as an ingredient?
Thomas Keller: I love sugar, both to eat, and to use in recipes. But as Tom so passionately explains, we have this problem in the world, where we aren’t producing either the quantity or the quality of the food we need.
Large parts of the world are malnourished and lacking fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while other parts of the world are experiencing a diabetes epidemic that is at least partly due to fiber and other deficiencies.
At the same time, there’s all this healthy plant fiber that goes unused on farms. I was immediately drawn to the way that Supplant’s sugars from fiber allow us to maintain our emotional connection to sugar, without sacrificing nutrition. It’s a remarkable ingredient in that sense — sugar, but with the health benefits of fiber.
Supplant: The French Laundry is famous for having its own gardens near the restaurant in Yountville, and also for using the freshest ingredients, and valuing a direct connection to the food you serve. How important do you think it is to know where our food comes from?
Thomas Keller: It’s essential. At our restaurants, we’ve always tried to maintain a strong connection to the ingredients we use by growing our own whenever possible and always focusing on nutrition, simplicity, and healthfulness.
When I learned that there was a new kind of sugar that had a high level of performance in the kitchen, but was also good for the planet, this was very intriguing. I wanted to support it, and to help our customers experience it, and understand it.
Supplant: What is it like to eat sugars from fiber? Do they have different or unique gustatory properties?
Thomas Keller: It’s less sweet, and it contains less than half the calories compared to traditional sugar, so it has its own unique profile in this way. People who ate our chocolate, cookies, and ice cream made with Supplant’s sugars from fiber loved them, and couldn’t tell the difference. It browns and caramelizes like sugar, too.
The fact that it’s a prebiotic is important as well. A prebiotic is any food that acts as nourishment for the good bacteria in the gut. So a prebiotic like Supplant’s sugars from fiber are good for digestion. Not bad for an ingredient so often associated with pleasure, and indulgence.
Supplant: How do you predict chefs will respond to cooking with Supplant?
Thomas Keller: Supplant’s sugars from fiber is a whole new type of ingredient, and because it has unique properties, it’s undoubtedly going to change how food is prepared in the kitchen, and on the menus of restaurants.
Supplant: This seems like an almost-revolutionary ingredient from a culinary perspective. Do you agree?
Thomas Keller: Yes, I do agree. I think it’s going to slowly transform how we use sugar. This is just the beginning — I’m really excited for the future of this company.
Supplant: Do you have any final thoughts or comments?
Thomas Keller: No, only that I’m excited to continue collaborating with Tom and The Supplant Company. Stay tuned.
Thank you so much for your time, Chef Keller.
Learn more about sugars from fiber.