Thomas Keller on That ‘New York Times’ Review and the Future of Per Se: “Everyone around me was freaking out.” Thomas Keller, six foot two and dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, is sitting across from me at the noisy Italian restaurant Ciccio, in Yountville, California, waving his hands and talking about the scene in his office on a winter morning earlier this year. “Everybody was expecting an immediate response, because that’s the world we live in,” he says. “It was devastating.” Keller is the chef and proprietor of two of the world’s most revered fine dining restaurants, as well as a handful of popular and well-respected less formal establishments. But on January 12 the New York Times had knocked Per Se, his seemingly untouchable restaurant on Columbus Circle in Manhattan, down from four stars (its highest rating) to two. In the process the paper’s lead critic, Pete Wells, issued one of the harshest demotions in recent memory.