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YOUNTVILLE -- Thomas Keller, chef and owner of the Michelin-rated The French Laundry, has been designated by France as a Chevalier, or "Knight," of the National Order of the Legion of Honor for his commitment to the traditions of French cuisine and his role in "elevating cooking  in America," according to his company.

The distinction puts Mr. Keller in the company of other culinary luminaries, among them Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Alice Waters and Daniel Boulud.

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Chef Paul Bocuse, a pioneer in French "new cuisine" and founder of the Bocuse D'Or World Cuisine Competition, presented Mr. Keller with the Legion of Honor medal at his Per Se restaurant in New York. Mr. Keller is president of the Bocuse D'Or USA Foundation.

The rank of Chavalier is the first of five degrees of the Legion of Honor. That rank is considered the highest culinary decoration in France, according to Thomas Keller Restaurant Group.

In addition to The French Laundry and Per Se, Mr. Keller's restaurants include Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc and Bar Bouchon. He is the only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings by the France-based Michelin Guide for restaurant quality.

Mr. Keller was notified of the award, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, in a letter from French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who in that role is Grand Master of the order.