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Interview with Best New Chef Douglas Keane

How he got into the food business. Through Stan Bromley, who, until his retirement in 2005, was considered one of the best general managers in the industry. Bromley took a five-year-old Keane under his wing when he was at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn.

Hardest job. "When I was at Cornell, I had to spend one summer working the front of the house at the Four Seasons in Washington, DC. It just wasn't for me. But I never made more money in my life. One day, when I was at the concierge desk, I was smelling the flowers and a guy gave me $100. A Saudi Arabian prince had checked in and they were tipping everyone. So I got $100 just for smelling the flowers."

Biggest influences. Gray Kunz ("for flavors and sheer cooking—when I'm trying to find a flavor, I ask what would Chef Kunz have done?") and Traci Des Jardins, chef/co-owner of Jardinière in San Francisco.

Most humbling moment. "At Jardinière, I was the guy who cooked the foie gras terrines. We're talking like 15 lobes of foie gras, it was a full day's worth of work. One day, I forgot to pull the terrines out of the oven. I couldn't even look at Traci Des Jardins. I still cringe when I think about it. Traci wouldn't let me pay for it, so I went to accounting and secretly paid for it. I never told her."

Ingredient obsession. Ramps. "I grew up in Michigan, and there's a good amount of ramps there. Plus, Gray Kunz was obsessed with pickling them."

What he loves about his menu. "There are no restrictions. I built Cyrus so that I can do whatever I want. In the past, I'd have to say, we can't do truffled risotto on Saturday night, it's too busy, or that dish is too luxurious. I never say that now."

Favorite local cheap eat. El Taco Grande, around the corner from Cyrus. "I get the Quesadilla Suiza—I have no idea what it means, but I get it with chicken."

Favorite guilty pleasure. In-N-Out burgers.

What he'd be if he weren't a chef. "I'd do what Jane Goodall did and go to Africa and work with gorillas. I'm obsessed with monkeys."

Favorite hobby. Gardening "It's like working in a kitchen — there's intrinsic reward and immediate satisfaction. In a garden, you can see your work getting accomplished."

Food trend he dislikes. "I don't get the use of chemicals and stabilizers that transform food into something it's not. I personally don't understand El Bulli—but I'd like to go experience it to see what everyone is talking about."

Favorite cooking show. "I don't watch Food Network. But I did work on Jacques Pépin's show [Encore With Claudine]. He could not be a nicer human being. Plus, he can cook."

Favorite customers. "Recently four people came in to the kitchen after their dinner and literally started clapping."

Published June 2006
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