American Chef Duane Keller
American Chef Duane Keller, with 42 years of working experiences presents us insides of the American Chefs scene and his “Inn Cuisine” concept and philosophy “we are only as good as the last plate we put out”.
What drove you to become a chef?
The excitement of being part of a team creating wonderful food in Many high end operations. I grew up in professional hockey and I use the analogy that being in the kitchen is similar to being on the ice. They’re both a contact sport so you have to keep your head up, communicate well and go out every day and win. Being a chef is LIke A player coach in hockey. I enjoy the physical work, the Mental challenges and mostly the People in the Industry. I have spent 42 years doing what I love and I give back daily.
Where do you teach?
I’ve been involved in culinary schools since the early 80s and headed the externship for CIA ( Culinary Institute of America ) in Florida for 10 years. Even today I have 3 externs from 3 different schools. I have done presentations on all levels for continued education of culinary arts. One recent one was a presentation for 350 high school teachers about the importance of a Culinary arts program in the high school level.
How has the American Chef school system changed today?
There are a few good schools out there but I have seen a saturation of graduates that don’t have the basic knowledge today. I was an expert witness in a trial that a school Guaranteed you would be a chef in six months after you paid them $60,000 for the six-month course. I am still a big fan of Stages and working for a Chef that’s going to teach you. That’s me. There is no attitudes in my kitchens. We are a team.
At your current position as the Executive Chef of the Belle Haven Country Club, you reduced Food Inventory drastically, and the Food Costs by 50% by eliminating vendors (Making Everything in House): can you tell us something more about this making everything inhouse approach?
When I arrived to Belhaven country club there was no pastry shop. This is a great example of how you can impact quality and cost of goods immediately. I brought in a young pastry chef from California he followed me on my Chef Duane Keller Facebook page for years. Since June we have produced everything in the bakeshop from scratch. All the bread service, all the desserts and breakfast pastries for a very large operation. The food cost in a bake shop is about 10 percent so it drastically helps overall food cost and all the members rave about the quality because we use all natural ingredients. I run a “classroom” environment so I’m always teaching. We make everything because it’s better, more cost effective and I can teach my staff.
Awards: to name just a view: the DiRona Award, Sarasota, Florida; the Gold Spoon Award at the Four Star Delta Bow Valley Inn, Calgary; the Red Seal Award at Emerald Park, Vancouver; the Wine Spectator Award; the C.C.A. Chef of the Year Award; and the Florida Top 100 Award, how important are these awards for you as an American Chef? Are you still targeting for them?
I live by the “we are only as good as the last plate we put out” philosophy. I had my first kitchen Brigade in 1988 and awards we’re great recognition. I have piled them up but I am not interested in awards now. I approach what we do as… we are servants and we provide healthy local dishes to very important people… Our Members. The James Beard award was a big one and I always say it’s like winning the Stanley Cup of culinary. The recognition I receive now is through the industry With LinkedIn and I do a lot of charity events to give back and help others.
Your creative approach- of incorporating the style and cooking techniques of old world cuisine into that which is new: “I let the food speak for itself; I don’t overwork it but put little twists on things, like my smoked salmon cheesecake.” Do you have some more examples?
I may be very humble now so I call my food “Inn cuisine”. I purchase Everything within 100 miles so it makes our operation very seasonal and you can find many examples on www.chefduanekeller.com We have a 1 acre farm, six beehives and a great network of farms and fisherman around me.
You have so many experiences in Canada and the US. Are American chefs different from the ones in Canada?
I was up in Toronto a few summers ago and I was impressed with Rattlesnake country club and their brigade so it really has to do with who is the chef. I think North America is different in the different regions but cuisine‘s are up to the Chef. Here in the USA our work force has been the same for 20 years and I’ve worked in the NE, SE and NW.
America is a melting pot of so many different nations and food. How would you define the todays fine American dining?
It’s a bit intimidating and as I was classically trained many of the new trends are hard to understand. I appreciate all cuisine’s like I do all music it’s just I have a problem with a tasting menu that is $400 a person and you are hungry at the end. LOL. My philosophy on food is “to under promise and over deliver” and I don’t want my clientele to be hungry or even to be overly full. The dining experience for me is still very special time for my guests and for my members so I embrace it from start to finish.
American Chef associations. Can you tell us how many of them you have and which are the largest ones?
I’m sure there are many but I’ve been with the ACF which is the American Culinary Federation. I’ve been a member on and off for 25 years.
Local, regional, bio…. have been the big trends. What are currently the latest trends among the American Chef?
I’ve stuck to the farm to table approach since 1990 here in the Washington DC metro. I have my reputation for being local and for providing highly seasonal menus. Washington DC has really grown and has become very diverse and a great town to eat in. We have everything here. Street food is very popular, tasting menus are popular but there’s over 12,000 F&B operations and quality is sometimes hard to find.
You as an American Chef, have you ever thought about to open your own restaurants; and if so, where would it be and with which specialisation?
I will eventually open my own place here in the DC metro or on the Chesapeake Bay. I will have an INN with a great restaurant. You will be able to sit with me and talk while we provide great food to our guests. So please connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on my Chef Duane Keller Facebook page and I look forward to seeing you soon.