Chef Douglas Keane on Winning, Conquering Fears, and Four-legged Friends

Top Chef Masters’ “Top Dog” Chef Douglas Keane raised $100,000 for his charity of choice, Green Dog Rescue Project. His award-winning flagship restaurant Cyrus in Sonoma County maintained two Michelin stars and received four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle during its eight-year run. A fearless innovator, Keane’s ambitious culinary style has won numerous accolades.

Congratulations on your Top Chef Masters win! How do you plan on putting that $100,000 to good use? Green Dog Rescue is a pretty new charity, but we have already outgrown the space we currently use. We will use the money to do outreach to local shelters to continue to spread the word, and to fund a permanent home for our dogs.

What is the most challenging part of cooking on television? Thinking on your feet! As accomplished chefs, we are all used to making quick decisions, but usually we have options. Here, it’s the pressure of real time coupled with having to keep in mind that sometimes the food can sit for 10 to 15 minutes after the challenge is completed. So you really have to think through what to cook that will translate well given those circumstances.

Did you come up with any kitchen strategies? In a way. When everyone sprinted to get their ingredients, I would hang back and wait and see what was left. It actually took the guesswork out by forcing me to cook with what I had to. For the burger challenge, for example, I knew I had to find an ingredient to grind by hand, as there was only one grinder in the kitchen and someone else had already claimed it. So I went with the shrimp.

Did you enjoy the overall cooking experience? Well, I certainly didn’t expect to win! I knew I could cook, but I had never done it in that kind of environment. Once I decided to get over myself and stop worrying about what everyone else thought of my dishes, and just cook to make people happy, it became a lot of fun. When I created the eggplant dish, I knew it was risky but I was proud of it, and that’s all that mattered. It’s why I got into the business in the first place.

You and chef Burke seemed to have a great rapport on the show. What would you say you learned about him during the show—besides that he has “titanium balls!” It was an honor to cook alongside him, especially since I had always wanted to work for Chef Burke when I first came out of Cornell and moved to the city. He’s a genius and a legend and deserves every accolade—and when he first walked in on the show, I was blown away thinking I had to compete against him! What I love about David Burke is his old-school-hospitality mentality. He is all about making people happy. And as a testament to him on the show, there were times when he wanted to do more to the dishes and go that extra step just to make the guests happy.

Did you have fun? Absolutely! I also had a blast with the chefs. I wish we had filmed off- camera, because we had so much inappropriate fun together. David Burke might be the most entertaining human being I have ever met!

Would you jump out of a plane again? I would! It was a big deal to me because it’s my biggest fear! I couldn’t do it in the beginning of the show, but I was ready to at the end, and it was a big personal win for me, conquering that fear. My time in Japan allowed me to peacefully approach it. I took a big breath and jumped. It seemed more real that way!

What’s next for you? I’m very excited about DK Wings, which opened November 5th, my gourmet chicken dining concept. I have a new app, Keane on Ingredients, that essentially shows people how to love an ingredient and use it for a few days. I am also looking for a new home for my next Cyrus, and of course spending time with the dogs!

In the Hot Seat with Chef Franklin Becker

With three new restaurants opening up in New York City next year, seasoned chef Franklin Becker is a busy man. When not in the kitchen, he spends his time spreading the word about Autism Speaks as the organizer and chairman of the annual Celebrity Chef Gala to raise money for the foundation.

What was your overall experience on the show, and would you do it again? Absolutely— it was amazing! Great camaraderie and professionalism among the participants.

How crazy was it to jump out of a plane? Are you kidding?! That was some scary sh#%! Sitting next to David Burke was the only thing that alleviated my fear!

Did you stay true to your own cooking philosophies on the show? Yes and no. Overall, I tried to stay true to my philosophies; however, certain circumstances dictated change and adaptation.

What did you learn about chef Burke during the show? I had known David for quite a long time on a professional level. Now I am pretty sure we are friends for life. David is a giving person who genuinely cares about others. He is a big kid at heart. And I also learned that his vision is terrible and he can’t tell a pretty woman from a transvestite!

You have personally raised well over $9 million for Autism Speaks. Tell us a little about the seventh annual gala, Autism Speaks to Wall Street. It took a team of chefs dedicated to helping me reach my goal. This year, it took place on October 21st at Cipriani Wall Street. Thanks to Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, [Masaharu] Morimoto, Wylie Dufresne, and many, many others for their continued support.

What would you like to say to families with children who have autism? Never lose hope. It is taxing, costly, and tough—but don’t lose hope.

What is the best way to support autism speaks? Make a donation online at autismspeaks.org, or participate in a walk.

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