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Q & A with Gavin Kaysen

At age 28, Gavin Kaysen won the James Beard award for “Rising Star Chef of

2008” at last month’s award ceremony.  But Kaysen’s accomplishments
extend far beyond his recent James Beard award. While working as head
chef at San Diego’s El Bizcocho, Gavin
Kaysen also represented the US team at the Bocuse D’or competition in
Lyon, France, where he prepared such whimsical creations as “Bacon and
Eggs,” a combination of steamed and slow-cooked eggs, bacon
hollandaise, and green asparagus.  Before that, he traveled around the
world, working at l’Auberge de Lavaux in Switzerland and l’Escargot
in London.  Now the executive chef at Cafe Boulud, his takes a seasonal
approach to French American cuisine with such offerings as a  “Biscuit
and Gravy,” a decadent mélange of pork, foie gras, and creamed spinach
in a velvety truffle sauce or peekytoe crab with grapefruit gelee, lime
aioli and potato chips.

Status: Single/Married/Divorced
Married to Linda, whom I met while cooking in Switzerland.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I really had
no clue until I was 15 and started to cook.  What I did know was that I
wanted to explore and travel around the world…I was a curious young man.

What was your first job in food?
I was a certified sandwich artist for subway…I even had a really cool tri-colored shirt!

You have a earned many prominent awards, including a James Beard
Award just last month for “Rising Star Chef” and Food & Wine
magazine’s 10 Best New Chefs.  What is it like for you to receive this
kind of recognition at such a young age?

I think it goes
without saying that it is a tremendous honor and I don’t know if I have
really understood that I have received all of these awards.  I do know
that it means more pressure in producing great food…when you get these
awards people expect it to be great as do you…I think that is the
difference, I have always expected my food to be great even before
these awards, however now, there are eyes on me to make sure it is

Of the places that you have worked in (Northern Cal, Switzerland,
London, San Diego and New York) what has been your favorite city to eat

Favorite city to eat in, is without a doubt, New York
City, I love all the places I have lived in and would go back to them
all for different reasons but New York is an amazing place when it
comes to food and inspiration.  You never stop learning from other
restaurants, and just when you think you have nailed your new asparagus
appetizer, you go out to eat at a restaurant you have never heard of
before, with a chef you have never heard of before and the food blows
you away…that is one reason why I love this city.

How would you distinguish between the sections of the menu labeled “Market” and “Seasonal”?
menu at Café Boulud is divided into four themed sections that started
out as a reflection of Daniel Boulud’s four cary muses. Now I interpret
them in a way that combines his style and mine. I am very lucky to be
working for a chef that allows me the freedom to create under his name.
The sections are La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager and Le Voyage. La
Tradition highlights classic French dishes. La Saison features courses
in harmony with the seasons. Le Potager, named for the French vegetable
garden, offers vegetarian dishes. Le Voyage is inspired by various
world cuisines.

You were a sous chef right out of cooking school, not an easy feat.  What was that experience like for you? 
am not sure where that was written, but I know that was not true.  I
was an intern and line cook at Domaine Chandon and then when I went to
Switzerland, I was the “American” and did everything from washing the
floors to, once I learned how to speak French, running the line from
the expo station.  I also worked the fish and meat station there.  When
I was in London at L’Escargot, I was the fish cook, and then got the
promotion to Jr. Sous chef, which where again I was the fish cook….with
a pretty title.  From there, I moved to San Diego, by throwing a dart
at the map, it hit San Diego and Atlanta, my wife and I liked SD better
so we moved there.  I started out as a line cook there, then moved to
the sous chef position.  When the chef left a year later, I really
wanted to chance, and I went for it.  The hotel gave me a great amount
of support and I was able to do my food and learn from it…it was my
first real stage I had been on before and I loved it…then I got the
call to the big leagues from DB…what an honor and I am excited to
create and be by his side every day.

What did you cook at the luminous, Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon?
I’m working with the Bocuse d’Or USA so I can help train the next
American cook who will represent the US at the Bocuse d’Or
International Cuisine Competition. This is an Olympics style event that
takes place biennially in Lyon, France. It was first created by Paul
Bocuse over 20 years ago and is today considered the world’s most
rigorous professional competition. When I competed we were scrambling
on a shoe string. This time around there is some serious infrastructure
and support in place so we can go kick in France in 2009.

Did you get to spend much time in the kitchen around Marco Pierre White while at L’Escargot?
No…I saw him twice but that was it…

In a Food & Wine interview while you were chef at El Bizcocho
in San Diego, you said that 60 or 70 percent of your cooking is done
sous vide. How do you feel about the New York City Health Departments
policies towards it?  Between us, how much sous vide cooking are you
doing these days?

Honestly, I am not doing any sous vide
cooking right now…all of the restaurants for Daniel are trying to get
the final approval…once that happens, I will bring back my sous vide
ways.  I love that style of cooking….or I should say that technique.

What’s your favorite dish on the menu right now, and why?
From La Tradition:
Poached green Asparagus with a poached egg, bacon lardons and frisee.
love this dish because it is simple and when everything is cooked
perfectly, it is so balanced and beautiful.  Sometimes, the most simple
thing can give you the biggest smile.
La Saison: Spaghetti Nero with shrimp, tomatoes, fennel
love this dish because of the natural beauty of the squid ink pasta, it
is half black and half white and then with the fennel puree it makes
this creamy dish and is lovely to eat out on the Terrance at café.
Le Potager: Vegetable garden Salad, Six herb Pesto, Early Summer Corn, Zucchini, Ricotta Salata
love this because it is what it is….all different kinds of vegtables
cooked different ways to showcase their natural beauty and let them
shine on their own.  It really looks like a garden to me.
Le Voyage: Kona kampachi, Jalapeño, Ponzu, Fried garlic.
It is very nicely balanced and the fried garlic chips are great for texture.

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
I truly do not have one.

What is your junk food of choice?
Home made popcorn with powdered cheddar, my wife and a movie!  And of course, I love me some good Cheetos!

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
The Little Owl

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Simple elegance with a seasonal focus

What trend do you wish would die already?
Not so much a trend but I think jell-o salads should die…they are disgusting!

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any new ventures or restaurants in the
works?  Spill the beans…

Daniel Boulud’s group is opening in Vancouver and Beijing in the
next few months, and a new place down on the Bowery. It’s a great
collaborative, creative process to be a part of and plenty to sink my
teeth into for now.  I have a feeling that all of that will keep me
busy and it is going to be fun to go through the process. 

Address: 20 E. 76th Street
Phone: (212) 772-2600

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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