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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Food & Wine Magazine: America's Best New Chefs 2006

As I continue to catch up on my work-induced backlog of posts, I wanted to take a moment to recognize this year's winners of the Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chefs awards.   Each year, the editors of the magazine conduct an extensive nomination and evaluation process in an effort to identify the country's ten best "new" chefs, defined as individuals who have been in charge of a kitchen for five years or less.   For those who may have missed last month's issue, here -- in alphabetical order -- are the F&W Best New Chefs for 2006:

Cathal ArmstrongRestaurant EveAlexandria, VA
Jonathan BennoPer SeNew York, NY
Michael CarlsonSchwaChicago, IL
David ChangMomofukuNew York, NY
Mary DumontThe Dunaway RestaurantPortsmouth, NH
Douglas KeaneCyrusHealdsburg, CA
Christoper LeeStriped BassPhiladelphia, PA
Pino MaffeoRestaurant LBoston, MA
Jason WilsonCrushSeattle, WA
Stewart WoodmanFiveMinneapolis, MN

As you can see, the group this year is geographically quite diverse, with cities from Boston to Seattle -- and several in between -- well represented.   And yet, a closer look at where the awardees have spent their careers reveals an interesting fact.   Six of the ten chefs have spent time working in San Francisco, six have put in time in New York, and four of them have worked in both.   Only two of the chefs -- Cathal Armstrong and Michael Carlson -- have worked in neither of the two cities.   If you ever need proof of the primacy of New York and San Francisco in the culinary world, there it is.
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There's more...
The sole Bay Area awardee is Douglas Keane of Cyrus, the Healdsburg restaurant that opened to great acclaim in the Spring of 2005.   Keane has an impressive resume;   not only did he work with the renowned Gray Kunz at New York's Lespinasse, he also served as opening sous chef when Gary Danko opened his eponymous restaurant in 1999, and he spent several years at Jardiniere -- including a stint as Executive Chef -- in collaboration with Traci Des Jardins.   In 2002, the San Franisco Chronicle named Keane one of its five "Rising Stars," citing his "French-inspired food that takes a few global turns" and noting his propensity for "pairing ingredients that . . . wake up the palate."

Keane struck out on his own in 2003, opening a casual comfort-food restaurant in St. Helena called Market.   His partner in the venture was none other than Nick Peyton, the nearly legendary maitre d' who had previously led the front of the house at such venerable institutions as Masa's, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, and Gary Danko.   To the casual observer, Market seemed like a surprising step for Keane and Peyton;   after all, both had spent their careers honing their crafts at upper-tier restaurants.   What was not widely known at the time, however, was that plans were already underway for the pair's dream restaurant. After some unexpected setbacks and the customary delays, Cyrus finally opened two years later.

Keane has earned positive reviews throughout his career, including 3.5 stars from The Chronicle while he was at the helm at Jardiniere, and 3 stars shortly after he opened Market.   But it's at Cyrus where Keane has garnered the most glowing praise, the effusiveness of which is sometimes almost shocking.   The Chronicle's lead food critic, Michael Bauer, had this to say:   "with the opening of Cyrus, Keane's star is no longer rising;   it's planted in the galaxy of top names such as Hubert Keller, Thomas Keller and Roland Passot."   Josh Sens, food critic for San Francisco Magazine, drafted a review suggesting that Keane's "flavors are so sharp, the combinations so creative but without strain, you might think you're eating at that true temple in Yountville" (referring, of course, to The French Laundry).   Sens went on to award Cyrus 4 stars -- a rating that he has bestowed on only one other restaurant in the entire Bay Area.

I had the pleasure of dining at Cyrus last fall, and I was impressed by what I thought was a very good meal from an obviously talented chef.   As I noted in an email exchange that I had at the time with Joy, there were several dishes that reached spectacular heights -- including a beautifully-cooked filet of Dover sole with beurre blanc, and a delicious hoisin-glazed squab breast.   The langoustine and pork dishes were both excellent, although the uni and turnips served with the former struck me as somewhat odd.   A major disappointment came, however, in the seared foie gras - which was served with a gingerbread crumpet that had zero gingerbread flavor, blackberries that were a bit too sour, a sauce that was not quite sweet enough, and a far-too-jarring abundance of parsley and chives on top.   Desserts were a mixed bag;   two of us received a dry and dull pain d'epice with an incredibly flavorful pear sorbet, while the other two had a dense and delicious chocolate cake with unimaginative meringue underneath and on the side.   The cheese course, on the other hand, was excellent.   Service was fine, but it was less than inspired.   As just one example, when I asked our server before the final savory course what was up next (so that I could order an appropriate glass of wine), he immediately and confidently told me:   veal.   Three minutes later, a pork dish arrived (and there was no veal on the tasting menu that night).

Still, I came away from that dinner at Cyrus -- my only one to date -- with the impression that the restaurant is on the precipice of greatness.   I'm not prepared to proclaim, as some are, that Douglas Keane is the second coming of Thomas Keller, Ron Siegel, or David Kinch.   But there's no doubt that Keane is playing in the same league as those gentlemen, and he certainly stands poised to make many outstanding contributions in the years to come.   His well-deserved recognition by F&W is an important confirmation of that fact;   after all, the magazine has established an impressive record of giving its award to chefs who have gone on to greatness, such as Thomas Keller (1988), Gary Danko (1989), Ron Siegel (1999), Hubert Keller (1988), Melissa Perello (2004), Hiro Sone (1991), Lissa Doumani (1991), Nancy Oakes (1993), Traci Des Jardins (1995), Gerald Hirigoyen (1994), Craig Stoll (2001) and Stuart Brioza (2003).

So, congratulations to Douglas Keane - and the other nine chefs - on being named one of F&W's Best New Chefs in America for 2006.


Blogger K & S said...

thanks for sharing. my list of places to try in the u.s. is ever growing. :)

August 16, 2006 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Tana said...

It's rather far from San Francisco, but the people with Outstanding in the Field Farm Dinners & Tours are having Mary Dumont of the Dunaway Restaurant as a guest chef on August 27th. That will be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and I think it will be extraordinary. Perhaps even magical.


August 17, 2006 9:43 AM  

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