I was asked to cook for Julia Child's 90th Birthday. Coming in as Major Supporter I found myself diving on numerous "hand grenades" throughout the 9 course event due to a few Chefs not being able to count. Great experience and Lucky I was there because I'm really good at math. LOL.
I lend a % of my success to growing up in a Hospitality Town, Hershey, and having parents that were great entertainers and great cooks. My Father, Ralph was German and Russian and My Mom, Jan was Polish and We spent a lot of time in the kitchen at home while my Dad was "on the road" playing hockey. This pic was taken in LA when he played for the Kings. He also played for The Rangers, The Canadiens, Vancouver and Baltimore. We ended up in Hershey as he was the 1st Player in the AHL to have a contract. Absolute best town to grow up in for a Hospitality Career. Cheers !!
Story #03 Thank you to my Moon Bay Staff
I Put together a concept for Gaylord Hotels given 1 DNA page. I had to fill the $18Mil allocation with a grandexperience. We had 2000 hotel guests rooms and I came from a waterfront Alexandria restaurant, right accross the Potomac, that was doing $7.5 Mil a year. Seemed like a sustainable operation right?
We recieved our kitchen the Firday before we opened to the public on that Sunday and did $250k a week or 1,000 covers a day without any issues. Our first year we netted 20% on $10 Mil in sales and recieved a favorable Washington Post review. We had a lot of fun.
During the Hotel's opening they found 500 out of the 2000 rooms were not ready for occupancy (missing door knobs, construction workers living in them, missing furniture), there was the Noro Virus and tiny, cute mice in a lot of the rooms.
Our PR team asked me to go on Live Local TV to spread soe cheer. The segment is here...
After getting through the opening, well ahead of any other of the hotels outlets we had a lot of fun ringing the bell, throwing whole fish and lobsters, and "foaming" 1,000's of guests with Lobster Foam. You see Monn Bay was a sustainable seafood restaurant on teh Potomac but its existance was turned upside down at one meeting when asked "how are we going to tell our guests we are closed"?
In 2009 many hotel conferences canceled due to Wall Street collapse. I guess No one at Corporate in TN realized that Moon Bay, a seafood restaurant, on the Potomac would fair well so they started closinng us randomly during low occupancy. "You're Closed next Tuesday and Thursday Chef" the suits said. I asked how are we going to let the public know? (While I was surrounded by 8 suits) they looked at me like I was from outer space and had no answer.
Within 2 weeks I'd get emails to Chef Duane Keller.com and locals would say we parked in the big parking lot, made our way down and found a little sign "gone fishing". Our sales went from $250k a week to $250k a month.
You'd think they would have put some value in the Opening Chef's Opinion?
Story #04 Hard to Believe
It is sad to see what is sold as King Crab these days. Frankly they are Bairdi Crabs not King. Here's a pic of small King Crab back in the early 80's. We used to run the legs on a band saw to split them. They were 3-4 inches in diameter and 6 feet long. No exaggeration people !!
I've attached an interesting you tube video for you for further study of the Fall of the King Crab. Cheers.
Story #05 "Hello Duane this is Duane"
I was the Exec Chef for The Capital Grille and spent 10 weeks in Pittsburgh for training ( the story really should be how the Chef there quit the first week and I ran the restaurant the next 9 weeks but it's not. Maybe later ).
I told my friends and family before leaving that "My Life goes full circle" because while I was there I would find my namesake. I had never met another D U A N E in all the years wanted to find how I was given that name.
So I had no info other than Duane Rupp played hockey with my Dad and The Pittsburgh Penguins years ago and he currently lived in Pittsburgh.
There's 20 hockey rinks in the Pittsburgh Vicinity so I proceeded to call one at a time and try to pin point Duane. I figured he would still have ties to Ice Rinks. After calling 6 of them I hit the jackpot.
Here's how it went...
"Is Duane there?"
"yes this is Duane"
"Hi Duane" "This is Duane"
There was a very long pause.
"Duane Keller" I said.
"Ahhhh Ralph's son" Duane Rupp said.
I had Duane Rupp in for Dinner, we spent hours catching up and discussing the NHL of the past and modern day NHL, it was a great time and great to meet my namesake.
Story #06 "Keystone Cops"
In the early 90's I was the Chef of a Historic Country Inn one hour outside of Washington DC at the foothills of The Blue Ridge Mountains. I cooked for a lot of famous people there and I'll write about those guests and their meals later.
Out of the blue, one day, all the Inn staff was asked to go to the Local Police Department for questioning and a polygraph?
Ok. My turn to go. I arrive and get hooked up to the polygraph. I'm asked if I knew of any missing money? No I replied. Then they said The Inn has had a lot of money taken over the past two years ( keep in mind I had just moved to VA from FL the year prior ).
The Keystone Cops ( I was surrounded by 3 of them while hooked up to a polygraph and sweating under a bright light in my face - no kidding ) really start pressuring me on how I could have been the one. Hahahahahaha. I said after 10 minutes of interrogation I shouted out "ok ok" "I did it". Then immediately I also stated (sarcastically of course) that I took the Executive Chef position at The Inn because driving up from FL all last year, every week, was really inconvenient to steal the money. They scratched their heads, figured out I was lying and let me go.
So over the next few weeks The Keystone Cops would keep an eye on this Historic Inn that never locked its door. The town had 10 homes, a Church, Country Store and 1 Room School House. Quant and right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
A few days later, while The Keystone Cops were supposably staking the place out I walked into the Manager's office and the Manager was looking through the yellow pages. I said "what are you looking for?" She said "a cash register". "What's wrong with ours? Is it broken?" I asked. "No" she said. Someone last night came in to the Inn and stole the register." They didn't just take the money. They walked out with the whole cash register?" OMG !! Hahahahhahaha hard not to laugh.
Well they did finally figured out the part time accountant that worked 10 hours a week doing the books and raced race cars the rest of the time as a hobby was the one.
Gotta love small town living eh? LOL.
Story #07 40 years ago I met Emma
Many ask me how I became a Chef?
My Dad used to let me sit on his lap when I was 8 and steer the car while we were driving. Then at 10 he'd let me actually drive with him next to me. I wouldn't recommend this anymore with all the traffic but I was a pretty good driver by the age of 12. Thanks Dad.
My Mom and dad got divorced and I stayed with my Mom because she had MS and needed help. I still needed to get to hockey practice so I drove myself. Funny thing back in Hershey you may have seen The Keller Wagon roll by with "no one driving it" because I would duck down when I saw someone that I knew. LOL.
One day, as driving myself everywhere, became a regular occurrence I got pulled over by the police for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I rolled down my window and the Police Officer asked for my drivers license and registration? I looked around the car and replied "are you talking to me?" Needless to say I got a ticket for driving without a license.
So my Dad said I needed a job to pay my fine. I would caddy but 4am was too early, I was dropped off at an orchard to pick fruit and vegetables but it only paid $6 a day and luckily our neighbors "The Pelligrinos" had a restaurant and I started as a dishwasher in the Summer of 1975.
Emma was not well known while I worked at Alfred's but I do recall a few times while cleaning up late at night I'd here doors open and close and there was no one upstairs. I've attached a formal investigation for you if you'd like to hear more. Boo !!
This story is dedicated to Chef Walter Scheib.
Story #09 written by RM - a 1996 Apprentice
Story #09 "Through the eyes of"
When one of your students writes you and reminds you of how you impacted their career it's easy to share.
Word for Word...
"I used to look at you and see Kaleidoscope Eyes. If you could see inside your brain it would look like many tabs opened on a computer. Each measuring the amount of time to completion".
"It was a Wedding reception for 550 guests and all had to be served HOT Prime Rib dinners. You asked me to come and help plate !!! I was stoked !!! Absolutely nobody dared to speak. Only Chef Keller. So cool. Every item was ready everyone was at their position. I witnessed you in intense concentration".
"Then you started carving and the plates started flying down the line, the drips and spills wiped up each plate perfect. Then you almost cut your finger OFF 😳 you wrapped it no one dared said a word and we all kept serving. Then you yelled out "Everyone Change Positions"
"We all looked up and saw you Laughing. The rest was intense FUN. WE DID IT !!! All guests were server on time for the Toast. I knew This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life 😊"
Story #10 "Dancing Lights"
When I lived in Western Canada I worked in 4 and 5 star Hotels. I went in to work when it was dark (early morning) and I got off work when it was dark (10 or 11pm). That's just how we worked in the Hotels. In Calgary I worked for The CCA Chef of the Year 1983 to 1985. He was a maniac but taught me a lot. I will write about him later.
I lived on the 25th floor of a really nice Condo and on the 30th floor we had a pool. One evening I was on the pool level or rooftop enjoying the aurora borealis and having a cold beer. I was by myself with no one around. I whistled, three short ones and the sound of the whistle made the Northern Lights dance. I whistled again in another different pattern and the lights danced to that pattern. I've told a few people this and they all say the same thing. "Those must have been some good drugs". But honestly it was just one Canadian beer.
Has anyone ever experienced this or heard of anyone telling this story? It's a true story and you can count on a true story a day from me.
Story #11 "Sous Chef" or "Smurf"
It was Mothers Day In the early 90's and I was the Executive Chef of a Luxury Hotel in FL. For Brunch that day we did 2,000+ guests or $120k so you can imagine how my week was setting everything and everyone up for a smooth shift. That's called Mise en Place people.
I had a young Sous Chef that asked me if he could put his ice carving out on the buffet. I said sure I'd order the block of ice for him and he could work on it and have it ready for Sunday. He said he didn't need the block of ice. He had a large mold that he got and wanted to try it out.
Thursday that week he brings in the ice mold. It was a large porpoise maybe 40 inches high. He says "Chef I want to make it blue" I said that would be cool. Just use blue food coloring. He fills it up and puts it in the freezer.
Sunday morning comes fast and everything is on point. We have an amazing spread at $60 per person and I'm all over it. My Sous Chef asked where does "Wally" the Porpoise go? I laughed " You named him Wally? I said the drip pan is out there and lights are all set for it. He said "I got it Chef !!" Ok I told him to put down some garbage bags so he doesn't drip blue on the floor. "Ok Chef !! " he shouted.
So Grant brings "Wally" out and it turns out you need to cut the seam to open the mold. Grant starts to cut and finds its not too easy. It's taking a lot longer to do than he or I expected and it's starting to melt. He's under pressure now to get "Wally" up on the buffet before the guests arrive. He's flipping this thing over and I see that he's starting to get blue on him. I start laughing. He's struggling more and more and flips "Wally" and then he slips and falls onto the garbage bags. Grant gets up even more determined to get Wally done. I'm cracking up so hard my sides hurt. Grant's looking like a Smurf and we got minutes to get Wally out there. He finally gets it out and "Wally" is up on the buffet and looking good. I wish I would have got a pic of Grant though as he looked just like a Smurf.
One of the funniest things I've ever seen in a kitchen.
Story #12 "The 6 degrees of Borscht"
My Mom was an incredible entertainer and cook. She hosted amazing parties and I give her a lot of credit for inspiring me to be a Chef. So every September 9th, on her birthday, I make Borscht.
Now there were 2 borscht in my family. The Polish version and the Russian version. The difference is one is made with beets and the later with oxtail and vegetables.
So in 2009 I made borscht as our soup of the day in Gaylord National at my restaurant Moon Bay. Now you're probably asking yourself who cares right?
Dining is an emotional experience. Let me elaborate. One of the 1,000 guests that ate that day that had the borscht asked to see the Chef. The GM had to hunt me down as we had over a million square feet of outlets in this $2B hotel. It wasn't an easy task but he found me to tell me that he hadn't had borscht in 30+ years and that his Mother used to make it. He went on to describe how it brought him back to his home while enjoying my soup. It was much more than a compliment.
So after visiting with him and enjoying the our conversation so much I went back to Moon Bay and put 8 each - one quart units of the borscht into my blast freezer. Packed it up so it would make it back to Jersey for him to enjoy over and over again. I met him at the front desk when he checked out and he broke into tears over the gesture.
So all you cooks and chefs out there remember you touch your diners through your offerings everyday. This was just an example of how it happens.
Story #13 "Yes...Lobsters do Fly"
In 1988 I opened Cafe 66, a new outlet of Pier 66, on the Intercostal in Ft. Lauderdale. This wasn't a normal Cafe since we had 440 seats. Before we had the outdoor awnings up we would experience 330 guests coming inside when it rained. You know how it rains everyday in FL for 10 minutes?
We had a beautiful open kitchen equipped with Copper French Kettles to cook bouillabaisse in front of the
As we were talking I gestured or motioned over there and semi pointed over there and a lobster reached up and grabbed my finger ( it was missing the rubber band ) ?&@$ !!! I yelled and naturally flinged the crustacean with such force it flew through the dining room looking like The Red Baron and luckily landed between two tables. LOL.
I with the humblest motion retrieved it.
That is also in the top 10 funniest kitchen stories. Cheers !!
Story #14 "The Worst Day of my Career"
14 years ago on a Tuesday morning I was very, very late for work. I must say before that day I prided myself on being "on time" and never missed a day. I haven't been late since then but that's not the story.
I was getting ready for work just like any other day. Enjoying coffee, taking in the news, etc... I caught the newscaster stating a small plane had accidentally hit the twin tower in NY. "Wow" I thought how the hell could that have happened? I sat down in front of the TV.
If I knew what was going to happen I would not have continued to watch. I hope no one forgets 9/11.
The second plane hits Live while I'm watching. It seemed almost instantaneously my girlfriend yelled for me from the Balcony that overlooked The Pentagon. I felt it... I felt the whole building move and she was pointing towards the Pentagon as the smoke rose. Holy shit !!
What to do now? I sat back down and continued to keep an eye on the developments. I guess some time ( 90 minutes ) had passed and my phone rang. "Chef are you coming in?" Asked my GM. I replied "I don't know" and hung up.
Well I finally did get in my car to drive to the restaurant which usually took 15 minutes. I arrived 3 hours later. It was complete chaos.
When I got into the restaurant no one was there. There were a few employees and regular bar patrons watching the news. What the hell do I do now? Just do what you normally do I told myself.
There was no lunch service. Meaning no one came in and we usually did 250 for lunch. There was little business over the next 2 weeks. All you heard were F14's flying over head.
Later that afternoon I got a call from my VP. "Chef can you help us out?" I said "sure what do you need? " I need 3 meals per day for 350 first responders at The Pentagon. I replied "You got it"
I worked around the clock (72 hours) for the next 3 days preparing wholesome comfort food for the First Responders. When I traveled down to deliver the meals I saw the massive whole in the side of the Pentagon and a vision that will never leave me. I feel some have forgotten 9/11.
This attack on the U.S.A is what made me become a U.S. Citizen in 2008. I felt after 9/11 and many times soon after I said just drop me off over there and let me fight.
Many over the years have asked me if I was in the Military? No but I came up through the ranks of the European Brigade System found in Formal Culinary Ops. It's very much Military.
I have cooked for many high ranking Military Personnel over the years here in DC including Secretary of States, Generals and most recently the Recipient of the Congessional Gold Medal of Honor, General Steven Richie.
I will never forget how my Fellow Canadians helped as well. That's who we are. Helping where ever and when ever.
Story #15 "Focus on Results... not Efforts"
Nowadays all Chefs have to cook for the job and it's part of the interview process. I had an interesting cooking interview years ago at one of DC's Premiere Luxury Hotels. I was told to arrive at 6 PM and I would be preparing five courses for four people at 8pm. Most of you can figure out that's 20 plates in 2 hours.
When I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by the general manager and told that they had eight people because of my reputation and could I be ready at 7 PM? He also said there were two other mystery ingredients that they would like me to do a course with. So now I'm preparing seven courses for eight people or 56 plates in 60 minutes.
I looked around the lobby to see if there were any cameras because I thought I was on the show "Punked". I acknowledged the GM's request and and replied "I'll do my best".
Walking into a large professional kitchen within a Historic hotel can be intimidating but not if you grew up in the finest hotel kitchens like I have.
I went right at it gathering all my ingredients and the kitchen staff just stared in awe as I totally threw down like I've never had before.
Obviously I got the job and the Hotel executives that I cooked for talked about that tasting for a long time. So when you're in a time constraint just focus on results not efforts and always do your best.
Story #16 "THUMP-THUMP-THUMP"
As a leader I am always providing the tools and guidance for our next generations unless you think you know it all and you are disrespectful to your fellow workers. I provide mentoring 12 hours a day. I provide technically sound advice 12 hours a day. I provide quality products, state of the art tools and many other helpful tools like a "pat on the back", feedback 10X an hour with a 70% praise ratio. You get my drift?
One afternoon A server asked me where the blue cheese dressing was and typically I would go into the cooler and point it out but this guy was a real "piece of work".
I said "in the cooler" knowing a gallon weighs 8 pounds and that 5 gallon bucket of blue cheese dressing will be a challenge for him but he knows it all right?
He goes into the cooler and I continue to do my work. A Couple minutes goes by and I hear a big thump. Then I hear another thump. And then another thump. I head towards the cooler to find out what's going on.
When I open the cooler door I find Mr. "know it all" covered from head to toe in blue cheese dressing. Back then the servers wore tuxedos. Sorry but it was one of the funniest sites I'm ever seen. He was not hurt just his pride and his tuxedo.
He had struggled with the bucket, slipped and the dressing spilled on him. When he got up he slipped again this time on his back. Then another thump and he landed back into the dressing face first. Our cooler floor was rubber so he landed ok. I did somewhat enjoy walking down to security so they could check him out. He was fine.
Story #17 "NYC Outlet Makeover"
A couple years ago I was asked to "revive" a well liked but stale restaurant within a NYC Luxury Hotel.
It's amazing how much can happen in a week.
I arrived on Monday Morning. Introduced myself to the GM, F&B Director, Restaurant Manager and the Executive Chef that had been there for 10 years. We toured the property and checked out the restaurant. I gathered info pertinent to the transition.
There was already a new interior design for the outlet and I took the new "feel" into consideration and worked some of the presentations to match the decor.
By lunch on Monday I had the plan and the menu. We all met in the board room and I jotted it out on a white board. Done. All the Executives loved the direction.
I went straight to work. I Ordered all the products to arrive Tuesday. Gave the purchasing director and Chef all the specs for future buying and consistent execution.
Tuesday the Chef and I spent 15 hours preparing every dish, tweeking the recipes, taking pics of each dish and of course tasting everything.
Wednesday was all about the FOH. I met with the staff, went over new menus, and let the servers taste all the new food. We did all this while the restaurant was getting new carpet, new furniture, new curtains and new wall paper.
Thursday was production day with all the cooks. We produced all the Mise En Place while I had the cooks try all the sauces, aiolis, chutneys, coulis, etc... We cut all the fish, butchered all the meats, etc... We went through station assignments, "drop times", etc... This was another 15 hour day and I'm feeling really good about tomorrow's roll out.
Friday morning comes fast. New lunch menu and new dinner menu come in from the printer. Perfect no typos. I took a menu walked out the back of the Hotel and around the block. I came back in the front of the Hotel, through the Lobby and "Bam"... And brand new restaurant in a week.
Friday night dinner went well and the regulars and guests arriving were very pleased. We kept the seating moderate so the kitchen could focus on execution.
Saturday I followed up with all the Executives to ensure their satisfaction and the meeting went very well. I was given many thanks and headed back to DC.
Story #18 "9 What?"
I cooked for President HW Bush and 1st Lady Barbara Bush a few times.
Once I did a luncheon for Barbara and her closest friends at The Ashby Inn. It was like an Afternoon Tea on steroids. Very elaborate service and very involved menu. I Wish I took some pics of that presentation on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Spectacular.
After lunch I went out to say hello to all the ladies. While I was out there talking to some of her guests a car pulled up and a woman pulled 4 large hockey bags out of it.
They were having a quilt presentation. The quilts were gorgeous and one really caught my eye. After the presentation was over I went over to inquire on the one I liked.
"How much is this one?" I asked. "9" she said. "9 What?" I asked. "9 thousand" she replied. Ouch. I thought for a quilt?
These quilts turned out to be 200 years old, but looked brand new.
Now they would be 225 years old here in Virginia.
Story #19 "A Million Dollar Story"
For NYE 2007 The Sales Team and I put together a proposal for an International IT Company that wanted to buy out all 9 Banquet Rooms in the DC Luxury Hotel I was at.
I proposed a James Bond themed New Years Event. 9 different cuisines from 9 different countries and I had our AV Team pair them up with the 9 different James Bond Movies from those 9 countries.
The cuisines were Cuban, German, Russian, English, Italian, Swiss, Jamaican, French and Bohemian.
Now you can just imagine what it takes to pull this off as a Chef? Sourcing the products, researching true recipes, production and execution.
I've worked a handful of 24 hour shifts in my career. One was because of 9/11, another when I opened the 2,000 room Gaylord National and The 2008 and 2012 Inauguration.
My F&B Director asked me if he could do anything to help out? Just make sure there are a few "landing stations" (tables) set up in the dish room for all the glassware." "one thousand guests drinking on NYE will create a glass challenge"
So we're off to the races. I had a lot of square footage to cover that night and all 9 cuisines were challenging. I'm running.
It's 7pm and "We're on time", I'm a bit surprised but I'll take it. All 9 venues are pretty seamless and after a couple hours things are really humming.
By 11pm we're in full blown "overdrive" and I'm Mad Max coming back from the furthest ballroom of the Hotel. I walk into the dish room and it's an absolute disaster with glasses piled up all over the place.
I've only been running for about 22 hours so far and I'm planning on getting out there by 2am. Not looking to good for me.
The Food & Beverage Director walks in all pleased in his freshly pressed suit.
"What the hell happened to the tables I asked for?"
He started mumbling something and by the time he could get a few words off his lips he sees me rolling in the really big banquet tables. All the staff knows The Chef is pissed. I flip the legs down and pick up these 72 inch tables and slam them down.
"There !!" "There they are" I shouted. And I went back to work.
Overall the event was perfect. Our Client was thrilled and the $1Mil event was technically for one night's work !!
We still have our "freedom of speech" right?
Story #20 "My First Time"
I've been buying $2 - $3Mil a year in food for 20 years. This week I had a first.
I was approached by a Leading Food Service Provider, I will not mention the name, and I considered placing an order with them this week.
During our meeting I had some doubts and had to interject. "There's no such thing as Wild Atlantic Salmon" I told the VP. "Yes Chef we have it" he said proudly. "Do you know what I'm known for?" I asked him. "Think... I've worked in Vancouver, California, Florida, VA and The Chesapeake Bay. What have all these regions have in common?"
A long pause... "Water Dude Water !!"
"Seafood". I would have thought these big Execs would do some research. "Just Google me. Ever heard of Blue Point Grille, Potowmack Landing or Moon Bay?" Ten Million a year in Maryland Seafood Sales. All of DC's top Seafood Restaurants. Washingtonian's Top 100 and Top 50.
He emailed me later that day and apologized for not having Wild Atlantic Salmon. Unbelievable. I just laughed out loud.
But no I gave the company a chance and said no worries I'd put something together for an initial order and see how it goes.
Yesterday I called with my order. In the simplest way I can described I felt as if I was an inconvenience. For the first time in my career I had to cancel my order after I called the VP to let him know their customer service was Very poor inside sales and had no food knowledge.
I am seriously concerned about the direction this country is going in regard to Customer Service. There are companies out there that train their staff and those will be the ones that continue to grow.
I've spent years training my vendors to my expectations but if they have the attitude that they "know it all" I cannot help them. Good Luck to them.
Story #21 "Still a Proud American"
I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and have lived in the USA since 1966 as a Permanent Resident. I joke my parents sent me over The Niagara Falls in a barrel and I was raised by wolves in upstate NY. It's a metaphor to my childhood. I will touch on my childhood often.
You see my Dad played in the NHL when there were just 6 teams and was the 1st Player to have a contract in The AHL. Growing up in Hershey, PA was a fortunate gift.
In 2008 I became a U.S. Citizen and there were two of us hockey players in the swearing in ceremony. 2008 was a crazy time to do this as I look back. Obama created a frenzy of people to become citizens to vote. Literally a one day event turned into three due to the overwhelming demand.
I became a citizen because of 9/11. After that event I felt the country I grew up in needed me. I wanted to be armed and dropped off over there so I could kick some ass. I was fired up and I am still fired up.
Back to the process of Citizenship because it's a really funny story.
Growing up in Hershey I went through one of the best public school systems in the USA. I received a very good education and so did all my friends in Hershey. It's obvious with so many successful colleagues. I thank all my Teachers and Well Done Trojans.
For 4 months I studied for the Citizen Test even though I'd lived here and went through K-12 in the USA. My Wife made flash cards for me and drilled me over and over. I was an expert in this subject by the time of my test.
It was total Chaos at the Fairfax, VA Immigration office. Everyone wanted to be a Citizen because of Obama. I Wish he knew Economics half as well as me.
I finally made it into the examination office. I was nervous. The GOV official asked me about my past. It was a couple minutes at best. And included were the official questions they asked me. 1. How many stripes are on the flag? 2. Could I write "in English" I like my car. No kidding these were the only questions or testing I received after 4 months of flash cards. Wow !! I was blown away.
So I squeaked through the testing and headed back down to the long lines of applicants. I was one of two Caucasians out of 600. The other guy played for The Washington Capitals. Yea I knew him from hockey... Imagine that?
We ran out of time that day so I had to come back twice. Yes twice because the Immigration office was over run.
On day 3 they called my name. I went up to a window. They asked for my Green Card. I gave it to the official and he dropped it into an old Kleenex box. I'm not kidding. So official right?
Now we were all herded into an auditorium for the Ceremony. We were shown a short video which was touching and afterwards another official, someone even more important, asked us to stand up from front to back, one at a time and state where you were from. Simple enough. No not for this crowd.
It was a wave of chaos. People jumping up out of sync yelling "Iraq", "Iran" "Afghanistan", etc, etc...
I was 2/3 the way back and looked at my Caucasian buddy from The Capitals and laughed. He laughed. The wave is out of control and its heading right for me.
When it gets to me I stand up and shout "Canada !!"
Everyone in the auditorium, all 600 people, immediately look back at me with a puzzled look like "is that a different Country" Hahahahahahhaha.
I do have some "buyers remorse" of doing this just from some of the screwed up things I've seen in the past 6 years.
We still have our "freedom of speech" right?
Story #22 "Snakes, Spies and Snake Charmers"
You'll find all kinds of interesting characters in my restaurants including International Spies, Movie Stars, Kings, Queens, Politicians, etc...
I remember the day these spies were having lunch at Potowmack Landing. (Article is attached)
There's never a dull moment in the Hospitality Industry. Why I love it so much. Just Last week one of my regulars brought me a 6 carat diamond. Of course I couldn't accept it. I've had other stones given to me like a sapphire from Jackie O at the Ashby Inn. And many other "interesting tips" over the years.
Speaking of Snakes this story takes place on Dangerfield Island overlooking the Nation's Capital, DCA and The Potomac River. Since it's a National Park we were not allowed to use certain pest control and most mornings I'd take my trusty hockey stick, I left there purposely, to "Chuck" whatever snakes made Their way into the restaurant. Another duty of a Chef. We do it all.
I took over this beautiful 350 seat restaurant that had a great view and not so great food in 2002. When I arrived they had been open for 18 years and had never made a dime. It was the Flagship of a 100 year old Hospitality Company. Actually, the year prior to my arrival they lost $860k on $2.3Mil is sales. Hard to believe but true.
As I always say... Let's Focus on results... not efforts. So I began.
In two years I had driven the sales to $7Mil by providing quality, seasonal cuisine in a timely manner. Sounds simple enough eh? We had a 10% net in a "Union Shop". That's an outstanding achievement and I'm proud of it.
So I was there 5 years building this business up, receiving great PR and dropping 10% or more profit to the bottom line.
Every 3 months I'd roll out a new seasonal menu and would have all the staff in to taste each dish. I noticed a guy showing up occasionally and taking notes on our operation. Eventually I'd see him and his team of Execs showing up.
This "Team" of snakes took over the restaurant on a handshake deal. Not in the best interest of our staff or the company I worked for or even the guests.
I had been there 5 years and they figured out we were doing 1,000 covers a week over the prior year. They wanted it and they managed a way to get it. Real "snake charmers".
Turns out they brought in their whole team including a Chef. I was out. That year the restaurant lost $1.6Mil and they were thrown out. Unfortunately it was the ultimate demise and the restaurant never came back around.
Story #23 "My Work Ethic"
"You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one". Henri David Thoreau
I teach and mentor and I make the best of each hour of each day. This is how I give back.
It all started in the early 70's when I'd get on a Greyhound Bus in Harrisburg, PA on a Saturday morning at 6am and arrive in Saskatoon Tuesday night at 9pm to work on my Uncle's farm each summer. North Battleford was the last leg of the trip but being picked up by family is always cool and I was close to my final destination.
I'd travel with 2 suitcases every summer. One full of Hershey's chocolate ( remember my Dad was the Captain of The Bears and he was paid in chocolate ) and the other were my clothes.
It was a grueling bus ride but I found ways of killing time. The Chocolate bars ( Golden Almond Bars ) were worth their weight in gold when it comes to bartering in the Mid West. And one summer I met a girl in her twenties in a red velvet jump suit. That's not the story. Focus.
My Uncle was the biggest exporter of sunflower in N. America. We measure land in hectares in Canada. At the age of 13 I'd get to drive a state of the art tractor that had air conditioning, power steering and an 8 track player. The tires on this tractor were 2 stories high. I remember my first time at the wheel. Richard told me to just follow the line. Ok I said. That sounds easy enough.
I plugged in some ZZ Top and hit the gas. I'm cruising along and started making my first turn and I hear yelling over the extreme loudness of the tractor's engines, the AC blowing and ZZ Top's "Arrested for driving while blind" blaring. It was Richard running frantically behind the tractor waving his arms and screaming at me because I took a really wide turn and I was in the next hectare taking out crops. Lesson learned.
We would work from 5am till the sun went down ( around 10pm ). It was tough work and we needed energy. My Aunt Margaret always made us breakfast, brought us lunch in the field and awesome wholesome dinners. We ate really well and trust me there is nothing... I repeat nothing like the fresh air on a farm. You want to get in shape? Work on a farm.
One day my Uncle handed me a shovel and told me to get into the Silo and make sure the grain was level as he filled it from the top. He said I'd pop out the top when it was full. Ok I said not knowing that this was really not a good idea. I mean c'mon people. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now.
Canada and my Canadian Family were instrumental in my work ethic. Everyone just worked hard at what they did with honesty and integrity.
As I got into my Culinary career working along side some of the finest European Chefs in 4 and 5 Star Hotels solidified my work ethic. These guys were maniacs. I never wanted to take a day off. I'd always cover for other cooks and work their shifts instead of being off. I was learning so much I didn't want to miss a minute. I only hope to inspire the next generation of this.
To this day my neighbors will tell you I never stop. If I'm not at the restaurant I'm in the Arboretum doing landscaping, hardscape, or working on some kind of project.
Remember a rolling stone gathers no moss right?
Story #24 "I will need your help"
Thomas' English Muffins selected 135 Chefs from 135 U.S. cities to promote their 135 year Anniversary this year and I'm in The Thomas' Hometown Breakfast Battle.
Please share this pic and vote for me as I was selected to represent Alexandria, VA.
I'll let you know when to vote and "Thank you" in advance for your support.
Story #25 Gold? Thanks be to God
Back in time when we wone a gold there were no text messages. No Internet.
Congrats to the USA woman's soccer Team this week on the World Cup Victory. That's how teams win... Together.
When my hockey team won a gold metal inn Canada we were the eptome of the team "underdog". still believe it was because we lit candles and prayed at St. Anne's Cathedral, Quebec.
The Tournament was open to teams from all over the world. Germany, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, etc... All excellent Hockey Countries.
We were down 3 starters. Out goalie broke his hand, our 1st line left winger rode the Frontenac luge on his tailbone and our 1st line defenseman was out wiht the flu
A Miracle on Ice. We won Gold!!
Story #26 Gary Player
I opened a Country Club in Gainesville, FL and was ranked #2 out of 6500 Country and City clubs in the Club Corp Portfolio. #1 was CCA Headquarters in Dallas.
That year I was also named CCA Chef of the Year at the Annual F&B Conference in Tampa. I received a nice letter from The President of CCA and a large crystal trophy. What criteria was used was extensive but having City Club Culinary Standards and a 22% net sealed for me.
That year I also had met and cooked for Gary Player. He walked into my kitchen to meet The Chef. Nice guy and very much in tip top shape. During our time chatting he asked "do you know how to make meatballs and spaghetti Chef?"
To this day I still don't know if he was serious or joking.
Story #27 Robert DeNiro
While I was the Chef at The Ashby Inn Robert would dine there often.
Most of the time he'd come in for brunch with 4-8 gorgeous women on his arm.
At the time we were Washingtonian's Top 50 Brunches, see www.chefduanekeller.com, and a spectacular place to dine.
Story #28 "Celebrity Bartender"
Mixologists are all the rave now but I have been mixing up specialty cocktails for 25 years. Using herbs, indigenous ingredients and Wowing my Guests at work or in my home.
I'd work my way off the line cooking all day and night into the DJ booth to spin some music and then behind the bar as The Celebrity Bartender. You know who taught Tom everything in the 80's for the movie Cocktail right? I still can toss a cocktail napkin in the perfect position for you.
Last time I cooked for Tom was at The Ashby Inn in '92 and that night I was again The Celebrity Bartender. Whipping up great cocktails and shots all night wee into the morning. What a blast. That's why they call it "The Food and Beverage Industry".
When I left that night everyone was asking me are you ok?
I said yea I'm fine as I pointed up to the traffic light and fired up my Ducati.
I said to the group all gathered around me "I just have 2 blocks to get home". Keep in mind I've been riding motorcycles since I was 8 on my Arctic Cat mini bike 50cc and would never expect this would happen.
So off I went waving to everyone as I headed home. As I approached that traffic light I pointed out to my fans it turned red. I stopped. And never put my feet down. Kurplunk !! I just fell over.
I'm laughing. Everyone else is laughing and I pick my bike up. I made the last block home just fine.
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