Chef Gavin Kaysen
Café Boulud | New York
In the fall of 2005 Gavin Kaysen decided to take a few weeks off from his own kitchen to train elsewhere and broaden his perspective. His goal was to spend time in the kitchen of the best chef who would have him – and he landed a brief internship in the kitchen at Daniel. Now, just over two years later, that fortunate choice has led him to the executive chef position at Café Boulud – where he’s earned a James Beard Foundation “Rising Star” award, and, of course, a StarChefs.com New York Rising Star award.
Boulud first offered Kaysen a full-time job days after his New York stage, but Kaysen was unable to leave his chef de cuisine position at El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego. In 2007 Kaysen represented the United States at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France – the competition experience brought Gavin and Daniel together, once again, as the young chef turned to Boulud as a mentor figure who would help him to navigate the French culinary world. That year, Kaysen also competed on Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef” competition, and was named a Food & Wine “Best New Chef.”
Originally from Bloomington, MN, Kaysen worked as chef at San Diego's Rancho Bernardo Inn for over three years. Previously, he gained international experience at l'Auberge de Lavaux in Lausanne Switzerland and under Marco Pierre White at London's l'Escargot. He moved to New York in November 2007 and had Café Boulud's executive chef baton passed to him officially at the end of that year.
Heather Sperling: How would you describe your cuisine at Café Boulud?
Gavin Kaysen: Fanatically seasonal French fare with a definite American twist. I have a strong European background and of course an American background and they come together at Café Boulud. I develop dishes for Daniel to taste, and he gives me feedback – I change the menu often, and have a ton of freedom.
HS: How many seats? Covers? Cooks in your kitchen?
GK: 95 seats. We do lunch and dinner – usually 85 covers at lunch, and 175 covers at dinner. I have 21 cooks total – 13 for lunch, and 11 for dinner.
HS: What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
GK: Spoon – because you can use it for everything, and it’s essential for basting fish and meats as they cook. Plus, I steal spoons – that’s my thing. When I eat in a restaurant I take a spoon. Some are framed at my apartment, and some are stashed in flowerpots. The best that I took was from Paul Bocuse when I was eating dinner with him in his kitchen in France – I took it right in front of him. It says PB! When someone I admire comes in to eat, I save their ticket, too.
HS: What’s your favorite cookbook?
GK: Michel Bras Essential Cuisine – it’s beautiful. You don’t even need to read it – you can just look at it, and it’s still amazing. I cooked for him once for lunch at Café Boulud, and I was so nervous!
HS: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
GK: Right now [ed’s note: June] it’s corn and tomatoes with ricotta or burrata, or corn with lobster – we did a dish last night of house-made farfalle and corn petite poise and lobster foam. I’m excited about anything that represents summer!
HS: What languages do you speak?
GK: French and I understand some Swedish – just enough to know if my wife is pissed.
HS: If you could have any chef cook for you (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
GK: I’d want to be in the kitchen watching them and learning – I wouldn’t just want them to cook for me! I would love to have tasted and cooked with Freddy Girardet. I have his book and go back to it and see the similarities between the cuisine I cook and his – I would have loved to have tasted his food. I cooked for Thomas Keller and Michel Bras at Café Boulud – it was terrifying! But also exciting, of course.
HS: If you could go anywhere for culinary travel, where would you go and why?
GK: Asia – I would love to travel to all different areas and just see and be inspired.
HS: You went straight from Europe to San Diego – how did you end up there?
GK: I knew I wanted to return to the United States, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I put a map up on the wall, and threw three darts at it – one landed on Atlanta, one on San Diego, and one missed all together. I visited both cities, and liked San Diego best!
HS: What was your experience at the Bocuse d’Or?
GK: It was incredible to see the support that other countries give to their teams. We were flown over in coach class – and there was one European team that flew over in their King’s private plane. My wife is Swedish, and she remembers watching the competition on TV as she was growing up – it’s a serious cultural event for much of the rest of the world. It hasn’t had that stature in America though.
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