Interview with Chef Dean Maupin of Keswick Hall - Keswick, VA

October 2010

Will Blunt: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Dean Maupin:
I had a misspent youth. I knew I wasn't college-bound so I got into cooking in the 11th grade and kept with it. I didn’t get serious about food until I came here. I was hesitant before this, and I hadn’t really figured out who I was or what I really liked. I've been here four years.

WB: Do you hire chefs with and without culinary school backgrounds?
DM:
It's all based on character. Carmen, my sous chef, has been with me for six years. He never went to culinary school. We met at Keswick when I started there.

WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DM:
We change the menu every day in little ways; we tweak it every day. There are only a couple of things that never change, like the sticky toffee puddings and the raviolis we don't mess around with. On the dining side of it, we’re completely casual and relaxed. We don't ask anything of our diners except that they enjoy and take it easy. It's that sort of pseudo fine-casual that we have a good niche doing. People come here and it's not pretentious; it's not overly choreographed. We offer good quality, attentive service, and a flavor-driven menu. We're big into cheese; we like the Wisconsin Cheese Chef Ambassador program.

WB: What’s the extent of your food and beverage operation at Clifton? Do you deal with catering, banquets, and room service here?
DM: We do a lot of off-premise catering, with sizes ranging from 10 people to 500. We also do a fair amount of private banquets and rehearsal dinners here as well. We do somewhere around 30 to 40 weddings a year and we cater every one of them, with sizes ranging from 50 to 225 people.

WB: Which element of service at Clifton requires the most of your energy and which is the biggest income-earner?
DM:
The a la carte food certainly takes the most energy, yet the weddings and events yield the greatest returns and account for 60 percent of the food revenue.

WB: What is the relationship between the hotel rooms and the diners at the restaurant? Are most diners hotel guests?
DM: Most everyone who stays here has dinner, at least one if not all of their nights. We are open to the public so on any given night the restaurant is probably 50/50 between hotel guests and outside guests.

WB: Do you do room service for all 18 rooms or just the seven in the main building where the kitchen is located?
DM:
We do room service for all 18 rooms, although it’s not 24 hours a day. But we never say no to a request.

WB: Do you get many international diners here or is it mostly local?
DM: The University of Virginia keeps our wheels spinning and keeps the food scene in this town healthy because it’s so photogenic for weddings.

WB: Are you impacted by trends?
DM:
I've always stayed pretty true to French fundamentals: classic sauces and stock-making. But I also look at publications and buy cookbooks and I’m always online looking at menus. What I've gained from seeing other chefs and restaurants and looking at menus and stuff is to hand-pick my ingredients and get the best of what I need to get, like Anson Mills custom-milled polenta, for example. We're incredibly lucky with the area we're in; there is a bounty produced here. There’s a guy who makes butter locally, and we have the grounds at the restaurant to do our own produce. What David Kinch [of Manresa] does—that's the ultimate, having one farmer just grow for you. I think Clifton is certainly going to try to move into having a full-time garden, just cultivating and caretaking for our garden, where we do all the work. It's a balance of time and effort.

WB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
DM: I’ve hired several students out of the high school culinary arts program, and we do fundraisers and Meals On Wheels. We also do benefit dinners here, like one we're doing in December. We support our local farmers, and we do free culinary demos weekly here.

WB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
DM: The apprenticeship program at The Greenbrier—a lot's changed since I was there, but I think the program still has integrity and is well-structured. The pace was challenging; it's a really intense thing. It’s the oldest program in the country; they accept eight people a year, but it's structured where you'll spend four months making stocks or cooking breakfast with people who have been cooking breakfast there for 35 years. Then you’re doing fortified veal stock, lobster stock, chicken stock, fish fumet, and it's all done really well to the highest quality. It’s a killer program—very demanding.

WB: What is the proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
DM: I think I would say just that everyday challenge of keeping it real every day and creating a great example for the young cooks in my kitchen. That sense of integrity that comes with being able to run a semi-high-caliber kitchen here, which I guess you could say is very different place from a lot of high-end restaurants.

WB: Where will we find you in five years?
DM: My own restaurant for sure, a place that has a wood burning oven and grill, but at same time a custom-built range. I want to marry a high-end kitchen with that primal wood-burning thing; that's where I really want to get to.