Healdsburg chef Douglas Keane won this season's "Top Chef Masters" contest Wednesday night, beating out former "Top Chef" contestant Bryan Voltaggio of Maryland and Jennifer Jasinski of Denver on the popular Bravo series.
Keane, who owned the Michelin-starred Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg with business partner Nick Peyton for seven years, won the top prize of $100,000 for his charity, the Green Dog Rescue Project of Windsor. That was on top of $20,000 he won for the nonprofit in smaller contests throughout the season.
Green Dog, which Keane helped found in 2011, is one of the contenders to take over the defunct Healdsburg Animal Shelter, cofounder Colleen Combs said, and the chef's winnings would go to rehab the building should the nonprofit win the bid. If not, the money will go to find Green Dog a new permanent home; its 48 dogs are housed in a temporary location in Windsor.
"We're just blessed to have him as part of this organization," she said of Keane.
Local fans of down-to-earth dog lover Keane have been watching the show every Wednesday since July 24 at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill, which he and Peyton manage.
"The energy in the Healdsburg Bar & Grill last night was unbelievable," Peyton said. "The place just roared. It was standing room only."
Combs said Keane himself was at many of the weekly watching parties, though not at the finale, but he never tipped his hand even slightly, despite the fact that he had known the outcome since February.
"It was actually kind of fun," Keane said, confessing that he has a pretty good poker face, inherited from his unflappable lawyer father. "My mom didn't know either."
The North Bay has had its share of rock star chefs who have raised their national profile through reality TV, starting with Guy Fieri, who auditioned for "The Next Food Network Star" and ended up starring in the network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," among other shows.
Michael Chiarello of Bottega in Yountville has starred in Bravo's "Top Chef Masters," and Duskie Estes of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol starred on the Food Network's "Iron Chef" in both season three and five.
Keane, who was a consistent favorite among the judges and critics during the show, was the only contestant to refuse to jump out of an airplane in the very first episode. As a result, he lost one hour of prep time in the first challenge.
But he made up for it over the 10-week series, beating out 12 other chefs from across the country as the top toque on Wednesday night with a four-course, Asian-fusion dinner menu.
For the final challenge, he wowed the judging panel with dishes reminiscent of his days at Cyrus: Soup Billi Bi with White Wine, Saffron, Fennel Puree and Uni; Soba-wrapped Ocean Trout with Ginger Dashi; Duck Breast with Sake Roasted Onion; and Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Shattered Miso Custard.
After the final competition, Keane said Friday, he decided to revisit his first-week decision not to jump from that airplane. He returned to Sonoma County and went up for his first-ever skydive.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the competitions they were forced to face, he said, the show forces chefs, who are normally control freaks, to accustom themselves to letting go of control and facing their fears. Making that skydive seemed like a fitting end to the experience.