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Douglas Keane put his cooking career temporarily on a back burner when he and partner Nick Peyton closed one of Sonoma County's most celebrated restaurants, the Michelin two-starred Cyrus of Healdsburg, last October.

But the hard-working, down-to-earth chef with roots in Detroit hasn't exactly been resting on his laurels.

Last month, Keane proved his culinary prowess by winning Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" Season 5, beating out 12 other top chefs to take home $120,000 for his charity, Green Dog Rescue of Windsor.

"For four years, I said 'no' to the show because I didn't want to look like a jackass," he said.

"Even though Cyrus was closed, there was still the question of, 'What is this two-star chef going to do?'"

It turns out Keane was able to accomplish a lot, once he let go of his fear. That happened around Episode 6, when the chefs were asked to make a healthy dish for kids out of their least favorite ingredients.

"I kind of let go when I did the eggplant Jell-O, and I was rewarded," he said.

"They put me in the top three."

Earlier this month, Keane celebrated another milestone. He opened a casual fried-chicken restaurant, DK Wings, as one of nine Marketplace eateries in the new Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park.

"The only real chain here is Starbucks," Keane said. "It's all niche stuff, and it's across the board. And I like that."

We caught up with the 42-year-old chef — and picked through his recipe file for some tasty Thanksgiving side dishes — just before his new restaurant opened.

Q: How would you describe your food philosophy?

A: Working in Japan has influenced me so much. Every kitchen I worked at was calm and mellow, and they just did one or two things perfectly.

To me, it's about doing one or two things really, really well. That goes back to the tasting and vegetarian menu at Cyrus, and it's the same philosophy here. I could have done 50 types of chicken, but I'm doing just one kind of chicken. ... It's really about crispy, juicy chicken every time.

Q: How did your food philosophy help you win "Top Chef Masters"?

A: On the show, I didn't run around. I didn't panic, because I don't create better food when I panic, and I usually make mistakes that way.

Everybody else ran to the walk-in. I specifically didn't do that. ... By the time I went back to the walk-in, sometimes there would only be one thing left. OK, there's shrimp, so I'm doing shrimp."

Q: In the first episode, you were the only contestant to refuse to jump out of an airplane, but afterward, you went on your first skydive. How did the show affect you psychologically?

A: It helped me get over my fear and my ego. It helped me to let go and realize I don't have to have perfect control. ... And that's when I started thinking about, "Why can't I jump out of the plane? Could I let go of that?"

Q: What did it feel like to let go?

A: It was like when I went in for brain surgery (for a brain tumor in 2003). ... You get through it, and you are better off for it. If it doesn't kill you, you're going to get by. The worst thing with the show would be you get kicked off. I might look like a jerk, and so what?

Q: How did the concept for DK Wings come about?

I created this restaurant because it works with the casino. ... I don't expect to be here day to day, because I'd like to open more of these.

I also have some other quick-service ideas, doing spring rolls and salads and wraps and noodles. I can figure out how to make healthy food fast. I'd love to change the paradigm on that. I think I can use umami and acid rather than carbs and fat.

But if I did fried chicken first, I knew it would be a little more profitable.

Q: What are you most excited about with DK Wings?

A: The fun thing is finding out how to do it for 1,000 people a day rather than 80 at Cyrus. I'm excited about the challenge of engineering it right — one little tweak can make a huge impact.

Q: What are some of the challenges?

A: I'm not serving soda right now. We're making our own frozen juices that are like slushies, and we have three beers on tap. So people might go, "Where's my Pepsi?" If I have to change it, I will.

Q: Will you be opening another Cyrus?

A: If I do it again, I want to have it in the middle of a vineyard so you know you're in Wine Country. ... I want it to be a complete destination.

Q: What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

A: I'm going back to Detroit to go ride in one of the floats in the Thanksgiving Day parade. They did some articles there after the "Top Chef" win, and I had some ideas about helping the city with the food scene.

Then, I think I'm going to come back on Thanksgiving night to hang out with my wife, Lael. And I will work that weekend.

The following recipes are from Douglas Keane, who recommends them for easy side dishes on Thanksgiving.

Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Makes 6 servings

1 and 1/2 cups bacon, cut into small pieces (lardons)

2 large shallots, sliced

1 and 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

— Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saute pan, on medium heat, render the bacon for three to five minutes.

Add sliced shallots and saute slowly until completely soft. Add Brussels sprouts and saut?on medium heat for three minutes. Add water to pan and then place in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Serve immediately.

Whole Roasted Curried Cauliflower

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 whole cauliflower, trimmed on the bottom

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 and 1/2 tablespoons yellow curry powder

1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl mix oil, salt and curry powder.

Place cauliflower on a lined sheet pan and rub curry mixture evenly on entire cauliflower.

Bake at 350 or one hour, until cauliflower is soft.

Serve on a platter, family style, with a knife.

Chestnut and Sherry Soup

Makes 8 servings

2 ounces butter

1/2 cup shallots, sliced

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 stalk celery, sliced

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

1 and 1/2 pounds chestnuts, peeled and toasted

2 cups white wine

1 and 1/3 cup fino sherry

1/2 gallon chicken stock

1 tablespoon honey

— Salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the shallots, celery, and garlic in the butter in a large stainless steel pot over medium heat until very soft. Add the herbs and the chestnuts and stir. Cook for 10 minutes and then add the white wine. Cook till dry and add all but 1/3 cup of the sherry. Reduce by three-quarters.

Add the stock, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The chestnuts should be falling apart. (If the chestnuts are not completely cooked through the finished soup will have a gritty mouth-feel.)

When finished, puree with a hand blender. Add the remaining sherry and honey. Add the puree in small batches to a blender and puree till silky smooth. Strain through a fine chinois. Season to taste.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.