The restaurant industry in the United States is enormous with 2012 sales in excess of $450 billion. There are, among the 960,000 plus operations, varying degrees of quality and commitment to excellence. There are those that disappoint, many that meet guest expectations and a chosen few that consistently exceed expectations and make those of us who choose a career in cooking, proud to be part of a club that includes those few.
Without exception, those restaurants that exceed expectations are led by a chef who is passionate, extremely confident, creative and talented. One such restaurant is Café Boulud in New York City. As part of the Dinex Group of world-‐renown restaurants led by Chef Daniel Boulud, this café holds the unique position of both an extraordinary fine dining destination and a neighborhood iconic spot to enjoy wonderful food and drink. At the helm of this truly great restaurant is a chef, and friend, Gavin Kaysen.
Chef Gavin agreed to the interview that follows, a brief summary of what makes him tick and how he is able to maintain his passion for cooking.
 What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen?
“Many people have influenced my career, but my Grandmother was the first person I ever stepped into a kitchen with. She helped me understand what hospitality meant and how easy it can be to make people happy by breaking bread with them. “
 Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career in food?
“George Serra was my first ever mentor, I met him in Minnesota when I was 16 years old, and he took me under his wing. He showed me what it meant to have passion in this industry and how to translate that to the guest, your fellow chefs and the people grinding it out everyday with you. From there, I have to say that Daniel Boulud has been my other mentor in many ways. He has taken me from a cook to a chef; he has guided me through how to run a restaurant to now running three for him. He has taught me the importance of a team and just how to build one. He has taught me the true meaning of hospitality and it is not just about the guest, and they’re dining experience, but rather about their entire experience with you, both in the restaurant an beyond. “
 What style of cooking best portrays your passion?
“I cook French – American food…. I have been rooted in classic cooking my entire career, since the age of 16 (I am 34 now), but I am from MN, so I am as American as they come, for that reason, I love to see wild rice on my menu, and food that reminds me of my childhood growing up in the Midwest.”
 Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
“My philosophy on the menu is rather simple, I look at the season, I listen to my guests and I create the menu with my entire sous chef team. I think it is important to listen to the guest and see what it is that they want on the menu as well. We have a large amount of people who eat at Café Boulud 3 plus times per week, we want to give them variety, while maintaining the standards.”
 Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, “yes, this is what I need to do”.
“I can tell you the first time I ever had a real fine dining meal…before this, to me fine dining was the Red Lobster down the street or Steak & Ale in MN. I went to Napa Valley to do my externship for school; I was 21 years old and moved into a house with 9 roommates. One of them worked at this restaurant down the street called The French Laundry. She asked if I had ever been, I of course said no, and asked if I could come in with my parents the next day for lunch. She got us in and we sat next to the kitchen, long before their renovation. I had a meal that I will never forget, not because of the food, but the setting and how they made me feel…even though I had no clue what Foie Gras was, they didn’t judge, care of show it at the least. They saw I was excited, got to know me and learned I cooked for a living; they invited me to the kitchen to meet the chef…Thomas Keller. I should have known who he was, but I didn’t, I just knew that he was someone who created a memory for me that will last a lifetime. Now, Chef Keller is a friend and someone I work and talk with on a daily basis. It is full circle and incredible how simple food can bring people together. “
 Who are your “most valuable players” in Café Boulud?
“Everyone, from the porters to my GM…. I value them all and owe everything we do to them, they would walk through a wall for me and I would do the same for them in a heartbeat. “
 If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?
“Be patient; understand that cooking does not have an age limit. I know there are many awards to be won, and you have to be under a certain age…. I have won them…. while they are important and great milestones, they will not get you want you want any faster. You have to work for it, prepare yourself for success, and ask questions. If you strain the sauce 6 times, ask why, don’t just do it…. get to know the meaning of what you do every day, it will give you a new light on how to cook.”
 When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?
“I am looking for commitment; I am looking for genuine curiosity and strength. I want them to be strong enough to let us teach them, even if they think they know it, I want them to learn a new way, and ask why.”
 If you were not cooking, what would you choose to do for a career?
“I am not good at music, but I love it, and would love to have been in that industry somehow.”
 What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce?
“Café Boulud is a restaurant that was built in 1900 in Lyon, France. It has been transformed to fit the UES on Manhattan, Café Boulud has become an Upper East Side staple, whose menu is inspired by Daniel Boulud’ s four culinary muses: la tradition, classic French cuisine; la saison, seasonal delicacies; le potager, the vegetable garden; and le voyage, flavors of world cuisines. Having earned three stars in the New York Times as well as a star in the Michelin Guide, Café Boulud is both a destination and a neighborhood gem for casually elegant dining, seasonal wine tasting dinners, Sunday brunch and two salons for intimate, private events. The restaurant’ s adjacent Bar Pleiades serves some of the neighborhoods finest cocktails and is perfect for a group gathering or intimate get together.”
Chef Gavin Kaysen graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. Prior to accepting his position at Café Boulud he worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, California; l”Auberge de Lavaux in Switzerland; l’Escargot in London with the notorious Chef Marco Pierre White; and Bizcocho in San Diego. Kaysen represented the United States at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France and in 2007 was named by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the “10 Best New Chefs”. In 2008 he was additionally recognized by StarChefs.com and The James Beard Foundation as a “Rising Star Chef”. In 2009 Chef Kaysen successfully beat Chef Michael Symon on Iron Chef America and competed till the final round of “Chopped All-Stars” seeking to raise money for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
Gavin lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. If you are EVER in New York and are seeking an extraordinary dining experience, make sure to book a reservation at Café Boulud.
Visit Chef Gavin’s personal website and that of Café Boulud for more details.