We knew chef Gavin Kaysen was no ordinary chef when we stumbled upon him in 2006 while cooking at El Bizcocho in San Diego. So good, in fact, we named him a Rising Star. Boy, has he lived up to our expectations. He is now the executive chef and director of culinary operations at Cafe Boulud for legendary chef Daniel Boulud in New York City. He is also the head coach for the Bocuse d'Or Team USA and came within an inch of winning the Chopped All-Stars competition last year on the Food Network. We caught up to him in South Beach for the wine and food festival there.
What are you doing here at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?
I'm doing the Best of the Best event (60 chefs cooking for a crowd of 1,200). So we're doing marinated Nantucket Bay Scallops with tangerine, beet, basil and tarragon. Tomorrow night I'm doing this fried chicken event with Andrew Carmellini: 10 chefs getting together frying chicken on the beach. It should be fun. The gate agent at the airport didn't think it was fun when we checked in with six boxes of food weighing in at around 400 pounds.
It's been about seven years since RH named you a Rising Star. Did you ever believe in your wildest dreams you'd be working someday with Daniel Boulud?
When I was working in San Diego and awarded the Rising Star I had always had dreams and aspirations to do more, I just didn't know whether I'd open my own restaurant or what I would do. I was only 27 at the time. Then this opportunity came up to compete for Bocuse d'Or, and that's what led me to Daniel Boulud, and we became very close friends. Now I help run his Cafe Boulud operation in New York City, Palm Beach and Toronto. It's been an incredible opportunity to learn how to run an operation in three different cities with different chefs and different systems.
There's a funny story about when you competed in Bocuse d'Or and there was a mishap in the kitchen that didn't help your chances of winning.
Yeah, I was doing a meat platter for the competition that included little chicken wings. My plan was to put 12 wings on the platter and two on the plate for the presentation show piece. When it came time to do the plating, the chicken wings weren't around. I asked one of my dishwashers what had happened to the wings and he couldn't answer because his mouth was full of chicken wings. Now, all these years later, I coach the team and Daniel was the guiding force behind the creation of Bocuse d'Or Foundation that helps fund the American team.
If anyone had any doubts about your skill as a chef you removed them while competing on the Food Network's Chopped All-Stars. You placed second to Scott Conant, though plenty of us thought you got robbed. Be that as it may, what was that experience like?
It's extremely hard because you really don't know what's in that basket and you've got 15 minutes to figure out what you're going to cook. People who saw me compete said, 'You can really chop fast.' But your mind has to work even faster than your hands. It's intense.
So what's next for you?
A lot of Bocuse d'Or training and continuing the development of the Cafe Boulud brand. As long as I continue to grow here and am not hitting a ceiling, I'm going to stay. I love this place, though I will always have the dream to open my own place.
Restaurant Hospitality editor Mike Sanson reported live from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach, Fla., Feb. 20-23. The event, now in its 13th year,attracted more than 60,000 attendees, 150 celebrated chefs and 250 wineries and spirits producers. A component of the festival is trade panels designed specifically for restaurant operators. Sanson's reports from South Beach focus on those talks and interviews with top chefs attending the event.