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Master Chef Hubert Keller

 
Catching up with Master Chef Hubert Keller is actually getting quite hard to accomplish. He is an extremely busy man these days, what with flitting back and forth with his various restaurants in Las Vegas, St. Louis and San Francisco. Aside from this, he makes time for taping television shows for PBS and others and whatever media interviews he has going this week... At this rate, he is going to need a private jet at least, just to keep up with it all, but in spite of that, he has managed to keep a firm hold on the reins at his San Francisco restaurant which has become a landmark of haute cuisine: Fleur de Lys. Long time friends comment that Keller has been known to run 25 miles at a time for fun! And those are on his all too rare, "days off!"

Chef Keller has been owner over at Fleur de Lys since 1986. That's 23 years. One major earthquake and a fire later, he's still going strong. Running a four star restaurant is a team effort, no one person can do it successfully alone and Keller has a primo team! Including his partner Maurice Rouas and his lovely and talented wife, Chantal. For many master chefs who are as successful as Keller has become, being married to their restaurants is hard enough, but to be able to maintain and sustain successfully both a long-term marriage and multiple successful restaurant ventures is nothing short of incredible. How does he do it?

Well, for one thing, he is extremely well organized, ultra energetic, and practices what he preaches about healthy cooking and is a very tidy individual. We would ask his wife Chantal, if he is is tidy and well organized at home, but that would be too much of an invasion of privacy! I can tell you from person observation after having been acquainted with both Chef Keller and his lovely wife over the years, that not only does he own the cleanest and best kept kitchen in town, but he trains his staff to do the same. You could go behind the beautiful romantic curtains at Fleur any night in the week, and everything would be running like clockwork and things that were not directly either in use or about to be used, would not be "left out." As someone who has been involved in one way and other in the food industry over many years, I can tell you, that is probably a very rare occurrence in most haute cuisine kitchens in the Bay Area. (Yes, even the very snobby ones)!

Born in Alsace, France, he started his culinary career with training as a hotel chef at the Ecole Hoteliere in Strasbourg, and then apprenticed the old-fashioned way with the Haeberlin brothers at the Auberge de L'ill in Illhaeusern. He trained with the best: first, Paul Bocuse, near Lyon (a well-known gastronomic center) and then with Gaston Lenotre in Paris (an incredibly smart career move). Then he went off to work on a cruise ship, and after a stint at Domaine de Chateaneuf in Nans les Pins, he went on to work with the awesome Roger Verge who recognized his talent and appointed him Chef Saucier. Working with Verge would turn the corner for him careerwise. He went on to work in a couple of major hotels before he was contacted again by Verge and asked if he wanted to work with him in Brazil. Keller loved Brazil and Brazilians loved him, he stayed for a full two years, learning and working. As much as he loved Brazil, Keller must have left his culinary heart in San Francisco, because when he was asked to return and manage Sutter 500, he made himself available.

Every chef's dream is to own his own restaurant and be his own boss. That dream finally came true for Keller in 1986, when Maurice Rouas made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He became co-owner of Fleur de Lys Restaurant. Everything went forward from there, but it hasn't all been a bed of roses. There was a fire and the restaurant was closed for quite a while before reopening after a complete refurbishment. I lived around the corner at the time on the corner of Hyde and Sutter and I remember there were those of us who wondered if it was ever going to reopen. Then there was the Loma Prieta earthquake... No-one is ever prepared for dealing with a major disaster, but Keller took it in his stride and kept going. Now he and his partners actually own the building that Fleur de Lys is in, which was one of the smartest moves they ever made. Celebrities and royalty have frequented Fleur and this space would not be adequate to list them all here, suffice it to say that when you dine at Fleur, you'll be treated like a star...

Chantal Keller, Hubert's chic Alsace-born wife, has made her mark on the restaurant by designing the pattern on the material that is used for the famous romantic garden tent. Cherchez la femme! "She is," he says, my "smartest critic and co-visionary."

After 1996, starting with Club XIX in tony Pebble Beach, Keller assisted by being a Consulting Chef. Then he branched out and opened a second Fleur de Lys in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. Much later he was lured into starting a brand new venture (his own idea) the Burger Bar (also in Vegas). Originator of the $60 Rossini Burger and adult milk shakes, Keller went on to put yet another Burger Bar in the works for a summer opening date in San Francisco. Plans for the proposed San Francisco Burger Bar include a butcher shop (unlike its Vegas counterpart) and there will be a very global beer menu. Apparently, the Vegas Burger Bar brought Keller a whole different set of media write-ups than he had formerly enjoyed. This time, his cooking has been discovered by the beer drinking set, but fear not, Keller tells us he will also have a great wine cellar for the SF Burger Bar.

There will be the "Build Your Own Shake" stations which will feature 12 different ice cream flavors and fresh fruits. Keller says there will be 4 or 5 milk shakes and customers will be able to either pick one of those, or build their own. He is really excited about the Adult Milk Shakes which will feature vodkas, Grand Marnier, kahluas and cognacs. Of course, there will also be the famous "sweet" burgers for dessert. Keller tells me that he has designed one that is chocolate, but shaped like a donut with a hole, but which will have chocolate in the center which has a bit of chipotle chili in it and he has managed to craft what looks just like a piece of "cheese" out of a mixture that includes passion fruit. The restaurant will be located on the 6th floor of Macy's and will overlook Union Square, so the views will be spectacular.

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