October 1, 2013

Hotelie Douglas Keane ’93 Wins Season Five of Top Chef Masters

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As a teenager growing up in Michigan, Douglas Keane ’93 had little interest in the football games that drew the attention of some adolescent boys. Instead, Keane was pulled to his mother’s kitchen, something he says sparked a life-long passion for cooking.

That passion was on display Sept. 25, when Top Chef Masters fans were able to watch Keane winning the show’s fifth season.

It is not the first honor Keane received throughout his culinary career: he’s received two stars in The Michelin Guide for seven straight years, as well as a four star review from the San Francisco Chronicle, both for his restaurant “Cyrus” in Sonoma County, Calif., according to Bravo’s website.

Keane says that ever since he took a baking and cooking class in high school, the thought of becoming a chef appealed to him.

“I went to Catholic high school, and there was a nun there, Sister Josephina, who taught baking and cooking,” he said.

Through the combination of cooking for his family and this high school course, Keane came to Cornell with a deep interest in cooking.

“I loved it. I loved the intrinsic reward and also the immediate gratification of making something and seeing people enjoy it.” Keane said.

In fact, his freshman year, Keane almost left Cornell for culinary school because he felt the School of Hotel Administration’s curriculum did not allow for enough time in the kitchen.

He said people like Stan Bromley, a family friend and renowned hotelier, Prof. Robert White, a chef-instructor who still teaches at the hotel school, and Brian Halloran, the then-head chef of the Statler Hotel, were instrumental in his evolution as a chef during his time at Cornell.

While at the Hotel School, Keane was able to work in top kitchens in New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., according to a Cornell profile of the chef.

Keane said he is glad he decided not to leave Cornell, and that he values the experience he gained at the hotel school — particularly through the school’s focus on both business knowledge and cooking instruction.

“A lot of chefs make the mistake of thinking of [cooking] as an art. There are definitely artistic sides to cooking and to restaurants, but make no mistake, it’s actual business,” he said.

While the hotel school readied Keane for many of the challenges of owning and running a restaurant, a reality television cooking competition was very different territory.

On this season of Top Chef Masters, Keane was one of 13 award-winning chefs who competed to be named “Top Chef Master” and win $100,000 for their charity of choice.

For Keane, that charity was Green Dog Rescue. Throughout the course of his time on Top Chef Masters, Keane raised $120,000 for the organization, which provides dogs from a shelter environment with a more humane home as they wait to be adopted, according to the Green Dog Rescue website. A certified dog trainer, Keane owns four dogs — ranging in age from four months to 19 years — with his wife, Lael.

Keane remembers one moment in his competition-winning campaign with particular fondness. During the ninth episode of the season, the chefs were challenged to cook for a group of teachers from the Los Angeles School District.

“They were really special people, especially the teacher that I got,” Keane said.

“What happens when you are actually challenged to cook for someone as I was in that show, you start to cook to make people happy, to honor people. That’s actually what cooking is about. It was really great to get back to that.”