PLATELIST: Gavin Kaysen and the Joy of Cooking

"But they have a great sense of entertainment and hospitality, which I learned a lot about from them. And creativity, which is what I learned the most. But cooking is not their forte, it's just not part of their world.

"So when I was a kid, my brother and I would cook. You know, we'd put to the pot roast in the big Crockpot and turn it on before we'd go to school, we'd come home, we'd have dinner. Otherwise, it was bagels and cereal. So -- I mean I grew up on just very humble, Midwest roots."

Gavin Kaysen: The Adrenaline Lure

Once Kaysen did get onto cooking, there was not much else that could compete for his affection or attention, he said.

"Honestly, I think when I was 17 years old, I knew I would do it for the rest of my life," he said. "I mean, I would be more excited to go to work on Friday and Saturday nights than to go to the party or the basketball game or the football game or high school or whatever. That was never -- they never sparked my interest. It was always so much more interesting to get beat up on the line doing 450 covers of Fish Fry Friday, you know, that was exciting to me.

"So I think it was the adrenaline, that first was what got me going. It was the instant gratification, and knowing that you're taking care of people. And then it became a challenge that was something that you had to learn by doing it over and over again.

Before jumping into cooking full-time, however, Kaysen decided to check out the whole college thing.

"I tried college for a year, just because I promised myself that I would try it just to make sure, to solidify that this is what I wanted to become," he said. "And I remember I came home from college and I was just like, 'I can't do this.' And I handed my mom my notebook and she opened it and she was like, 'I didn't know you took cooking class?' And I was like, 'Mom, that's anthropology.'

"And it was just like drawings of dishes, and menus, and things that I had read, you know, things that had nothing to do --and I failed that class. I think I got a D, but it had nothing to do with the school and the class that I was taking. And it had everything to do with what I wanted to do."

Pushing to the Limit

Part of his job at Cafe Boulud, Kaysen said, is to push his team of cooks as hard as he can -- but also to know when to ease off. "We have 20-some cooks here in the kitchen," he said. "How do we teach those cooks and mentor those cooks and push them to the limit every single day, but still support them every day and know that they're supported if it's 5:30 and they're still not ready for their station? They know that we will help them for that. But how do we push them just to the limit where it gets them excited to come back every day, so it becomes different?

"Which I think [was the way] it always was before, I just don't think chefs ever got credit for it. You know, I think the reality was the chef was always kind of stuck in the back ... They probably had more time to manage that situation, because they never had to go out front and do TV or do magazine or newspaper interviews or things like that.

"I mean, you know when you have a day when you don't have to do any of that or check e-mails or any of that, you have a full day just to take care of your crew. It's very different than having to juggle all the other things."

Kaysen attributes his ability to keep up with a hectic service night after night to a work ethic instilled by his parents.

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