PLATELIST: Gavin Kaysen and the Joy of Cooking

"Anybody can write about what we do and we can have as much media as we want, but if the restaurant's not full and people aren't happy, it really doesn't matter," he said. "You know, if people know who you are, that's great, but if you're only doing 40 covers a night, that's not great."

Kaysen said he keeps a list of goals that he updates every three months.

"I think when you feel like you can conquer the world, you can conquer the world," he said. "I still, to this day, will always keep a list of goals in my wallet that I change and update every six months. And it's like OK, I'll pull them out and see what I've accomplished in the last six months. If it's done, I check it off and I rewrite my list -- one of my new lists of goals."

As he moves forward in his career, Kaysen seems careful to keep in mind the chefs who have influenced him along the way.

"I worked for a guy named Robert Curry when I was at Domaine Chandon [in California]," he said. "One of the main things that I learned from Robert was his respect for people. And it didn't matter who you were in his regard. You could be the dishwasher, you could be the executive sous chef -- he shook everybody's hand and said 'Hello' when he saw you, and he said goodbye to everybody every single night when he left, no matter what.

"And you just see that every day and it was like -- it always solidified in my head that it's always important to gain that connection -- that personal connection with everybody that you work with. To make sure you acknowledge who they are and as much as they're trying to help you in your success, you have to pay it back and try to help them."

But it was his original mentor, George Serra, who may have left the deepest impression on Kaysen.

"I think George taught me about my palate because he would always say -- he'd hand me like a pickle, and I'd say, 'I don't like pickles,'" Kaysen said. "I'd never tasted a pickle till this point -- it was just in my head I didn't think that I'd like the pickle, and so he would say to me, 'You have to taste it 20 times. If you don't like something after 20 times, then I believe you don't like it.'

"And now there's not anything I don't like. I've tasted everything, and anything that comes in front of me, I'm going to taste it. If I don't like it, I'll just keep tasting it -- now I understand it's an education of my palette.

"George was really -- to this day, I don't think I fully understand or know him. I mean, I've known him for 15 years, but the first time I was ever on the cover of a magazine was Chef Magazine, and I was 24. And I called George and I was so excited, I said, 'George, I'm on the cover of this magazine! I'm going to send you a copy.' And then two years later I got a call from their editor, and he says, 'We're trying to get in touch with George.' And I said, 'What, are you doing a story on him?' And he said, 'Well, he founded the magazine, and we're doing a little historical piece on the magazine -- you know, where it started to where it is today.'

"And I'm like, 'What do you mean he founded the magazine?' And he says, 'Yeah, yeah, he started the whole thing.'"

Kaysen called Serra right back.

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