Doug and Sang: Bad Romance?

The newly-crowned Top Chef Master catches us up on his bromance, his next venture, and skydiving! How are you feeling going into the finale?
Douglas Keane: I am extremely exhausted both physically and mentally. It was a lot tougher than I thought. This whole process that is Top Chef Masters forced me to do some soul searching that I definitely didn't expect. Couple that with a pretty brutal schedule of taping, I am about wiped out.

Now, with that being said, being this close to $100,000 for Green Dog definitely is a little reinvigorating. I was planning on lasting only a couple shows at best as this was so far out of my comfort zone that being in the finale definitely amped up my energy. You find out that you won't have Paul's help prepping. What's your reaction to that?
DK: My first reaction is basically nothing. Its just matter of fact. Its how I deal with things in general. I try not to let anything faze me, no matter how severe -- from brain tumor to business issues. That way, I can buy time to figure out how to deal with what comes up without wasting time and energy with panic. Projecting a sense of calm enables me to get my thoughts together and usually pays off with a good concise plan.

But it definitely hit me smack in the face while I was shopping. I started to realize that I needed to be back in the kitchen ASAP. And a good amount of adrenaline started to take over, which I've realized isn't necessarily a good thing for me. I used to feed off the adrenaline, but now I know I deliver much better product when I'm calm and can keep a sense of humor. Can you elaborate on your menu planning? How do you decide which dish will go for which course?
DK: The first and last course were easiest.

Steamed mussels were the very first thing I learned how to make professionally. So, the Billi Bi was a natural. It's my favorite soup and is so impressive when done right. I was pretty sure I could hit it perfectly as long as I had enough mussels.

The second course was a version of one of my favorite dishes that I made towards the end of Cyrus. It basically symbolized where my food style currently lives. It had slipped my mind, so I was thankful that Paul reminded me of it. So "something new" was the epitome of this dish. It was a thesis basically on all of my travels to Japan.

The third course was tougher. Something borrowed. I've worked for so many amazing chefs that it was tough to pick. I could have picked a bunch of dishes from Traci Des Jardins as she is definitely a mentor and friend who greatly affected my career in many ways. But when I thought about the chef who influenced my cooking the most, it was easy to reflect on my time with Chef Kunz, and see how much his ability to draw out flavors and balance tastes seeps into my food everyday. His tamarind glaze is something I've stolen for many years and is so versatile-- I'm even using it at my new restaurant, DK Wings, that opens in November, as a glaze for one of my chicken wings.

The fourth course was a panna cotta, which is great because it gave me a blank canvas to work You seem slightly annoyed once Jen comes in to the kitchen after you have some time to yourself in there. Did it slow you down at all, etc?
DK: I love Jen. I think I was reacting to the fact that I had this kitchen all to myself and was making great progress, and now I have to share it. So it threw me off.... I was in a zone and didnt want anybody else in my sandbox. One of the biggest things that happened to me on TCM5 was to get over myself. Be a little more flexible and realize I can't be in control of everything all the time.

Jen has a great style and heart, and we just deal with stress differently. I think she's a rock star. You are behind the other chefs after Day 1 without Paul's help. How do you make up the time? Was there any difficult in getting Paul re-acclamated to the dishes you were preparing?
DK: Yeah, it was tough to catch Paul up to speed, but he's so strong that it didn't take too long. I really only had the wrapping of the fish slated for him to prep, and everything else was a bonus if he got them done. I was surprised with how much I got accomplished on Day One. Also, Paul and Drew were both much faster cooks than me, so they doubled my output every time I worked with them. How do you feel each dish turned out? Was there anything you would have done differently?
I was really happy with the dishes. If I could change anything, I would have done chicken instead of duck. I love cooking chicken, and I love surprising people with how great it can be. Crispy, juicy, umami!!! But I second-guessed that it was the finale and duck was more appropriate than chicken. And I would say that was my only flaw of the meal. How did you reimagine Paul's losing panna cotta?
DK: He was so down on what he made that I just scrapped it and kept the panna cotta as the theme. I made it in my style -- sweet and bordering on savory but with surprising flavors. And pulled it altogether with the white miso custard. As the judges critiqued your food at Critics' Table, did you feel like you won?
DK: No. They are great at keeping it suspenseful. I think they like the torture aspect.... I know I would! What went through your mind once the critics told you you won. You were very Zen about it.
DK: The first thing I felt was bad for Bryan and Jen. I wanted to tell them how much I admired them, and I know how hard they worked. I am a little uncomfortable with the spotlight right on me, so I try to deflect, but it was a little tough at that point. Plus, Paul's reaction took it to a whole new level.

It goes back to how I deal with anything dramatic -- I just take it in and then figure out how to process.

But I was really flattered. It was one of the hardest things I've done professionally and was surprised I won. How's your relationship with Sang? The other contestants?
DK: Sang and I are recovering from a little spat. We took a romantic trip to Portland to visit Jenn Louis but we ran into issues when we went to get a soft serve ice cream. They only had enough sprinkles for one person so Sang pouted the rest of the trip when I took the one with sprinkles. We are working though our current fight and planning a trip to Big Sky Montana to star gaze in December.

Hopefully we will be back together by the end of that trip.

I have had the best time getting to know all of the chefs. It was a great group of smart, inappropriate. and talented people. So much fun. We've kept in great touch, and the string of texts every Wednesday between some of us should never be seen! How was was skydiving?!

As I reflected on winning Top Chef Masters, I realized the biggest reason I won was because I was able to get over myself -- my ego, my fears, my hang-ups.  All of this related back to the sky diving challenge. To me, it was important to be able to conquer that fear as well. It completed the journey. I felt like I cheated myself and the other chefs by not jumping, even though it was one of my biggest fears. I wanted to feel like I belonged with the incredible group of chefs that I got to work with


. What was your favorite overall challenge?
DK: By far and away, cooking for the teachers. There aren't many real heroes anymore. These four people were heroes. It was perfect timing for me because it focused me on cooking to make people happy instead of trying to win or get a star. What was the hardest part of the competition for you?
DK: Coming up with ideas that quickly. It's not what I do at all. I am so planned in my cooking, but it was a great thing for me personally. It pushed me out of the comfort zone. Did anything funny happen behind-the-scenes that you can share?
DK: There should be cameras and microphones on us at all times. There was some funny stuff. Mostly inappropriate and at each other's expenses but all in good nature.

One thing I can share is at the Asian Night Market after we were pretty much done, Sang came over to try my dessert. Instead of making it for him the regular way I offered to spray the foamer straight into his mouth. Well, it wasn't shaken up quite right and Sang ended up with white whipped cream all over his face. We laughed as hard as we could for almost an hour. Anout five or six of us in tears we were laughing so hard. The producers were so pissed off that there wasn't a camera on us. Anything else you'd like to add?
I miss hanging out with the chefs a lot. It was hard but a really special time. 


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