Share Our Strength is an organization sanctioned by the President to fight childhood hunger in America. This last month I had an opportunity to work with Keith Luce. Keith first worked with me at the Greenbrier and then later as a Sous Chef at the White House. For the last few years Keith has been the Executive Chef at the Herbfarm which touts a dizzying array of awards including: AAA's 5 star, Mobil's 4 star, and a National Geographic title that named The Herbfarm as the Number One Destination Restaurant of the Year. I asked Kiyomi, who provides technical assistance for this blog, to talk with Keith. I hope you enjoy the interview:
-What was your relationship like with Walter when you two were working together at the Green Brier and the White House?
Being a young person in the kitchen authority has an interesting set of challenges attached to it. You have to understand I was 20 or 21 years old when I met him. I was a different person mentally. I was a type-A. The only things that were important were my craft and my art. I was 23 when I went to the White House. I think when I was younger I couldn't understand him like I do now. I came from an all European kitchen. My perspective was really skewed. It was the first time I had really worked with an American chef who was lighthearted.
-What projects are you working on this summer?
I'm still the acting Executive Chef for the Herbfarm and I'm opening a business on the East Coast. Essentially I am working on a restaurant–farm concept that focuses on the land, farm, and artisanal breadmaking, cheesemaking and some charcueterie.
-Speaking of which, will you be bringing some of your wooly pigs (Mangalitsa pigs) to the new farm?
Yes, I will start raising wooly pigs there.
-Since you've been away from the East Coast for so long, you've had a chance to get used to the West Coast growing season. Is it going to be a lot different there?
In all honesty, the Seattle area is not too unlike the area where I grew up.
- You've grown up on a farm, traveled, and have done lots of different things - now you are coming back to your roots. Do you consider yourself to be a farmer?
The name of the restaurant is called Luce's Landing. This means a lot to me because it sort of alludes to the fact that I am coming back and landing where my roots are. My family has a long history there. There’s a beach at the end of the farm where my original family members landed. That was called Luce's Landing. It is a full circle scenario. In addition, I am working on a book. It will be a cookbook but its also going to tell the story of my realization of what is important to me. It begins with the farm even though I didn't realize it when I was growing up. The last thing I wanted to do was be involved with the farm or food because my grandfather was Italian and he was in the food business. I was traded back and forth between the farm and my grandfather's restaurant. After having gone away and trying to excel at being a chef I realize that some of the most important lessons I learned were on the farm. This drove me back towards the farm. I can't call myself a farmer because I'm not in the field everyday, but I think I am at heart. A big part of my being, and belief system, stems from that and I understand ingredients at a basic level.
-Do you still have a lot of family on the East Coast?
-How many family members will be helping you in your new endeavor?
My two sisters and my mother have expressed an interest. I have a rule in my life to not involve my wife for the sake of the marriage. The majority of the help will come from my 2 sisters and my mother.
Yes, there is no question about that. That's where my family is. That's where my heritage is. There's a lifestyle that I can give my son and I can leave behind. Leaving behind a legacy is very important to me. I don't know why, it's not ego. I've been very fortunate to live the life I've lived and most of it is because of this industry. I want to leave something behind in that arena, but I also want to leave something behind for my son so that he understands who his family was and why his father is who he is. It is home in a very big way.