Go Eat! Mother Nature's son

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Keith Luce

By Julien Perry

They say luck has nothing to do with success. But try telling that to chef Keith Luce.

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"I'm like the equivalent of Forest Gump. Really. Honestly," Luce said. "I've been so lucky."

So, just who is this Mr. Lucky? He's the new executive chef at The Herbfarm -- Woodinville's internationally-acclaimed restaurant known for it's five-hour, nine-course farm-fresh dining extravaganza.

"We're almost not buying anything. Often times in a restaurant, you'll go someplace and they'll cook beans and they'll buy bacon to cook the beans in. We're cooking beans that we've dried on our farm, and we're cooking it with bacon that we cured and smoked, and it's really fun."

Keith's culinary career began more than two decades ago when he started working in his grandfather's pastry shop - a favorite haunt for New York City chefs vacationing in the Hamptons.

"A lot of them would joke and say, 'Oh, he's gonna work for us someday.' And my grandfather would say, 'I don't know. This one doesn't really want to be in the business.'"

Regardless, Keith found himself taking restaurant jobs in the late 80s to pay his way through music school.

"I was working in restaurants like the Rainbow Room, Le Cirque and La Cote Basque."

It wasn't long before something clicked.

"Being creative is very important to me. And it's the first time that - not being forced to work in a kitchen in a restaurant - I saw the potential, and I saw that I actually had quite an affinity for the craft and fell in love with the craft and just, you know, never looked back."

After five years in Manhattan, Keith accepted a job to work at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia with Walter Schieb.

"I got lucky because Walter became the executive chef of the White House and he asked me to come as his sous chef."

After four years working in the first Clinton Administration, it was time for Keith to find his next challenge. He accepted a job in Chicago as opening chef of "Spruce," which was named Best Restaurant by Esquire.

"The attention, just what happened at that point, it was just absolutely crazy, because then we won the (James) Beard Award, then I won the Best Chef from Food & Wine magazine right after that."

That was 1997. Fast forward to September 2001. After a couple of executive chef jobs back West (Little Nell in Aspen, PlumpJack in California), Keith opened his own restaurant in San Francisco called "Merenda."

"We were really successful for awhile, but I just grew it too fast. Before we opened we already had a feature in USA Today and we were named (one of the) 50 best restaurants in the country by Gourmet."

He sold the place in 2004 and proceeded to work in Napa Valley until he was tapped by the Herbfarm to join their slice of wine country in 2007."

Keith jumped at the opportunity to work closely with the products he loves.

"I think that if you have a certain skill for anything or a gift, then it's your responsibility to give something back, because this craft has given so much to me."

For more information:

www.theherbfarm.com

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