D.C.’s Chef Duane Keller — Classic Cuisine, Made to Perfection

“If you are close to God and close to the Church, you can get through tough times.”

Chef Duane Keller
Chef Duane Keller (photo: Photo provided)

For many years, countless locals in the Washington, D.C., metro area have enjoyed the meals whipped up by Chef Duane Keller. That means dining at the Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia; the upscale Belle Haven Country Club; Walkers Grille; The Capital Grill; and the now-closed Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine at the Gaylord National hotel at the National Harbor.

And Chef Keller has earned some interesting tributes, including a James Beard Foundation certificate, the Wine Spectator Award and the CCA Chef of the Year Award. Plus, he helped Julia Child celebrate her 90th birthday, cooked at the James Beard House in New York, and cooked in the White House for four different presidents and many other high-ranking celebrities.

With such remarkable talent and experiences, however, Keller leans heavily on his Catholic faith to get him through life’s challenges.

A native of Canada and raised in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he grew up in a very Catholic family. “My dad was a professional hockey player,” he said, “and yet he had the family attend church every Sunday and recite the catechism every Saturday. In fact, my father was part of choir and gave a lot to the church.”

Chef Keller recalled how his father’s team played in a tournament in Quebec. Many of the players suffered injuries, but the hockey team recovered, and were convinced that happened because they prayed at Saint Anne’s Cathedral. “The Church kept us grounded,” he said. “He taught us kids that if you are close to God and close to the Church, you can get through tough times.”

Chef Keller may have contemplated becoming a hockey pro, but the call to the kitchen was much stronger. Not only were both his parents super home cooks, but also because as a youngster he worked at one of the finest and best-known restaurants in Pennsylvania, Alfred’s Victorian. He worked there for three years, washing pots and pans, then started learning about food preparation and working on the food line when he turned 15.

He discovered he loved working with food and people, but after college, he moved back to Canada to play hockey, but his life and career took a direct route right to the kitchen. “I took a job at a four-star hotel with a chef who demanded perfection,” he said, adding that chefs must be proud of what they create and of being in the kitchen. That classical training shaped Chef Keller’s cooking style that is grounded in the classics, but he lets the food speak for itself.

Chef Keller moved to the D.C. metro area in 1990. His passion for cooking has only escalated over the past decades, and top-notch cooking really defines the man he has become. “I just love to cook,” he said. “The colors, textures, and flavors never end. … I never once thought about doing something else.”

And his faith has shaped how he has dealt with life: “I am a happy person, always helping others,” he said. Despite the pandemic and several of his own recent health issues, Chef Keller has relied on God to get through life. “God gets me through every day,” he said. “Without my faith, my health issues would have broken most people, but my belief in God has gotten me through these past months.”

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Peach BBQ Sauce 

  • 3 each large ripe local peaches, peeled and pitted
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 4 ounces gold rum
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 ounces Peach Schnapps
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 
  • Salt to taste and 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 ounces low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 lime, halved

Place all ingredients in a pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 35 minutes. Remove from the heat, and discard the lime. Purée the mixture until smooth.