Duane Keller is the Executive Chef at Walker’s Grille in Alexandria, Virginia. He also happens to be a Gold Medal Recipient in Hockey. Quite a combination of passion and skill; we wanted to find out more about Duane, and little did we know what we were in for!
When I first reached out to the Chef and told him that I was interested in learning more about him, he was so very excited to tell me about his Dad, Ralph Keller, who spent the majority of his professional hockey career playing in the AHL for the Hershey Bears.
Ralph Keller played 13 seasons in the AHL, spending the vast majority of his long career with the Hershey Bears. A two-way defenseman who started his career with the Providence Reds in 1957-’58, Keller helped lead the Bears to the Calder Cup finals in 1965, when Duane was just 2-years old. Ralph ranks fourth among AHL defensemen in career scoring with 446 points and his No. 3 jersey now hangs proudly in the Giant Center as it was officially retired by the Bears. Keller became popular in Hershey with his robust play and occasional offence. He was a valuable asset to the team’s Calder Cup 1969 victory and he ended his career on a high note as the Bears won the championship in his final season in 1973-74. Ralph exceeded 100 minutes in penalties seven times, hit double figures in goals scored in four instances and was a member of the AHL’s first all-star team in 1971. On February 21, 1971, Keller broke Hy Buller’s AHL record for a defenseman by scoring his 81st career goal in the league. Ralph was inducted into the AHL’s Class of 2016 Hall of Fame and you can watch a short video that was made to commemorate his induction into the Hall of Fame by clicking on the image, below.
When Duane spoke to me about his Dad, I could feel his overwhelming sense of pride and admiration. But in Duane’s brilliant blue and slightly gray eyes, I could also sense sadness. Maybe that is because it’s Father’s Day weekend, and everyone tends to be a more emotional around these types of days. Or maybe it’s also because Ralph’s health is diminishing. Ralph is 80 years old and is currently in a rehabilitation hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania, recovering from a fairly recent stroke. Duane said that the last time he visited with his Dad, his Dad had mistaken him for his older brother, Rick, as dementia is beginning to take hold of his Dad’s mind.
It was when we were talking about Ralph that Duane said to me, “It’s Not What You Leave Your Children, It’s How You Leave Them.” A quote by Milton Hershey that resonated significantly with Duane. And there was very much a peace and calmness about how Ralph would leave Duane, when his time on earth is through. It seemed fitting to title this article with that quote, especially on Father’s Day weekend.
Duane was born in Sakatchewan, Canada in 1963 and he was named after another hockey legend, Duane Rupp, a defenseman who played in the NHL with the New York Rangers and a friend of Duane’s Dad. Duane’s Dad was Russian and German, and his Mom was Polish. The Keller children, Duane, the middle child of an older brother and younger twin siblings, did not stay in Sakatchewan long. They spent most of their childhood in Hershey, PA – and Duane said they spent the majority of their free time at the Hershey Sports Arena, where the Bears practiced and played their home games. Duane laced up skates when he was about 3 years old. Following along in his Dad’s footsteps, Duane was a defenseman who was known to take off the gloves – and Duane was proud to show off his knuckles to show me the permanent damage. It was in 1977, when his Hershey team was invited to the Pee-Wee Tournament in Quebec, CA. Duane’s team was the first American team to win the Gold Medal. Duane was 13 years old, and he still plays hockey today.
Not only was Duane’s Dad very influential in his life, his Mom, Jan was, too. The Keller’s did quite a bit of entertaining, especially during hockey’s off-season. Both his Mom and his Dad enjoyed cooking and hosting parties. And it was due to his parent’s entertaining that drew Duane into the kitchen where he discovered his love for cooking.
Duane’s Mom, Jan (Janet Mary Chrabasz) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was only 22 years old. Due to her disease, she was unable to drive her children to their various activities and practices. Duane learned to drive the family station wagon at a very early age and when he was only 13, he rolled through a stop sign and was pulled over by the Police. He was issued a ticket and a fine, which his Father expected him to repay. Duane got a job working a very upscale restaurant called Alfred’s Victorian. And this is where he discovered his true culinary passion.
Duane’s resume is extensive, here are a few of the DMV restaurants where he’s worked:
- The Ashby Inn, Paris, Virginia
- The Capital Grille, Chevy Chase, Maryland
- The Hamilton Crown Plaza, Washington, DC
I asked Duane if there was a particular meal and guest that was his most memorable. And he didn’t need to think very long. There were two occasions that were at the top of his list; the first was a meal he prepared in conjunction with others for Julia Child in celebration of her 90th birthday. And the second was a meal that Duane prepared for the dinner celebration for Brigadier General Ritchie in honor of his receipt of the 2015 Congressional Medal of Honor.
Duane is passionate about numerous charities and regularly gives back to the community both here and in Canada. Two organizations that mean a lot of Duane are the Willing Warriors and the Smilezone Kids.
Duane lives in Alexandria, with his wife of 14 years, Jennifer. He told me that Jennifer courted him! And that she often asked him to join her at Capitals games, while working at America Online (AOL), Jennifer often got corporate tickets just behind the one of the nets.
The Keller’s are long time Washington Capitals fans and being that Duane hails from Sakatchewan, I’ll let you guess who his favorite Capitals player is – I’ll give you a hint, he’s a Beast! Duane and Jennifer have two babies, pictured here.
Duane and I met at Walker’s Grille, a lovely restaurant in Alexandria not too far from Springfield Mall. Duane prepares the menu around the freshness of DC’s four seasons. He utilizes local farms and prepares his meals using only the freshest ingredients. Here is Duane cooking with two time Stanley Cup Champion, Adam Graves. Adam won the cup in ’89-90 with Edmonton and ’93-94 with the NY Rangers. Walker’s Grille is open for Father’s Day Brunch! Take a look at their brunch menu, below. If you stop by the restaurant, be sure to ask to say “hello” to Chef Duane.
After we met yesterday, he called and left me a message and said: “Being a Chef is very similar to being a Hockey Player, they are both contact sports!” Duane asked me to let the followers of NoVa Caps know how to connect with him on social media, you can follow him on Twitter at @ChefDuaneKeller, and his website is www.chefduanekeller.com.
If you are interested in learning more about Duane and reading his full story. He was just featured in a new book titled “Making the Cut” by Chris Hill.
Duane, as a parent of two boys, thank you and your Dad for your gentle reminder of how we all should leave our children, because the “how” matters so much more than the “what”. When you talk to your Dad today, be sure to tell him that I said “Happy Father’s Day“, what a beautiful job he did raising his middle son.
By Beckie Reilly