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On Feb. 9, Mintwood Place and Convivial chef Cedric Maupillier found himself in the U.S. District courthouse in D.C. Standing in a suit and tie, he swore allegiance to the American flag, sang the national anthem (or rather hummed, as he doesn’t know all the words), and finally became a citizen of the United States.

“I was in a room with foreign people, with tons of accents, with a ton of different nationalities, who at the same time united under the flag of the United States,” says Maupillier. “We all left with our accents, but we all left the room gaining something, and that was gaining the nationality of being an American.”

The 39-year-old chef now has two passports. The dual-citizenship is fitting considering his cooking incorporates both French and American influences.

Raised in the French cities of Toulon and La Seyne-sur-Mer, Maupillier speaks fondly about Sunday dinners spent with his grandparents in Marseilles and about how after dinner, they would watch American Westerns. “John Wayne was my hero,” says Maupillier. “I said, ‘one day, I’m going to visit that country.’”

It was those evenings, and the influence of the Olympic games, that inspired him to become an American. “Every two years, the most sung anthem was the American anthem,” says Maupillier. “I say, you know, one day I will be an American, and I will be a Frenchman, and you combine the two countries together, and I will be the winner of the Olympic games like nobody else.”

After spending time working in a several Michelin-starred restaurants in France, Maupillier decided he wanted to work abroad, but in a restaurant where English was spoken. He sent resumes to countries all over the world including New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, but it was ultimately a job offer from chef Fabio Trabocchi, then at Maestro, that brought Maupillier to the U.S.

Thirteen years after first arriving in America on a work visa, Maupillier’s decision to naturalize was also a civic one; he’s looking forward to voting for the first time.

“As a business owner, I want to have a voice, and I want to be able to make decisions for my country, for my business, for my employees, and to protect myself,” says Maupillier. “I felt obliged to become an American citizen. I felt obliged to able to vote.”

As for the naturalization process itself, Maupillier says that it was much less onerous than obtaining his green card. He filled out a form with the same information used to obtain his green card, verified that he had not gotten into trouble with the law, and was quizzed about American history and civics. A few months later, and after paying an administrative fee of $1,000, he pledged his allegiance to the American flag at the courthouse.

In December, after receiving word that his citizenship had been approved, he proposed to his American girlfriend Dawn Swaney. Another piece of good fortune: He was named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic this week.

The day before the nomination, Maupillier received a visit from Compass Coffee co-owners Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez. Former infantry officers in the United States Marine Corps, Haft and Suarez presented him with something they carried with them during their deployment to Afghanistan: a folded American flag.

Photo by Jessica Sidman