PHOTO CREDIT: D. KRIEGER
Renowned Chef and Michelin 3-Star Restaurateur Daniel Boulud graciously shares his valuable time (and a recipe!) with That’s SO Jenn. He talks about his longest running menu item, who he considers the most legendary chef in the world, and what food trend he will never give in to.
TSJ: Congratulations on the opening of DB Brasserie in Las Vegas. What led to your decision to return there?
DB: We were there for five years at the Wynn when it opened, then got busy doing other things. It was time to come back.
TSJ: You have restaurants in so many areas, what factors influence you in determining a viable location?
DB: It depends. In New York it’s often a neighborhood or relationship with the real estate or hotel, but outside of New York it’s a lot with hotels.
TSJ: Speaking of different locations, will you be making your usual summer trip to your parents’ farm just outside of Lyon?
DB: Yes, during the first week of August. I’m going to spend ten days there.
TSJ: What will you, your mother and father be preparing for family and friends while you’re there?
DB: First I want to cook all the vegetables my father is growing in the garden. Then I’ll go to the market– I go to a meat market near my parents and I buy wonderful young lamb, so the first day we’ll eat lamb. Then I love baby goat because It reminds me of my childhood when we were making cheese. I go to the central market and buy fish and specialty items, which my parents don’t eat often, but we do a little splurging on my vacation. My father makes smoked salmon and bread.
TSJ: Who is the next best cook in the family?
DB: My mother is next best cook in the family, and my [two]sisters are very good as well. I have two brothers, but they don’t cook as much.
TSJ: What local seasonal ingredients are you working with at the moment?
DB: Right now in New York we’re looking forward to corn. We have to focus on what we have and stay linked to the local markets. We have all our different tomato suppliers and squash. There’s wonderful foraging with spicy herbs and more fragrant ones for summer. It’s a more Mediterranean/Provençal approach to the cuisine because we are drawn by that sort of latitude.
TSJ: How far ahead do you prepare each season’s menu?
DB: About two months ahead, no more. We’ll work on the fall in August/early September. I’d rather wait for the ingredients to be right and have them, rather than plan something and the ingredients not be so good.
TSJ: Are there any food trends you’ve integrated into your dishes?
DB: For me it’s more important to discover something than to follow it. For example, when we opened DBGB downtown it was a cool concept. Now you see so many brasseries.
I think we’re very aware of what’s going on. We don’t follow every trend, but we do love exploring things. When I look at the kitchen and all the chefs who work for me, they’re all in their late 20s, early 30s so the mind is really with their generation, not mine.
It’s about taking them into my generation and what I like to do, but also for me to be in their generation and do a cuisine related to the time, which is important as well. It’s part of the proper education for them, but also the great understanding of classic cuisine. Not every restaurant can offer both, and I think we do.
TSJ: Are there any food trends you refuse to entertain?
DB: I have colleagues who serve live insects. It’s not a trend everywhere, but you see it, especially in China where they invented the insect diet in a way. I can’t stand it there either. It’s entertaining for sure. People find it thrilling to see the food moving on the plate before they put it on their mouth.
I understand it in a situation of survival when you have no choice, but frankly if you don’t need to survive on insects I don’t think it’s necessary. It took us so many geniuses to get us out of our primitive ways so why go back!
TSJ: Which dish has had the longest run on any of your menus?
DB: There was a dish running that was the Paupiette of Sea Bass I created when I was at Le Cirque. I continued to make it at Daniel and so did Le Cirque. Six years ago we redid the restaurant, and that’s when I felt my chef rebel and stop making the dish. The customers were very upset, but we felt it was time to move on.
I said we can get rid of the dish, but we have to keep a sea bass and the potato, leek and red wine combination. We always play with it in different ways to keep being creative with classic flavors. We didn’t totally erase the spirit of the dish, but we changed the look, taste and texture of it.
There’s also the dish I created 25 years ago for New Years Eve that I keep bringing back every year. It’s called Sea Scallop Black Tie; layered scallop with slices of black truffle wrapped in crispy puffed pastry served with madeira truffle sauce.
TSJ: What has been your most absurd food request in any of your restaurants?
DB: At the beginning, I was working in the hotel, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, and people would ask for an egg white omelette. I had never heard of that in France because there, it’s all about the yolk—the white just happened to be there and it’s delicious together, but just the white? It’s so tasteless.
It’s funny how people can have such diet restrictions and watch what they eat, but they don’t always watch what they drink. That’s the problem. They’ll tell me they don’t want this or that, but will drink four vodkas before dinner. I think I should leave the butter in the food and they should have two vodkas less. My grandmother was 90-something, and she had butter every day, but she didn’t have vodka before every meal.
TSJ: How about the more serious note of food allergies?
DB: My daughter is gluten intolerant and I’ve met other people with it. I understand there are definitely diets that are quite important for people’s well being. I respect that.
TSJ: Of your fifteen restaurants, is there one you most consider home?
DB: I live in New York and I work at Daniel most of the time because that’s where my office and home are, and that’s where my first kitchen is.
TSJ: I’m sure each establishment has its own special importance to you.
DB: Absolutely they all have a meaningful personality that’s very important to me. Daniel is the gastronomy restaurant. It’s a special place, not only for special occasions, but where we really have a reputation with international, national and local. It really is part of the best restaurants in America. It’s a flagship to our company, but also a New York standard in a way.
Café Boulud is a little bit more of an urban feel with a chic and casual approach. It’s an homage to the Mediterranean and those wonderful flavors. Bar Boulud is a wine bar bistro with a wonderful program of wine and charcuterie. Épicerie Boulud is so you can afford Daniel everyday because we do our grab and go, on the run food. It’s convenient within the neighborhood for a croissant in the morning or sandwiches, salads and breads. It’s a wonderful operation with prepared dishes all day long.
DB Bistro first opened in New York. It’s casual modern with chef driven, affordable food. It’s very high quality, well-prepared in a casual way. 50% is in reference to classic flavor of French cuisine and the other 50% is seasonal with many more ingredients locally produced, harvested, found or grown. DBGB is a cross between a tavern and a brasserie in a way where it does burgers and beer and very American things. It’s a seasonal menu with classic dishes from the French brasseries.
TSJ: With so many accolades, I’d love to know what impresses you. Which chefs do you admire?
DB: To me, Chef Paul Bocuse is the most legendary chef in the world today, the most important chef we have. When Tony Bourdain and I went to shoot Parts Unknown in Lyon for his show, we were supposed to have a ten-minute session with the chef, Mr. Bocuse, and we spent an entire lunch and went back the next day. It was a privilege to share this lunch with him.
He’s 88 years old and his mind is thinking like when he was 20. To me, it’s the most humbling moment to be with him. He’s known me since I was 14 and started cooking so it’s been quite a journey. He’s like family to me.
TSJ: These days food has become so accessible to home cooks through the celebration of chefs on TV. How do you feel about the expansion of this current foodie movement we’re experiencing?
DB: I think it’s fantastic. TV gives an amazing opportunity to young chefs. Does every chef materialize into a success with TV? No, I don’t think so. Does every chef get a chance to have their name out there quickly? Maybe some of them.
I had my show, After Hours with Daniel. We did 10 shows in LA, 10 in New York, five in Miami and five in Louisiana. Then I got busy doing other things, but I think I should give up some things to do more of it!
The true chefs who love cooking and doing what we do as a craft sometimes don’t always need to do TV.
TSJ: What do you think about this wave of gourmet food trucks?
DB: The food trucks are fun. There are some great ones and it keeps fueling aspirations so it’s good.
TSJ: Do you have a favorite meal?
DB: I love Japanese cuisine, I love Indian cuisine, I love Mexican, I love Chinese…
TSJ: You spend most of your time cooking for crowds. When you have the opportunity to prepare a dish for yourself, what is your typical choice?
DB: For me it’s a one-pot meal in many steps. Whether it’s chicken or pork or a piece of fish, I will compose a dish in one pan, starting with what takes the longest, then continue to build the flavor with the freshest ingredients at the end. It makes the sauce or broth or preparation flavorful, but also keep a certain freshness.
TSJ: Your latest cookbook, Daniel: My French Cuisine was very well received. What can we look forward to with your next one?
DB: My next cookbook is the best of [My Best: Daniel Boulud]. It’s an American book with the ten best and most meaningful recipes of a chef. It’s a very affordable, well-done book, with a well-recorded step-by-step. It should be coming out in October.
TSJ: With so much success, was there a moment you recall realizing you’ve really made it?
DB: I never dreamed to have what I have, and I don’t know if I could ever dream that I’d be doing what I do today. I’m blessed because I have wonderful people working with me.
I have more things I wish to accomplish in life, not in a sense of building more restaurants, but in a sense of always being excited about what I do and being relevant. I’m getting more mature and wiser, and I still want to feel excited like the first day.
I want to continue to innovate and create things. That’s very important to me. I think it’s what gives the motivation to many and I want to continue with it.
For more on Chef Daniel Boulud and his restaurants, visit www.danielboulud.com
Chef Daniel Boulud
Makes 4 servings
Preparation: 1 hour
Cooking: 30 minutes
For the Seared Cod:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6-ounce center-cut cod fillets, skin left on
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and slip them into the pan, skin side down, along with the garlic and thyme. Sear the fillets for 3 minutes, turn them over and cook for 3 minutes more. Reduce the heat to medium, add the butter and cook another 3 minutes, or until the fish is opaque, moist, and lightly firm when pressed. Serve immediately.
For the Potatoes Lyonnaise:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions cut into 1/2-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley leaves, sliced
Warm the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and cook, while tossing, for 10 minutes. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onions are translucent and the potatoes are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour in the vinegar and cook until it has reduced to a glaze. Spoon onto a serving platter, top with the seared cod, and sprinkle with the parsley.
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