Chef Daniel Boulud: the art of haute cuisine
In an intimate interview with Chef Daniel Boulud, LUXE draws back the curtain on some exciting current and future projects, while putting the spotlight on Le Pavillon, a Michelin-starred treasure in Boulud’s international collection of exceptional culinary destinations. Open since the spring of 2021 in the newly erected One Vanderbilt skyscraper in New York City—site of the highly sought-after SUMMIT observation deck—the French restaurant is waking up Midtown, revealing yet another facet of the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur.
Introduce our readers to the experience at Le Pavillon.
Le Pavillon is a glamorous place that embodies simplicity, elegance and refinement. It is an oasis of peace in a very busy corner of Manhattan, designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld to combine New York energy with serenity provided by lush greenery and foliage. Half of the restaurant is a living garden, while the other half—a dining room—overlooks the trees and bushes. A magnificent hand-blown glass chandelier by artist Andy Paiko is suspended from cables 75 feet above a bar area fitted with a gold and deep blue glass countertop. Beautiful rustic stone floors lie underfoot and the light from a bay window overlooking Grand Central Station, Park Avenue and the Chrysler Building changes throughout the day.
The menu changes seasonally—one dish is replaced every week—and is centred around seafood and vegetables, with a few meat propositions. There is a beautiful wine list that includes an incredible selection of champagne. One dish that has never changed is the Huitre Vanderbilt: a poached Maine oyster in a creamy velouté with leeks and hazelnuts, topped with an herbaceous seaweed and hazelnut crust. With this special dish, best served with champagne, we are able to pay homage to the man who built Grand Central Station and the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Describe the relationship between the restaurant and its neighbourhood.
Many of our clients travel to New York from around the world to see the opera, the ballet or the philharmonic. Dining with us adds another layer of pleasure to their trip. We’ve been part of the city for a long time, offering several dining options in different parts of the city. One Vanderbilt and Le Pavillon have transformed Midtown into another exciting area to visit for great food in a majestic building that anchors the epicentre of Manhattan.
What are some of your other recent projects in New York City?
We just opened a very refined ten-seat Japanese restaurant called Jōji. It is located underground beneath One Vanderbilt, and is directly connected to Grand Central Station. Next to it is Jōji Box, which is a fantastic takeout concept. We also have a new charming Bouchon Lyonnais called Le Gratin, located in The Beekman Hotel next to the World Trade Center and Wall Street.
How do you approach innovation while preserving culinary tradition?
Innovation comes with teamwork, as we travel, meet with our suppliers, and talk to our chefs and managers. It comes from reading, studying and sometimes just following a gut feeling and sheer creativity, sometimes borrowing flavours outside of French cuisine to complement it. I enjoy being creative, but within a functional context that makes sense, one of balance and logic, adapting classic combinations of flavours and ingredients to create new tastes and textures.
What does exceptional service mean to you?
Genuine hospitality is something we strive to bring to every one of our restaurants. It is knowledge, confidence, a sense of perfection offered for the passion and pleasure of giving it. My friend Will Guidara, who just published a book called Unreasonable Hospitality, says, “Service is black and white, but hospitality is colour.” This means you can learn the theory behind great service, but without energy, kindness and care, you end up with a waiter who knows everything but is not capable of connecting with people. Our responsibility is to make guests feel comfortable and happy, respecting the pace and experience that they wish to have.
What does it take to achieve excellence in the industry?
A lot of work, sacrifice and a great team that will help you achieve your goals. For a chef and restaurateur at my level, all of the effort has to be for the sake of doing a very good job and making something that people will remember. Yes, it’s a business, but if money were the only objective, I would definitely be doing something else.
What can you tell us about your future projects?
I’m working on a new project that will be coming to the Mandarin Oriental Residences in Los Angeles and Café Boulud will be reopening at Blantyre, a boutique hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts. We are strengthening existing projects in Manhattan, and continuing our collaborations with my real estate partner SL Green, for whom we manage the catering division.
Our greatest focus is preparing for the 30th anniversary celebration of Daniel restaurant, scheduled for late next spring. All our restaurants are very important to me, my customers, and my team, but Daniel remains the flagship, my home base, and this anniversary is a big milestone.
Cover: © Thomas Schauer
Writer: Jennifer Laoun-Rubenstein