Daniel Boulud, the Frenchest Chef in America
Daniel Boulud comes from a village near Lyons in France. Today he heads a gastronomic empire that includes seven restaurants in New York (including DANIEL, with a star in the Guide Michelin) and a number of other establishments around the world. LUXE met him last February when he was visiting Maison Boulud, his restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Montréal.
Despite being busy all the time, Daniel Boulud is always smiling and gives off a serene energy. “I love my job, even if it can be exhausting,” he said. Now the word is out: passion. You could even call it a vocation, because at fourteen, while still on his parents’ farm in Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu near Lyons, the lad was already dreaming of becoming a chef, even though he never went to a restaurant. “On the farm, we produced everything we needed. Milk, cheese, vegetables, chicken, duck. I cooked a lot with my grandmother. This education taught me very early to respect products and use them in season,” he explained.
Young Daniel didn’t like school. By a lucky chance, a neighbor pulled some strings and got him an apprenticeship in a grand restaurant in the region. That’s all it took to launch the career of the future favorite French chef of New Yorkers.
The American Dream
After working with the greatest chefs in France (Roger Vergé, Georges Blanc, Michel Guérard), Daniel Boulud decided in 1980 to leave for the United States. He made his mark in famous restaurants, in particular Le Régenceat Hôtel Plaza Athénée. But he made a name for himself when he became chef at the legendary Le Cirque. “It was a chance to show what I was capable of. The New York Times gave me four stars.” In 1993, he opened DANIEL in Manhattan, and quickly became a great success. “I prepare contemporary French cuisine inspired by the seasons and impregnated with New York’s cosmopolitan culture,” he said. Over the years, he opened six other restaurants in the Big Apple alone, each with its own ambiance and unique specialties. Today Daniel Boulud is an accomplished businessman managing a gastronomic empire extending from Montréal to Singapore by way of Boston, Miami, Washington, Las Vegas, London and Toronto. It’s no surprise that the chef has five cellphones. “One for France, one for Canada, two for the US and one for Asia,” he said with a laugh.
A Generous Man
All this success would mean nothing to Daniel Boulud if he wasn’t able to use it to help others. “It’s all very well to have a great reputation as a chef, but it’s even better to use it to help worthy causes. That’s real personal fulfillment,” he said. It’s also why he is co-chair of Citymealson Wheels and the creator of Chefs Deliver, a movement within the foundation. His mission? To serve meals prepared by chefs to seniors who can’t get out to a restaurant or even cook at home. Every month, Daniel Boulud and fifty of his peers take turns preparing hundreds of meals for home delivery.
Another activity dear to the heart of the chef from Lyons: supporting the next generation in order to pass on culinary traditions. He and two of his close friends, renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse (son of Paul Bocuse), created Fondation Ment’or BKB. This non-profit helps young professionals to improve their practice by offering grants for internships all over the world. Every year, it also selects the candidate who will represent the United States at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary competition in France. “Last year was the first time the US won a silver medal,” Daniel Boulud said with pride, adding, “And we fully intend to take home the gold one of these years!” To hear him, this French chef has really found a new homeland in the United States. Yet when you ask him what is his favorite restaurant, his heart is still definitely in France. “It’s Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyons. I’ve known it ever since I started my career, and it will always be my reference.”
His favorite things in Montréal
Of course, when he is in Montréal Daniel Boulud visits talented chef Riccardo Bertolino, who runs the kitchen at Maison Boulud, but he also likes to discover new foodie addresses. He mentioned having recently succumbed to the sandwiches at Olive et Gourmando and to the food and wine pairings at Pullman. He also takes advantage of the opportunity to visit restaurants owned by his chef friends in the city: Le Toqué!, Ferreira Café or the Montréal Plaza.
For more information: www.danielboulud.com
Fondation Ment’or BKB: www.mentorbkb.org
In Montréal: www.maisonboulud.com
Text: Diane Stehle