Oct
05
2012

Q&A: Daniel Boulud

The culinary superstar shares his wisdom on being a restaurateur

You'd think that too many chefs in the kitchen would spoil the broth; well, not when chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud is there.

Any chef who has ever cooked with this culinary royalty will tell you that he is the best anyone can learn from—if you are lucky enough to work for him.

Both Dale Mackay and Carl Heinrich, winners of Top Chef Canada Season 1 and Season 2, respectively, credit Boulud for being their major inspiration.

"He runs at a million miles an hour, 20 hours a day and maybe sleeps for two of them," says Heinrich. "He never stops."

Boulud's energy is only one of countless admirable traits that contribute to his success. Though humble, humourous, and approachable, he commands the highest level of respect and hard work.

"With Daniel, you have to be confident, but not cocky," says Mackay. "Act like you know what you're doing and follow through with it."

To highlight just a fraction of his accomplishments, Boulud owns DANIEL, a three-Michelin-star garnered restaurant in New York City, leads the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation with Thomas Keller and Jerome Bocuse, has been awarded multiple James Beard Foundation awards, has renowned restaurants across the globe and has nurtured numerous star chefs.

With restaurants in North America, Europe and Asia, Boulud has no plans to stop and is and adding Toronto to the list. With Café Boulud Toronto at the Four Seasons, he is now bringing his passion, impeccable taste and sensibility in French-American cuisine, and his commitment to excellence to Hogtown. He has appointed Tyler Shedden (who has worked with him at DANIEL) as Chef de Cuisine, to execute Boulud's style of contemporary cuisine deeply rooted in French traditions.

Here's what the virtuoso has to say about some of the chefs he has nurtured, the dining scene in Vancouver, and his new restaurant, Café Boulud Toronto.

Carl Heinrich called you a chef's chef. What do you think about that?

That's a little bit in my DNA. When we do special events and when I'm in the kitchen, I often like to be the chef and lead. But if I'm invited to the kitchen and it's not my role to be the chef, then I don't. I definitely take pleasure in not only cooking for myself and my customers, but cooking with others and for others, as well.

Dale MacKay just closed Ensemble and Ensemble Tap in Vancouver. Any thoughts on that?

Dale is an amazing chef. One thing is for sure: given a little time, a chef always rebounds.

I emailed Dale this morning saying how sorry I am that he has to go through this difficult moment; to have to close in order to save your honour and your sanity. You want to pay your suppliers and your staff, and you want to make sure you do the right thing. I reminded him, "Don't forget that Thomas Keller had two big bumps in life before he found Napa Valley and the French Laundry. He had a big bump in New York, where he had to close Rakel. He went to L.A. with Checkers [Hilton Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles] and again, a lot of bumps where he had to close and leave. Never forget Thomas and that he is the number one chef in America. So, please keep your motivation, keep your sanity, and at least keep your trust in you because it's only a passage."

He cited the rent and the competition in the city as major factors. Do you agree?

I left wonderful friends and a lot of people I love there, but at the same time, it wasn't for me.

There are some successful operators and lots of young talent there, but at the same time, it's not easy being a restaurateur there. You have to be in the entertainment business as much as the restaurant business. There are successful restaurants and they're in competition with each other—it's the Earls, the Joey Tomatoes and the Cactus Club—they are all their own competition, more or less. It's the only city I have seen in North America where there are so many chain restaurants in such a small city.

We don't see that in Toronto, Montreal or Chicago. There are restaurant groups who have diversified brands, but not the same type of restaurants; not the same brand with many units.

You named Tyler Shedden as chef de cuisine at Café Boulud Toronto. What does he bring to the table?

He's from Toronto. He's done his tour as a chef, he's worked in many different places outside of Canada and there was an opportunity for me and for him to go back to Toronto and for me to give him this role.

What is the menu like? I know some people would be really upset if the coarse country pate is not on the menu.

That would be one of the many [pate] we do. There will be a menu tradition there, very much in the format of Café Boulud New York and Café Boulud Palm Beach where we have la tradition, which is very much the interpretation of traditional dishes or flavours; la saison, which are seasonal dishes with seasonal ingredients from the market; le potager, which is the vegetarian menu; and the global cuisine of le voyage, where we explore spices and other cuisine. I think it's very exciting to have a balance of different things.

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