Dubai: His favorite excuse to escape school was to help his grandmother on her farm. Daniel Boulud was only eight years old when his grandmother entrusted him with the simple task of making curd from milk. Little did he know then that this cheese-making process would fuel his passion for cooking and that in the future he would earn two Michelin stars for his restaurants.
Gulf News recently caught up with the 66-year-old award-winning French celebrity chef, who owns over 15 restaurants worldwide, in Dubai to learn more about his culinary journey.
Raised in Lyon, the famous capital of French gastronomy, Boulud decided as a teenager that he wanted to be a chef.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a chef. I wanted to be as good as my mentors that I worked with,” he said.
Looking back, he fondly remembers picking fresh vegetables like carrots from his grandmother’s farm and making cheese. “It taught me as a youngster the importance of fresh produce and quality ingredients and helped me connect with food very early in life,” he added.
When he was 14, Boulud’s parents introduced him to a neighbor who was a socialite. This is where his journey into the culinary world began.
“I used to bring eggs, chickens and cheese from my grandmother’s farm to her [the neighbour’s] At home and she happened to know the best chefs in Lyon. As soon as my parents told her I wanted to be a chef, she said she would look for the best restaurants,” Boulud said.
And she did—she introduced him to the city’s top chefs.
In 1969, Boulud gained his first experience in a kitchen under chef Gérard Nandron at the two-Michelin-starred Nandron restaurant in Lyon. From then on, the list of different Michelin star kitchens he has cooked in grew.
“Before I came to the US, two and three of me worked in different restaurants in France [Michelin] Stars and also got to work across Europe, including Denmark,” he said.
Preparing French food in the US and around the world
Coming out of Europe, Boulud wanted to continue the legacy of authentic French cuisine in the US and around the world.
In 1981 he moved to the USA and 12 years later Boulud opened his first French restaurant in New York.
In 1998, his restaurant called Daniel earned him a Michelin star for the first time. He later successfully opened several restaurants in Canada, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
inspiration from the past
While chefs around the world began experimenting with fusion cuisine and other cooking methods, chef Boulud stuck to traditional cooking styles. His goal was to preserve the authentic French taste in his kitchen. For inspiration, he said; “I always turn to the past.
“I’m very nostalgic. I never thought, like many other chefs, that “oh, I’m going to be an avant-garde chef”. I always look back for inspiration, I’ll never be that chef who’s always trying to make something new.” But Boulud added that while he’s clinging to the flavors of the past, his technique “certainly further developed”.
“Food is about memories. You can tease people with that and people will come back for more,” he said.
Discussing his personal memories of the meal, he said he enjoys cooking for his children and family.
“I cook a lot for my family at my country house outside of New York, and the dishes I prepare depend on the season,” he said.
Boulud gave us a glimpse of what makes a home cooked meal from an award-winning chef, saying: “I enjoy huge salads with over 20 ingredients in the summer. This usually includes ingredients like veggies, tuna, olives with a delicious pesto, or a lemon dressing made from dried lemons.”
His favorite winter staples, on the other hand, are hearty veggies paired with assorted cuts of meat like veal and beef. During the holidays, the chef treats his family to special dishes made with ingredients such as truffles and foie gras.
Staying true to his love of traditional cuisine, one of his favorite dishes is vol au vent, a French puff pastry dish filled with meat or seafood with gravy.
And if you’re inspired to make this dish, here are a few elements to keep in mind, according to Boulud: “It’s a very versatile dish that requires a lot of focus on technique. Fifty percent of the flavor is in the sauce and the other half makes the puff pastry perfectly fluffy.”
While cooking techniques and traditional recipes are of paramount importance to Boulud, the transition from being a chef and chef to owning and managing a restaurant was a daunting task that required different skills.
Teamwork and commitment are key
So what does it take to become a successful chef and restaurateur? According to Boulud, it’s a combination of qualities that make it work, and it’s not as simple as it might seem.
“A lot of people I’ve cooked with have switched to other things over the years. It’s not an easy path. Some lacked ambition, drive, passion, dedication and energy,” he said.
Boulud shared what he’d learned during his nearly three decades of experience as a restaurateur: “Teamwork is key.”
“The most important thing is to be fully trusted by your team, suppliers and customers,” he said.
Speaking about what’s important when leading a team, he added, “You [restaurant staff] must feel secure and have constant opportunities to develop.”
Dubai is food ‘curious’
Boulud also leads a team in Dubai at Brasserie Boulud, a French brasserie that serves contemporary cuisine and draws inspiration from traditional cooking styles.
The chef thinks Dubai is a place where people are willing to try different cuisines.
He also credits the UAE’s geographic location as a huge bonus for those looking to open a restaurant here. “In Dubai we are between Europe and Asia. We benefit from both market supplies and supplies from the Middle East,” he said.
“Dubai has an amazing display of world cuisine. My goal here is to give people a French taste. At the same time, I’m American and it shows in my cooking, so there’s no magic formula,” he said.
At his restaurant, Boulud gives his customers a taste of France while incorporating local ingredients into his cooking. Certain UAE-grown shellfish, fish and organic vegetables are used in its menu, which includes everything from duck confit to crustaces et crudites, a seafood-based dish featuring lobster, shrimp and king crab.
Boulud is also a fan of fresh produce and tries to use as many locally grown ingredients in his cooking as possible. Cereals, sesame, fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, squash and watermelon are used in his restaurant.
Here are two recipes from the award-winning chef to try – De foie gras Poire-cassis – foie gras with pear and blackcurrant and Thon au Fenouile – tuna with fennel)
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