Chef Daniel Boulud, who just released a new cookbook, Daniel: My French Cuisine, opens up to us about his early culinary influences.
My first food memory...I remember in the winter there was always a gathering around a pot-au-feu: boiled meats and vegetables with beef short ribs, whole chicken and saucisson de Lyon all in one pot, with leeks, root vegetables, thyme, bay leaf and clove — and burned onions for a nice, toasty flavor. The comforting smell of everything simmering together and the happy gathering around a meal like that is an early memory I have.
How that memory influenced me...I started cooking at 14 years old and I guess it was all about the good smells in the kitchen!
Dish that reminds me of my childhood holidays…A roasted goose for Christmas for me is such a European dish, common in my hometown of Lyon but also in many other countries. Almost what turkey is to Thanksgiving in America, goose is to Christmas in Europe. We often had goose for the holidays, with apples, chestnuts and winter root vegetables. We always had that with a gratin of cardoons with gruyère on top and a light gravy made with the goose trimmings. I never had a holiday dish without cardoons — a staple on the farm that my father grew and my mother preserved.
My ideal holiday celebration...The food would be indulgent: for the cocktail, we would start with oysters, foie gras, smoked salmon and caviar and drink that with a very good champagne. Then at the table, we would have a lobster or scallop dish paired with a very good white Burgundy and, if I can sneak them in from France, cardoons from my mother. Next would be a white truffle dish before a goose with a great Rhône wine. After, we would have a Swiss Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese with a mâche salad and black truffles, served with a Spanish white Rioja. We finish with a dessert of bûche de Noël, a Christmas yule log, and more champagne. My ultimate holiday meal is one indulgence after the next!
And holiday cocktail…Usually we drink champagne to start and end with a digestif — a great quality whiskey, eau-de-vie, Armagnac or cognac. This winter I will be enjoying The Dalmore whiskey by Daniel Boulud — it’s a blend I just created with The Dalmore and is the perfect end to an evening.
Best cooking advice my family gave me…Growing up on the farm, everything was always homegrown, home-raised and homemade. Seasons were the most respected thing at the table. Anticipation of any new crop was a celebration every year, and we would feast on it until the season ran out. So as much as I can, I cook with seasonality and with the consciousness that working with the best suppliers possible will ensure the best possible ingredients.
The phrase most often overheard in my kitchen…“Let’s go, là!” is a phrase my chefs and I utter often — it’s Franglais for “let’s pick up the pace!”
Favorite restaurants outside of my own…Outside of NYC, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Inside NYC, Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin.
Ingredient I never get tired of…In spring, all the field mushrooms like mousserons, bluefoot and rosé des près. In the summer, the green and garden vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant. In the fall, orchard fruits like apples and pears, and in winter, the root cellar vegetables like turnips, parsnips, celery root and carrots.
The last meal that surprised me...Eating the cuisine of Grant Achatz surprised me the most; I think he is one of the most talented and creative chefs in America. For example, most of the meal was not even served with silverware or on a plate. It was all interactive, such as an edible balloon with green apple flavor that is strung on a small metal weight and floats in front of you; or the chocolate piñata that is broken right in front of you and you eat it right off the tablecloth. Everything was delicious, experimental, entertaining and interesting. That is something you don’t forget — a real surprise.
All photographs courtesy of Daniel Boulud