Real Food: Chef Daniel Boulud is a Master of Haute & Homey
BY LYDIA MARTIN
During the lull between lunch and dinner, superstar chef Daniel Boulud disappears into the kitchen of his restaurant at the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. He only occasionally visits Café Boulud, one of 10 restaurants carrying his name, and a couple of wide-eyed staffers pop out to report what he’s up to:
Boulud, master of American-influenced French cuisine, who made his name in the late 1980s as executive chef of New York’s Le Cirque and whose flagship restaurant, Daniel, last year nabbed a maximum three Michelin stars, is raiding the cooks’ work stations to fix a bite for a visitor who has a long car ride ahead.
He returns with a hot Cuban sandwich, one of his favorites, and “a tomato salad the way I like eet”: wedges of heirloom tomatoes, a little onion, fresh basil, olive oil and vinegar. Also in the paper bag: chocolates, fruit jellies and mini madeleines.
Boulud, who will be honored Saturday by the South Beach Wine & Food Festival at a sold-out tribute dinner cooked by some of his famous buddies — among them Nobu Matsuhisa, Eric Ripert and Claude Troisgros — is as French as a chef can be. But he’s not so high and mighty he can’t hook you up with a simple sandwich for the road.
Born and raised on a farm outside Lyon where his 82-year-old father still cures hams and bakes bread, Boulud will tell you he has an occasional hankering for the straightforward.
“Sometimes I want real food,” he says. “I was in my Beijing restaurant a couple of weeks ago and I decided to do a braised pork shoulder Provencal for a group of chefs that I invited to come over after hours. . . . You sear the pork, add red wine, olive oil, orange juice, a little bit of stock. Of course there is onion, garlic, tomato, fennel, artichoke, potato, black olives, orange peel, rosemary.
“You fill up a big pot, add seasonings on top, make it peppery, add a big seal of bread dough and put it in the oven and cook it for about three hours. I put no new invention into it, no reinterpretation. It’s a classic flavor and I just wanted to recapture it the way it is supposed to be.”
So he doesn’t usually make “real food” at his restaurants?
“Real food smells good, tastes good, looks good — no pretention,” says Boulud, 54. “Of course, sometimes you want something different than that. Let’s say a parfait of lemon with caviar. There is a sophistication, a delicateness. It is not related to any other recipe. It’s just a creation. You want something sensual, something refreshing, maybe a little briny. You want to put together interesting flavors. You’re interested in textures. But to me real food is something else. Real food is homey.”
As serious as Boulud is about high cuisine, he also loves the low.
“In Palm Beach, on one of the big roads, there is a place that is like a truck stop and we go around midnight for the Cuban sandwiches,” he says. “I sit on the sidewalk and have it with a beer.”