Whether he’s catering presidential fundraisers, leading US chefs to victory at the prestigious Bocuse D’or competition in France for the first time in its history (as he did in 2015), or designing a four-course private dinner, famed chef Daniel Boulud and his team always put food first: “We always try to draw inspiration from all four of my culinary muses—La Tradition, La Saison, Le Potager et Le Voyage, or Tradition, Season, Garden and Travel—to give guests a really authentic experience,” he says.
On a recent evening at Café Boulud, he created a custom menu for a Serendipity dinner. The squash salad represented “Le Potager” or the garden, a striped bass entree paid homage to “La Tradition” and an elegant Niman Ranch pork chop anchored the meal. (The molten chocolate cake was also “traditional” according to Boulud, and it’s a tradition we would gladly repeat daily.) Even the appetizers raised the bar for elegant cuisine. “Gougere filled with Sauce Mornay & Mushroom Duxelle”— or lighter-than-air cheese puffs filled with creamy sauce and topped with chopped mushrooms, shallots and herbs—were just as memorable as the entrees. And every bite was emblematic of Boulud’s belief that, as he once told food industry blog Eater New York, “Good food can be a way of life.”
That way of life was instilled in him growing up “modestly” in Lyon, France, where he worked on his family’s farm before moving to New York in 1982 to become the executive chef of famed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque. At the time, Le Cirque was more than just a restaurant; it was New York’s cultural nucleus, where political power players and entertainment industry boldface names came to see, be seen—and of course, to eat. Six years later, he opened his flagship restaurant, Daniel, on the Upper East Side. It was an immediate hit, and remains entrenched atop Michelin’s list of starred restaurants.
It also turned Boulud into a brand. He now oversees over a dozen restaurants from Palm Beach to Singapore. But his heart remains in the kitchen. And when offering tips to the home chef, he’s as practical with his advice as he is prolific with his restaurants. “One of my main tips for entertaining at home is to plan your cooking ahead,” he says.
“Plan on including a simple first
course—something in a bowl or on a platter that is not stressful to prepare. Make sure wine is at the right temperature, that music is taken care of and that the mood has a theme, like holiday or a specific celebration, so the ambiance is right.” Don’t just eat, he adds. “Make it a feast!”
Photographs by Sara Luckey
Text by Suzanne Zuckerman