Certain restaurants are talked about in hushed tones. Their food is always exquisite, but more importantly, everyone who comes through their doors leaves feeling special. New York's Daniel has been one of these restaurants ever since Daniel Boulud, a French chef from Lyon, opened it 20 years ago. This is not an easy accomplishment, especially when you have 14 other restaurants around the world. Boulud's latest book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, celebrates the restaurant's 20th anniversary.
Dorie Greenspan: I love, love, love the new book. I know all of your books. This one has a very different, very special feel to it. What inspired it? What does it mean to you?
Daniel Boulud: We are celebrating restaurant Daniel's 20-year anniversary.
DG: Déjà, already.
DB: Déjà, 20 years. I wanted to do it by capturing the moment today, but by recapturing also some moments in my life as a chef. I have done wonderful dishes besides the dishes I have put on the menu at Daniel over the years. I've done wonderful dishes I've never really made public or I never had a chance to really practice too much with. I wanted to talk about iconic French dishes, or at least what I feel is iconic to me.
DG: The book has recipes from restaurant Daniel, it has the iconic recipes, it has essays.
DB: Yes, from Bill Buford.
DG: But also from you.
DB: Essays on wine, essays on cheese, essays on bread -- all the things that touch the experience at Daniel.
DG: Then it has Daniel at home.
DB: I live right above the store. I felt it would be nice to not lie about it. This is part of my life. This book is my living presence as a chef.
DG: You've been in America longer than you've been in France. Being here 30 years, how do you stay French? Because you really are.
DB: I'm very lucky to be in New York. I think in New York it doesn't matter where you come from, you always remain very attached to your roots and to your community. Basically, for me French cuisine has always been part of my DNA. While I have definitely grown as an American chef here, I was born to be a cook in France.
DG: This makes me think of the amazing section in your book, the part I so love, that has iconic dishes. These are dishes that are almost historical.
DB: I was very lucky 5 years ago to meet Bill Buford.
DG: He writes for The New Yorker and he wrote that great book Heat.
DB: Bill decided to go to France and experience French cuisine in France, become an apprentice and live his life in France for the last 4 years. I wanted to spend a moment with Bill after this period he spent in France and say, "Why don't you come to New York and we'll cook together? Something might come out of it. If you're inspired, you write about it. If you are not, then we'll never talk about it."
I think "iconic" was a difficult word. We felt like Bill was feeling like maybe iconic is not the right thing. When you read the origin of "iconic," it's a person or a thing regarded as a representative sample of something. For me, making those dishes was the representation of my upbringing as a young cook, my passion for French cuisine and definitely my admiration for the history of French cuisine.
DG: This is why I think you are the only person I know who could have done this. Each of these dishes, as we look at them, looks like something from beautiful, old, illustrated cookbooks from centuries ago. And yet you have a personal attachment to each of these.
DB: Very much. Every one of the recipes touches me in one part of my life as a chef. For example, turbot soufflé was inspired by a soufflé I was doing at Nandron when I was 14 years old, 15 years old.
DG: What are the components of this dish?
DB: In the turbot soufflé we take a 12-pound turbot, which costs a fortune. Turbot is a flat fish that is about 3 inches thick and 18 inches long. There's a special braising pan called a turbotière to prepare that dish. We basically carve out the filet and remove the bones, stuff it with lobster, basil, tomato and a little soufflé mousse of turbot as well, and decorate it with tomatoes, chives, black olives and zucchini.
DG: It's almost like a mosaic, it's beautiful.
DB: I wanted to take it to something a little bit more Mediterranean with tomato, basil, olive and artichokes and the whole turbot stuffed with lobster.
DG: You played around with an icon.
DB: Yes. It took hours and hours to make it, but it was an amazing session.
Boulud's recipe: Poulet à l'Estragon
DG: Let's finish with one dish that we can make at home for ourselves.
DB: I think for home dishes, the chicken fricassée with vinegar, tomato and tarragon. I always love to do a one-pot meal, and this is the ultimate one-pot meal. You start by roasting your chicken with shallots and tarragon, then you add the tomatoes. We deglaze that with vinegar and let it stew gently. It's delicious, and it's something so Lyonnaise, so Lyon, the poulet au vinaigre.