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Chef Daniel Boulud
When Daniel Boulud began working as Executive Chef at Manhattan’s Le Cirque in 1986, the restaurant was much more famous for its glittering society than it was for its rather uninspired cuisine. Within the very first year of his tenure, Boulud turned that around, capturing that coveted New York Times four-star review.
Foodies and fashion plates alike flocked to sample the new chef’s repertoire built of seasonal ingredients and classical French technique. But Boulud, who learned to love fresh food and hearty seasonal cooking on his family farm in Lyons, had to adjust his style to accommodate his fabulous uptown clientele. As chef of Le Cirque, a restaurant renowned for being Manhattan’s palace of indulgence, Boulud set aside his passion for farm-fresh vegetables and organic meats to please diners who preferred the luxurious over the healthful and simple.
It was on his family farm in Lyons that Boulud developed his life-long appreciation for the freshest seasonal ingredients. In the kitchens of his mother and grandmother, dishes were created out of what was ripe and ready, and some of the greatest meals were invented simply because little else was available. Boulud recalls the smells of the outdoor markets he frequented as a boy. “If you closed your eyes, you knew where you were walking,” be it towards earth-covered mushrooms, musky garlic, or sweet bell peppers.
Boulud stayed on with the caviar set at Le Cirque for six years before leaving to open his own restaurant, Daniel. His departure from Le Cirque caused an uproar in culinary circles.
Initial reviews of the new Daniel focused more on rumors of an acrimonious breakup between Boulud and Sirio Maccioni (the charming but decorous proprietor of Le Cirque) than they did about the food, but Boulud dismissed the rumors gracefully, explaining
“I was at the top of the ladder at Le Cirque, but I fulfilled my duty there and it was time to leave.”
Within a year, Daniel had come into its own, emerging as a favorite spot for Manhattanite celebrities and “visiting royalty.” Daniel was named restaurant of the year by Bon Appetite Magazine, and Boulud was honored as the Best Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation, and, in 1994, won his second New York Times four-star review.
At Daniel, Boulud is now entirely able to honor the changing seasons in his highly polished cuisine, combining hearty French classics like rabbit and foie gras with such American regional fare as pumpkin soup with chestnuts and wild rice. His cookbook, Chef Daniel Boulud: Cooking In New York City, also encourages using fresh, seasonal ingredients rather than importing foods for the sake of a dish. Boulud’s menu always includes a list of the day’s market specials, which allows the chef to follow in his grandmother’s use of the ripe and ready. While Le Cirque remains an homage to culinary hedonism, at Daniel, Boulud has moved away from the sumptuous to the simple and seasonal. For Daniel Boulud, food is a celebration of flavor and freshness, a freshness that is luxurious in its own right.