Lyon native Daniel Boulud has grown to become a culinary titan ever since migrating from France to New York in 1982. FOOD & WINE named him to their inaugural Best New Chef class in 1988, and he’s gone on to rack up James Beard Awards, cookbooks and restaurants. His edible empire now includes establishments in New York, Miami, Palm Beach, London, Singapore, Beijing, Montreal and Toronto. We met at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, where he shared insights after leading an illustrious cooking demo titled Taste Perfection.
Is there such a thing as perfection in food?
We always try to achieve perfection, but perfection is always monitored by the work, by the ingredients, by the place where you work. To me, it’s not about defining perfection as much as having a perfect soul in a dish, and a perfect execution, and a perfect balance, and a dish that goes perfectly with wine. So, all that, when you reach the perfect soul, perfect preparation, I think you may reach perfection in a way.
Do you feel like you created dishes before that you could not have improved?
I think some dishes need zero improvement, and will be classified as one of my classics, and some dishes will always have modifications or a spontaneous decision made because of place, ingredients, where we are and how we feel…Some of the dishes are more seasonal, more spontaneous, more market-driven, and that requires knowledge in order to create authenticity and perfection.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in one of your kitchens?
I want the person to be a good person.
Is there anything in particular that you ask, or ask them to do, to see if they’re a good person?
We always do a test in the kitchen, have them cook for us. A young chef is coming, we don’t expect him to be a chef, but we expect him to be a good cook, to understand the discipline and fundamentals of cooking. So we’ll ask him to do a classic recipe he may have learned, or at least learned some fundamental part of it, and we ask him to cook for us, the chefs. He can take anything he wants from the refrigerator, any vegetable, any seasoning, any meat or fish, anything, and create one or two plates. That’s always a good test.
Is there anything you don’t enjoy eating?