Daniel Boulud is the iconic classic French chef. Raised in Lyon, he began his culinary training at age 14, apprenticed under the most esteemed chefs of the era, was soon named personal chef of the European Commission in Washington DC, and by 1986 was head chef at NYC’s famed Le Cirque. He opened his first restaurant, DANIEL, in 1993, launching an empire that now includes fourteen more restaurants, spread across the US, Canada, Singapore, and China.
His newest project, “Daniel: My French Cuisine” is a beautifully photographed, coffee-table-worthy cookbook focusing on a more rustic, casual, and fundamentally personal take on Chef Boulud’s native cuisine. But it’s still luxurious… as BRendan found out when chef Boulud took him through a “virtual tasting menu” that began with venison consommé with, of course, black truffle.
Daniel Boulud: Do you think there is any other ingredients who are so rare, so luxurious and so delicious? I don’t know.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That is true. It’s so rare that I don’t know if I can afford enough truffles in my life.
Daniel Boulud: Well nobody can afford truffles until you taste truffles and you feel, you know… For me I wish truffle was cheaper, but then it’d be like potatoes — everybody could eat it!
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well it’s interesting you mention potatoes, because you talk about this very kind of humble truffle dish you made once out of a baked potato and truffles.
Daniel Boulud: That was when I was chef at Le Cirque. We had a customer who was coming there every day, and he was always eating a baked potato with chives and nothing else. And I said “God, this baked potato is boring.” And I made him one day a baked potato with white truffle and he went crazy. It’s only two ingredients, but it’s amazing.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Didn’t you make this dish for your father once when he was visiting?
Daniel Boulud: Oh yes, at Christmas. Oh my God, you know some old stories! Yeah, at Christmas we had a candlelight dinner. And he saw me working in the kitchen, and he saw me splitting the potatoes, and he saw me preparing the things. And so when I served it at the table — with the candlelight –it was covered with white truffles but you couldn’t tell if that was the skin of the potato. So he put it all on the side, and he started to scoop the inside. And he found it very good, but then when we started to clear his plate we realized he didn’t eat the truffle!
Brendan Francis Newnam: He put all the truffles — the expensive tasty morsels — to the side, and just focused on the potato. He was like, “Daniel, your cooking’s gotten much simpler!”
Daniel Boulud: Yeah, well my father never had truffles in his life, you know. He gets confused sometimes.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So I’m gonna move on to the Wild Hare á la Royale, and this dish…
Daniel Boulud: You are really on the game trip.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I am on a game trip. Because it’s autumn, I figured this was appropriate.
Daniel Boulud: Absolutely, and the preparation takes hours. First the wild hare gets boneless totally, and then after we make a stuffing — with pork And foie gras and truffles and onion and…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Really light food here.
Daniel Boulud: … Yeah, well, you know. It’s about the wine you’re gonna drink with it after, so that’s why it’s important. And you braise it in the red wine sauce for hours and hours very, very gently until the sauce reduces and really gets super gamey and rich. And sometimes we put a little bit of cocoa powder, a little bit in the sauce to keep a good darkness, a little bit of tannin inside.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And this dish was originally, some say, created for Louis XIV?
Daniel Boulud: Yes. Well I’m sure they were hunting around Versailles there and finding a lot of wild hare.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Some suggest he liked this because he had bad teeth and the meat is so soft.
Daniel Boulud: Yeah, of course it’s fork-tender, because it cooks for hours and hours – and it’s delicious.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so that’s great, so I have my entrée, I have my truffles… I’m gonna leave the game behind. For dessert, I was thinking of having the Chestnut Mont Blanc.
Daniel Boulud: Ah, I love it. So the idea came from that little cake in France we have often in the winter. And what’s very good is you stay within the season, which I like, because now we are talking chestnut. And the Chestnut Mont Blanc, it’s about the chestnut, and the wonderful, different combinations of the chestnut, from the mousse to the crushed chestnut paste…
Brendan Francis Newnam: And the candied chestnuts in the middle, it takes up to three months to candy those chestnuts?
Daniel Boulud: Yes, because what you do is first you choose the most beautiful chestnut there is, and the chestnuts gets peeled, and then you put them in a syrup, you bring them to a boil, and you let them rest. Then you bring them to a boil, and you let them rest. And you do that for days and days and days until the chestnuts slowly cook and slowly absorb the sugar, and it’s very, very long process to confit the chestnut.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You’re famous for your desserts, and for the pastry chefs that have worked for you. One of them has been on our show a couple times, Dominique Ansel.
Daniel Boulud: Oh yeah, Mr. Cronut!
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right, he’s Mr. Cronut now.
Daniel Boulud: He hates to be known just for the cronut. Dominique worked for five years with us at DANIEL, and he is very talented.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Have you ever eaten a cronut?
Daniel Boulud: Yeah, I had one, actually last week again.
Brendan Francis Newnam: What did you think, a little sweet?
Daniel Boulud: It’s a little sweet, it’s a little rich, but it’s a craze!
Brendan Francis Newnam: So you travel a lot. You have restaurants around the world. Do you have any guilty pleasure foods like the cronut? Like if you’re at the airport do you get nachos or cheeseburgers or something that?
Daniel Boulud: No nachos. The best guilty pleasure I had was, you know, when you take chili con carne, and you put it in a bag of Fritos?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Frito pie?
Daniel Boulud: Yeah, Frito pie. I mean to me, anytime, any day, a Frito pie.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Really?
Daniel Boulud: It is my favorite thing! Right in the bag!
Brendan Francis Newnam: Are you serious? You’ve done that?
Daniel Boulud: Yeah.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh my goodness.
Daniel Boulud: This is good because it’s all about the spice, the crunch, the kind of like soft with the beans. Yeah, it’s so good.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Where did you discover that?
Daniel Boulud: Well, tailgating, you know? In New York we tailgate with the Giants, and there is always somebody in charge of Frito pie.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And what wine would you pair with some Frito pie?
Daniel Boulud: Frito pie? A chilled beer, yeah? I don’t think you want wine.