Internationally acclaimed super-chef Daniel Boulud’s delectable French dishes look like tiny works of art. These petite masterpieces have earned him three Michelin stars for DANIEL, his flagship New York City restaurant, a place in the prestigious Culinary Hall of Fame, six cookbooks, 14 restos and his own television show, After Hours with Daniel. Yet he hasn’t let the heat go to his head: Boulud is still the modest chef from Lyon, France who simply cooks from the heart. He spoke with FLARE about his roots, the next-level ethos behind the new cookbook DANIEL: My French Cuisine (Grand Central Publishing, $60), his beef with food gimmicks, and Boulud’s all-time favourite meal.
Your new book DANIEL: My French Cuisine has been referred to as the most personal book you’ve written so far—what differentiates it from the other books you have written?
I was not so concerned with trying to make a home cookbook; I wanted to translate what the restaurant DANIEL means today. I wanted to show that after all those years in New York, I am still very French; I think we should all have something that we hold on to.
What is it that you love so much about New York’s culinary scene?
The diversity; there is an amazing array of quality, from the top restaurants to the food trucks. The knowledge and passion people that put into the business is tremendous. The customers are very local and cosmopolitan, but I do not think it would be the same without the 50 million tourists a year.
Do you think presentation is a crucial factor when dining?
I appreciate the constant evolution in refining food, but not in making food gimmicky. Nutrition is the next big thing that will differentiate and steadily keep every cuisine evolving; presentation is simply an aesthetic. I am not of the tweezer generation: for the last five or ten years chefs have been using tweezers to garnish dishes.
Other than French food, what is your favourite cuisine?
I love Italian food; it’s soulful like French food. Italian food is original and homey; it’s market-driven, but also can be locally sourced.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what else would you have done?
I don’t think I would be anything else. I enjoy what I do because it keeps evolving—when I was a cook, I wanted to be a chef de partie; when I was a chef de partie, I wanted to be a chef; when I was a chef, I wanted to be a restaurateur, and now I am a chef entrepreneur. I am still fulfilling my dream.
What would your last meal be?
My grandmother’s cooking, and if it was any dish in particular, it would have to be the way we made the vinaigrette house salad. Everything was super-fresh out of the garden. It had crushed garlic and homemade red wine vinegar and grapeseed oil. Every bite of that salad was amazing. I would also have what she called a Barboton, which was basically a stew with boiled meat, potatoes, leeks and onions. She would stew it very slowly; it was kind of a humble stew.
Daniel Boulud also shared with FLARE one of his favourite dessert recipes from the new book, should you want to surprise any dinner guests over the holidays. Read on for a little taste of his culinary genius:
Fig, Pine Nut, and Mascarpone Custard Tart
Serves 6 to 8
1¼ cups flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk, whipped with
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 teaspoons flour
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
½ teaspoon orange blossom water, optional
1 cup pine nuts
1 pound fresh figs, stemmed and halved
Honey Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
5 tablespoons honey
For the Dough
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and butter together until it resembles coarse meal.
- With the machine running, pour in the yolk and pulse just until the dough holds together.
- Turn the dough onto a flat surface and flatten into a disc.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough into a sheet large enough to fit a 9-inch-square tart pan with a removable bottom.
- Fit the dough in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
- Trim excess dough even with the pan’s rim.
- Line with parchment paper and fill with rice or beans to weigh down the dough.
- Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
- Remove the weights and paper from the dough and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
For the Filling
- With an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the honey, the cornstarch, and the flour until well combined.
- Add the mascarpone, eggs, and orange blossom water (if using) and continue mixing until smooth.
- In a small bowl, toss the pine nuts with the remaining 2 tablespoons honey.
- Line the figs with their tips facing up in the tart shell.
- Evenly pour the batter in between the figs.
- Sprinkle the honeyed pine nuts over the top.
- Return the tart to the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden and the batter is cooked through; you can check with a cake tester.
For the Honey Whipped Cream
- Up to 1 hour before serving, with an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks.
- Add the mascarpone and honey and continue whipping to reach stiff peaks.
- Keep, chilled, and serve alongside the tart.
Excerpted from the book DANIEL: My French Cuisine by Daniel Boulud. Copyright ©2013 by Daniel Boulud. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved. Photo credit: Thomas Schauer.