Interview: Visionary Chef Daniel Boulud Savors Boston

A succulent chat with the French kitchen legend at Bar Boulud on Boylston Street

Daniel Boulud is quite simply, one of the best and most respected chefs in the world. Raised on a farm in Lyon, he hit the ground running as teenage finalist for the Best Culinary Apprentice in France (1972) and then made a series of three-Michelin-starred restaurants his training grounds. All roads would lead, via Copenhagen, to New York, where he made his name. His fine-dining flagship, Daniel (est. 1993) became the cornerstone of a global culinary empire that now spans London, Toronto, Montreal, Singapore and—of course—Boston.

Long before he hosted the TV series “After Hours with Daniel Boulud” he had filmed episodes of “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs” alongside Boston-based culinary legend Julia Child. As local superstar chef Matt Jennings puts it: “Daniel’s the man.” We sat down with him at Bar Boulud on Boylston Street, while he finished preparing a “magnifique” seven-course meal inspired by the Rhone Valley.

Georges Bank Sea Scallops

Lovely to meet you. Are you familiar with Where Boston?

I know it very well. “Where” is everywhere.

Tell us about your links to Boston.

I have known Boston chefs forever, back to when I was taping TV shows with Julia [Child] and going to eat together at Hamersley’s or Jasper’s—the 1980s. Boston has always been a very strong scene, blessed with the seafood, and you also have this great English, Irish and Scottish history. Italian, Hispanic, Greek—so many communities here: this has brought a lot of culture to the food here in Boston.

Conceptually, how does Bar Boulud fit into your collection of restaurants?

Restaurant Daniel is “gastronomy”— the flagship, comparable to the finest in the world. Café Boulud is a little more cosmopolitan French, it’s a little more urban, a little more Parisian. DB Bistro is an everyday place. At Boulud Sud, we elaborate [on] the cuisine of the Mediterranean. And Bar Boulud is the expression of a wine bar, a French bistro and here in Boston we are introducing an oyster bar. Bar Boulud has the real bistro French classics, but refined by us.

Classic French Onion Soup

How would you refine, say, escargots?

We have a few different recipes: a recipe where we sauté the escargot with chicken oysters, and we add some mushrooms and shallots and finish it with some Alsatian spaetzle: very delicious. Or it could be just the snail with butter—but the butter is the art of the escargot. It has almond inside, parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, basil, and a lot of garlic also—all in proportion. We make it in a way that the butter is densely green and densely garlicky so when it bakes it gives this wonderful aroma.

What excites you about local New England ingredients?

The seafood, of course, from Maine to Massachusetts and all the way down to Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, there’s an amazing array of oysters, scallops and clams and fish and shellfish and lobster. Rather than mix and match with a French bistro menu I felt, why don’t we make two menus? So there is a focus on the beautiful seafood of New England and also a focus on the French bistro of Bar Boulud.

Bar Boulud Charcuterie and Wine

Have you been inspired by any classic Boston dishes?

When we opened Bar Boulud I invited 20-30 chefs from Boston here for lunch and I made them the Boston Cream Pie and that was supercool. I made that for them just as a teaser, to say “I love your pie and I wanted to make one too.” It was my interpretation of that and I think I did a good job because [leading Boston chef] Barbara Lynch took one home.

Which dish instantly takes you back to your roots in Lyon, France?

My apple tart. They showed me how to make it the year I was 14. Sometimes we serve it in the restaurant: not only am I back to that moment I started cooking but also I always feel that classic cuisine will never go out of style. To me beautiful memories [come from] food you can taste again and be taken back. Like the vinaigrette of my grandmother. I was born and raised on a farm so for me going back home and having the simple things of the garden.