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Q&A: Chef Daniel Boulud becomes mentor to many

Name: Daniel Boulud
Title: Chef/owner
Florida locations:
Boulud, The Brazilian Court Hotel, 301 Australian Ave, Palm Beach, 561-655-6060
DB Bistro Moderne, JW Marriott Marquis, 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami, 305-421-8800
Age: 57
Time at these locations: 10th year in Palm Beach, third in Miami
Food prepared:
Focus on seasonal, local, market-driven ingredients with a French influence and an American spirit.

Background: Since growing up on his family's farm in the village of St. Pierre de Chandieu in Lyon, France, Daniel Boulud has remained true to his roots throughout his illustrious career. An early foundation of respect and appreciation for seasonal, local ingredients would later become an integral part of Boulud's business plans and culinary mantra.

Before launching his career in Washington, D.C., in the early '80s, Boulud highlighted his resume with positions alongside French culinary giants Georges Blanc, Roger Verge and Michel Guérard.

During his stint in D.C., Chef Jean-Louis Palladin, of Jean-Louis at the Watergate, became a mentor who would directly influence his chosen path. In 1986, at the suggestion of Palladin, Boulud moved to New York and accepted the position of executive chef at restaurant Le Cirque. Seven years later, Boulud launched what would become his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in Manhattan.

The Michelin and New York Times star-studded chef has since built a prestigious empire, as an entrepreneur, author, consultant and celebrity, while employing more than 1,200 people throughout his worldwide entities including 12 restaurants, catering operations and specialty retail markets.

Q: What are the unique challenges of your South Florida restaurants?

A: We are seasonally challenged here not only with the food but with the staff. Our staff doubles over the winter, so constant training is an issue. As for the food and lack of four seasons, it's an adjustment. While we are focusing on root vegetables up north in December, we are serving corn in Florida.

Q: Looking ahead at 2013, do you have any more openings planned for Florida?

A: No, nothing yet. I want to continue to keep evolving and improving on what we have for now.

Q: How has Florida's cuisine influenced your menus?

A: We incorporate Latin and Caribbean flavors on our Florida menus, and they translate well to our other markets. At Épicerie Boulud in New York City, we adapted the Cubano sandwich we serve at Café Boulud Palm Beach. We use suckling pig confit, jambon de Paris and Gruyère cheese with house-made pickles pressed on ciabatta. It's become one of our most popular sandwiches.

Q: You were recently in town for the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival. Did you search out any specific foods during your stay?

A: I love the Cuban sandwich and coffee at Versailles in Miami. Pompano is a favorite of mine and, of course, stone crab and citrus during season. I enjoy harvesting crabs in Key West with friends.

Q: You're known as a mentor to many chefs who started cooking in your kitchens. What have they taught you along the way?

A: They've taught me to continually explore new directions. When I started my career in France, I was focused only on classical French cooking. After I moved to America, I was able to become a stronger chef because of the freedom to explore other cuisines. I'm continuously exposed to diversity through my staff — French, Italian, Asian, Greek, Spanish — and inspired by them all.

Q: Is there a piece of advice you consistently offer your apprentices?

A: In the beginning, focus on learning your craft, invest the time, rise to the responsibilities and don't quit before that. There is a wide range in America from casual to high-end cuisine. Define your direction and work at it steadily, whatever direction it is. Don't worry about the opportunities, they will come.

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