Chef Daniel Boulud is a superstar chef that has access to the greatest ingredients around. So what does he really love to cook with? And what does he recommend to get our kids interested in food? In part two of three of my interview with him I ask him what makes him tick, and just why he loves those truffles so much!
I know you have a daughter (he has a 23 year old daughter Alix), and I just had a son (my son just turned one). I know you started cooking at a young age. What do you recommend for me to do to inspire my son to be interested in food and cooking?
I think it’s important to first teach the fundamentals of taste. He should know about the bitter and not be afraid of it and appreciate it, he should know about the sour, he should know about the sweet, he should know about the salty. He should know about all those things that are going to make him freak out in one way or another.
Today I think kids have sometimes too much of an opinion about food, and I think that perhaps what is important is that they don’t have such an opinion. I mean, out of my lifetime relationship with food there is only banana that I dislike. I mean I would eat it if I had to survive on it, but banana – I never really felt right with it.
And I think parents, if they don’t like something, can be a strong influence on kids and so you always have to be careful. It’s not because you don’t like something that you should not try to let your child taste it and eat it. You should teach him gradually and make him scrambled eggs and put a little bit of truffle on it. Children will also love caviar, because caviar has very little texture and just a little saltiness and fattiness from it. My daughter loved caviar from the day she tried it.
OK, but I think people might think I am crazy feeding my son truffles and caviar!
I think it’s true, people tend to dumb down baby food and I don’t think it needs to be that way.
No no, and with very little effort you can almost give a little bit of identity to the food in order to make it more interesting and have a story with it, especially when they are very young. They want to hear stories! (laughs)
If you were to say there was one ingredient that you come back to always, would it be truffles, because you seem to really like it.
Well, I mean there is so many other ingredients which are readily accessible. What is amazing with truffles and especially black truffles for me is that you can play with it with anything. But, each season brings beautiful things. For me the most unique ingredient and the hardest to find is ovoli mushrooms. We find them in Italy and certain parts of France but it is still very spotty and a very short season. We get them maybe for three weeks and they are orange and they are, let me show you…
(flips through his iPad and shows me a mushroom that looks like it’s straight from a cartoon)
It looks like an egg and it grows very fast. But it is bright orange, and it is the most beautiful mushroom.
And when is the season?
It’s coming! It’s coming! (eyes light up) A very short season, and a very expensive mushroom- but it’s an amazing ingredient. A gorgeous mushroom.
Any other ingredients you love?
Well, I’m not after bugs (laughs). I have a restaurant in China, and it’s amazing what they do with those dried bugs, scorpions, etc.
We start showing pictures of our kids. I show a photo where we dressed up our son in a plaid shirt, cord pants and moccasins to go to a cabane a sucre. Daniel gets excited telling me he looks like Martin Picard, exclaiming he thinks Martin Picard has the same shirt. A photo of his daughter and himself is his front page on his phone, and she is stunning. They are dressed to head to a gala.
So, I know you raised your daughter in central Manhattan and she lived right above your restaurant. It must have been a great commute, but interesting for your daughter to always have her Dad downstairs so close.
(Laughs) Yeah yeah, she was never wanting to cook but she was always going down there to bake brownies for friends, and chocolate chip cookies. She was good at baking those things. She would go and bug the pastry chef and say, ‘oh I want to bake brownies for a friends birthday, or bring brownies to school.’
So you’ve opened restaurants mostly in North America, and you have a couple in Europe and Asia. Do you have any other markets you are interested.
No no, I want to stick to America and stay focused here. Especially now we just started the Epicerie Boulud. It has take home and prepared food – an eat on the run kind of place. It’s also a bakery, charcuterie, patisserie, viennoiserie, and glacerie, so we do a little bit of everything – all home made. For example, when we do a Banh Mi we make the bread, and we make the paté, and put a Thai sausage in the middle, and then pickle all the vegetables.
So you do have other influences besides French in your cooking.
Oh yes, definitely, very much, and I think we are totally with our time, and totally with our place and we know who we are. Its not about being French as much as understanding French cooking and adapting with the season, with markets, with location, people.
Are there any other cuisines that excite you? You just mentioned Banh Mi which is Vietnamese.
Yeah, well I love Vietnamese, and I love anything where the French have been hanging around before. I think the cuisine of Indochine, if I had to do an Asian cuisine, I think I would do that one. That’s the one that interests me the most for its history and for how French cuisine permeates a little bit there. And I think the repertoire is not very wide, and the way they approach food is not as spicy as Thai, and it’s delicate. It has that French touch.
Two Simple Potatoe Recipes from Daniel Boulud
Recipe 1 – boil, cool, crush, and fry. A “very cool” way with potatoes.
Recipe 2 – Baked potatoes – scoop out the inside, crush it with truffle butter and chopped truffle, refill the potatoe and cover the whole potatoe with truffle. “Maybe I’m a snob, but to me potato and truffle is the ultimate”
Check out part three for insights into how Chef Daniel Boulud has been so succesful for so long, and how he runs his empire without compromising quality. This will be published next Wednesday.
Maison Boulud, Ritz-Carlton Montreal, 1288 Sherbooke West, Montreal 514-842-4224