Daniel Boulud is one of America’s most talented and beloved chefs. Last month, his flagship restaurant in New York City, DANIEL, celebrated its 30th anniversary, no small feat in a city where even the most celebrated restaurants open and close.
Raised on a family farm outside Lyon, France, Chef Boulud has built an impressive culinary empire from scratch with more than 20 projects worldwide, including the Blue Box Cafe, Boulud’s newest partnership with Tiffany & Co in Manhattan. He’s written nine cookbooks that make his recipes rooted in French tradition accessible to home cooks.
Chef Boulud’s energy, vision, and passion seem to be boundless, including his fervent commitment to the mentorship and support of young chefs. His philanthropic involvements include his work for over 25 years with CityMeals on Wheels, an organization that provides nutritious meals to homebound elderly in NYC.
His many accolades, both as a chef and restaurateur, include James Beard Foundation awards for Outstanding Restaurant; Outstanding Restaurateur; Best Chef, New York City; and Outstanding Chef of the Year; being named Chef of the Year by the Culinary Institute of America and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government. In 2021, Les Grandes Tables du Monde named him Best Restaurateur in the World, and a Lifetime Achievement award from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Forbes.com spoke to Chef Boulud about food and travel:
What led you to leave Lyon for New York City?
Chef Daniel Boulud: My love for travel and dream of discovering America brought me here from Lyon in 1980. I began my culinary journey in Washington DC as a private chef but knew I wanted to be in New York City from the minute I arrived. Two years later, I moved to New York and haven’t looked back since.
My hope for DANIEL, as with many of my other restaurants, such as Le Pavillon and Cafe Boulud, was for it to become one of the many great classics of New York City—redefining modern French cuisine in a way that holds a special meaning to New Yorkers.
DANIEL’s longevity certainly would not be possible without my wonderful team, who for the past 30 years have been integral to the restaurant’s success.
What prepared you for the transition from chef to chef-entrepreneur with restaurants around the globe?
DB: My passions and interests have always extended beyond cooking—whether it was my involvement with the careful choreography of service, selecting our wines, working closely with our food suppliers, connecting and deepening relationships with customers, or collaborating with chefs and my culinary team.
Because I am only in this business because of my deep love for cooking. I still consider myself to be a chef first and foremost. Being a chef has provided me with the foundational skills that fuel my appetite for growth, and in many ways has given me the ability to turn my creative ideas into a reality. I always make sure that my cooking reflects authenticity and soul.
The role of a chef is to govern – whether it’s governing the kitchen and the cuisine that comes out of it, or governing a team and a business.
Is Lyon’s culinary reputation well-deserved?
DB: Lyon’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of France was not born yesterday—it stems from centuries of incredible food and cooking in Lyon. Nestled at the heart of North Burgundy and surrounded by some of France’s most prestigious food and wine regions, Lyon boasts an unparalleled gastronomical richness within a 200-mile radius, a true testament to its exceptional culinary influence.
By geography and location, Lyon is one of the most blessed regions of France, and I truly consider it a mecca for Chefs—not only producing some of the greatest chefs in the world but home to some of the most vibrant restaurants known for their rustic cuisine and world-class artisan products.
Lyon’s long-standing traditions in the art of charcuterie were a major inspiration behind my New York restaurant Bar Boulud, which aims to recreate the best representation of French-inspired charcuterie in New York.
What are some of your favorite Lyonnaise dishes?
DB: Growing up in Lyon I would always go to Restaurant Paul Bocuse, and one of the most memorable dishes to this day was their volaille de bresse en vessie (chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder), one of Bocuse’s most iconic dishes. Loup en Croûte, sea bass baked into the crust of puff pastry, was another glory of that restaurant.
I would highly recommend going to Lyon for chocolate at Bernachon Chocolats, a traditional chocolate factory that has produced bean-to-bar chocolate since 1953. Way before artisan became fashionable, they were roasting chocolate in their little shop and they were incredible!
I also love to go to bouchons—intimate Lyonnaise restaurants that serve hearty dishes—and bistros to enjoy a bowl of tripes à la Lyonnaise, such as “La Mercière” or “La Meunière”.
Where and what was the most memorable meal of your life?
DB: I feel incredibly blessed to have had so many unforgettable meals in my lifetime. One of the most memorable though, was exploring Lyon with the great Anthony Bourdain. It was such an adventure.
We went to the hunting lodge of Paul Bocuse and after a long day of hunting, had the chance to sit down with our friends and loved ones to pluck and roast the birds on the fire.
This feast was especially unforgettable because of its intimacy. We hunted for our meal together and savored every stage of the process from start to finish, which always heightens appreciation for the entire experience.
It is a tremendous loss that Chef Bourdain and Paul Bocuse are no longer with us anymore, but I will always have this wonderful memory to look back upon.
How much do you travel now?
DB: I travel very frequently, about half of the time for work and half for pleasure.
The kind of travel I enjoy the most is discovering a new country, new cuisine, and new culture, especially with my family. Last year my family and I traveled to Normandy, a region of France I never really had the chance to explore deeply and it was a wonderful experience.
While I’ve certainly seen much of France there are still regions I have yet to discover, and much of Europe to see as well.
Travel to me is a fusion of culture, tradition, food, people, and the intimate moments you share discovering new places together.
What lesser-visited destinations do you think people should visit for its cuisine?
DB: Quebec, known for its rich cultural heritage, has such remarkable cuisine that reflects the city’s unique history and French roots.
Any visit to Quebec is incomplete without indulging in its delectable culinary offerings, which range from comfort foods like poutine and tourtière to upscale delights inspired by local ingredients.
Quebec has an abundance of farm-fresh produce, exquisite cheeses, and artisanal products and its cuisine has a simplicity and heartiness inspired by French influences. To experience the cultural magic of Quebec is to enjoy a fascinating culinary journey that can’t be missed!
What advice would you offer travelers on how to find good places to eat in a new-to-them city?
DB: The power of social media and the internet has become an invaluable tool for discovering local experiences and making the most of any trip.
I love to discover hidden gems and local favorites that have stood the test of time, rather than going to some of the trendier places that are popular in the media. This is particularly true when traveling in the countryside, where traditional establishments often reflect the unique culinary and cultural identity of a region.
In almost any city, you can’t go wrong by following Relais & Châteaux, an association encompassing some of the finest chateaux and establishments in the world, each characterized by a blend of exemplary service, quality, cuisine, and hospitality—personally defined by its dedicated owner. These hotels and restaurants offer a relaxing, one-of-a-kind experience.
If traveling for food, another trusted resource is the guide published by Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
What do you always take with you when traveling?
DB: The number one item I always have with me is my sleep mask! Blackout curtains don’t always work well and sleep on vacation is so important.
Also, I typically fly with a wool sweater in case airplanes get cold. For a snack, I always have some almonds or gummy bears with me to satisfy my cravings, and I also have my iPad or a notebook to keep me occupied.
What do you tend to bring back from trips?
DB: If I can, I try to bring back a t-shirt from the country/city that I’ve visited and always try to bring back some sort of small gift for my children if they aren’t with me.
For myself and my family, I like to purchase local spices and bring back interesting seasoning. If I’m traveling to Europe, I must admit I try to smuggle back some fresh charcuterie or canned goods.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.