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Daniel Boulud, From Lyon to the Lion City

Daniel Boulud, From Lyon to the Lion City

A chat with the French-born chef Daniel Boulud, a leading US culinary light, while in Singapore: a focus on ingredients, inspiration and new challenges.

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Daniel Boulud is one America’s leading culinary lights. The Lyon native arrived in New York in 1982 and has grown and expanded his reach and reputation to critically-acclaimed properties in Manhattan, across the US, Toronto, London, Montreal – and Singapore. He was in the South East Asian city state for the fourth edition of the Epicurean Market at the Marina Bay Sands. The three day gastronomic event bought together chefs and restaurants including Yardbird Southern Table & Bar in Miami, Nancy Silverton, David Myers, Tetsuya Wakuda, David Thompson and Justin Quek.

In person, Boulud is just as affable and warm as his reputation suggests, while his legendary energy means there’s no sign of jetlag despite an epic journey from New York. His signature remains the contemporary appeal he brings to soulful dishes rooted in the French tradition. At Daniel Boulud Bistro and Oyster Bar in Marina Bay Sands, this means that his menu is similar – but far from identical – to those in New York: “We look at where we buy our food and supplies and have to be conscious of consistency and quality – often that dictates our direction on the menu. A lot of base recipes are respected and established – while there are also some opportunities to be spontaneous.”

Singapore is rightly famous for its street food and Boulud is no exception to toher visitors when he’s in town: “I wanted pepper and chilli crab, for nostalgia! We went to No Signboard on Geylang Road and another small place for some roti. I asked where can you get me some good chicken rice? And he made it for me!”

Back in New York, his flagship restaurant is Daniel. “I’m very lucky and have been 18 years in that location. It took me nine years to make a name for myself. First you build your reputation, then after you build your relations. My first five years at Daniel was a party, I just had a blast – I was having fun!

A different price point and approach saw him launch Épicerie Boulud, an eat–in and take–out market that offers breads and viennoiserie, housemade charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, soups, salads, gourmet gifts and much more besides. With two locations in Manhattan, a third is coming soon at Oculus in One World Trade. “I enjoy making myself approachable and affordable – there’s the same commitment to quality and excellence, to training. We want to do everything in house and we have a commissary with a whole team there.”

But while you can take the boy out of Lyon, you can’t take Lyon out of the boy and Boulud remains proudly and resolutely French. His cuisine reading of choice includes: “Classic old books – old Alain Chapel, Auguste Escoffier, Carême. I’m happy to be a French chef, despite the globalisation of cooking and every country that can claim culinary success. In a time where seasonal, market-driven is now what people want, the DNA of French cuisine was always based on that. We try to stay what we are and while there are trends happening, we have amazing loyal customers. They leave happy with the genuine experience of dining.”

He also recalls the first dish he ever cooked for a paying customer: “I had just turned 14, working in Lyon. My first three months in the kitchen meant 12 hours a day, six days a week. After three to four months of doing prep, I was finally included in the garde-manger as a fourth commis. My first dish was a magical crayfish salad: beautiful crisp lettuce, white mushrooms, haricots verts, a cocktail sauce we’d never made before with cognac, truffle juice – a little bit of hazelnuts. Looking back, it can make you very proud!” Pride is one thing, but never taking anything for granted is also key with Boulud. Even with multiple World’s 50 Best accolades, Michelin stars, countless James Beard awards and a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, you get the distinct impression that there’s still much more to come.

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