Daniel Boulud’s Beijing Outpost Now Closed
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Maison Boulud closed with a last brunch service on Sunday, Dec. 8
The crew of Daniel Boulud’s recently closed Beijing outpost, Maison Boulud.
Daniel Boulud’s Beijing outpost Maison Boulud served its last brunch — and also its last-ever meal — Sunday, Dec. 8. The restaurant, which closed after five years in business, was the last of several restaurants to stay open in the historic Ch'ienmen 23 property, located not far from Tiananmen Square. The final decision came after a big hike in the rent of the space leased for Maison Boulud, executive chef Brian Reimer told The Beijinger. The restaurant has released an official statement, thanking their former patrons for their support and mentioning "new exciting projects" that the company will work on in the near future. The full release is quoted below:
"To the Patrons of Maison Boulud:
Allow us to thank you for the past five years and allowing us to share with you all our joy of cooking and hospitality.
Only through you all have we have been able to experience Beijing and bring the style of Daniel Boulud to the nation's capital.
With our partner we had a very difficult decision to make about Maison Boulud and did so with much restraint. It has been and shall continue to be exciting to watch the changes of Beijing along with China as a whole. The coming months will bring many exciting new projects to our company and we look forward to sharing them with you all very soon....."
— Maison Boulud a Pekin
Chef Reimer also confirms that while this is the end of the French-inspired restaurant, it will probably not mean the end of Boulud’s presence in Beijing. Though no concrete plans are revealed yet, he tells The Beijinger that the next step for Boulud in Beijing is likely to be something more casual with "an approachable price point with the occasion to spend."
Daniel Boulud on the Bocuse D'Or, His New Restaurant, and Thieving Cooks
Dimpled and Gallic, Daniel Boulud's smiling mug dominates the New York restaurant scene. With his flagship gastronomic restaurant, Daniel, he honeys the monied with three Michelin stars while at his latest, DBGB, he clogs the arteries of the downtown set with his infamous burgers. Between those two, a continuum of bars and bistros bearing the Boulud name bring his Lyon on the Hudson cuisine to a wider market. I caught up with Boulud after a panel discussion at this year's Gastronomika.
You're in the home stretch now, the Bocuse D'Or is on January 27th in Lyon. How do you peg team USA's chances?
I think we have a good chance. Have you seen what BMW has been preparing for us? The BMW design center has done a platter design, so we have a very cool design for the fish platter and the meat platter. Everything has to be an integration with the theme the chef chooses. For James Kent [who will be representing the United States], for the fish the theme is [REDACTED 1-DEC-2010 UNTIL 25-JAN-2011 PER REQUEST FROM BOULUD AS TO NOT PREJUDICE TEAM USA'S CHANCES].
Does he get to communicate the story in any other way than the dish?
We were thinking of maybe giving an iPad presentation to the judges but that's kind of like if they are going to take them home, it would be like buying them off a little bit. So we'll see if Apple will give us iPads.
You had mentioned the deleterious effects of technology in your talk, but that it also seems to facilitate the exchange of information between far-apart chefs.
No, c'est vrai. When I was young, I was typing recipes at night or writing recipes in books. Then I would exchange that with other chefs. We'd get together drinking beer and exchange recipes. "Oh, you work with Girandais. I work with so-and-so." And pass recipes. Chefs still pass recipes but there's so much more access.
But you also said that now that people would be more distracted by technology.
[Boulud is checking his Blackberry under the table.]
[Distractedly] Yes, for sure. I have no idea what is going on with my phone right now. Let me see if Thomas Keller is still looking for me. No ça va.
[Returning to the conversation]
With technology, everybody is so A.D.D. You get so distracted all the time. But I think technology is the best thing ever for culinary performance. Technology is the best thing ever for communication for our cooks. We constantly make descriptions of things and we communicate that to everybody. Now we can do live-conference with Beijing, Singapore, and London. Thomas [Keller], for example, has a video feed of the French Laundry kitchen at Per Se and vice versa. It's good and not so good. I don't know. I would freak my chef out if I had a screen with every country.
I recently did a piece on Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. He has a program called Total Control where he can watch 18 cameras on his iPhone?
Yeah but that's not good. I leave that alone. First I am not going to be able to catch mistakes. We try to be very careful, but we know things happen in restaurants. For example, we always feed the staff after work. But one time at DBGB, a cook decided that he would sell the burgers to the waiters at the back door. He didn't last long. At one point he wanted to raise the price but then there was an uproar. We found out about it. I love technology but I don't want to be paranoiac about it. I don't want my staff to be paranoiac.
Do you see a connection between the sort of A.D.D. impatience wrought by technology and what you mentioned in the talk about cooks wanting to become chefs after three to five years, when in reality it takes much longer?
Well, in New York, cooks have backup. Many don't even know how to clean a fish. They don't know how to butcher or truss a chicken. It's amazing those cooks who think they know how to cook but they don't even know how to do the basic staples of cooking. Every cook should be able to prep as good and as fast as their prep cooks but they don't bother doing it. You can see who has learned well and learned his basic staples of cooking right away.
You are almost American, do you think that is more an American problem than a French, Spanish, or British problem?
I don't know. I bring French cooks over to the states and many of them don't know how to butcher fish perfectly. That's one thing with the Japanese. The Japanese will spend two years being a butcher, just to know the art of butchering. They understand the importance of simple tasks and basic tasks. When I was a young chef in France, in every restaurant I worked, there were about thirty chefs working with me. Out of those thirty, many failed. They were good chefs then but they didn't pursue the hard road of cooking. They went into an easier road like being a chef for a less ambitious restaurant or working for a collectivity or quitting cooking. It's the same today with this generation. Only maybe 10-20% will stay on the road and keep climbing. The rest will find a plateau where they belong. If a chef hasn't made it by 26-32, they won't make it.
It's not easy to choose to open your own place and not be successful. There's a lot of young chefs who open their own place and they struggle so hard and they don't know why. Sometimes it is better to step down in your ambition and be a little more popular than trying to make it. I had this young chef in New York Alain Allegretti [of the recently closed Allegretti], a very good chef, very well-trained French chef. He had a wonderful restaurant but the location wasn't perfect. The size of the restaurant didn't work. It's difficult to tell a chef what he should do because you don't know the strengths of his business or his team. Sometime rather than having this very talented chef elevating himself a little too much and alienating himself from success, he should lower himself and do things that are a little more understood or more popular.
Have you ever lowered yourself?
No, no. No, but I had the opportunity to open those restaurants. When I opened Café Boulud, it was the kind of restaurant I would have done if I didn't do Daniel. It's very hard to start with the casual and go up to the gastro. It's very hard because it takes a lot of structure, commitment and dedication to create a gastronomic restaurant. It takes much less structure to do a casual place.
This new restaurant next to Bar Boulud is casual, right?
Right, it's called Boulud Sud. We haven't told anyone the name yet but it's Boulud Sud. That's what we hold on to now. Then there's either Epicerie Boulud in the front or Comptoir Boulud. But the word Boulud?
You like that word.
I'm comfortable using it because it is my casual side. It's not Daniel. I would not call it Daniel.
Usually it's the other way around. But with you your first name is formal and your surname is casual. What's your middle name?
Joseph. So nothing to go there. But Boulud Sud will be a Mediterranean interpretation for me. It's more of a Mediterranean grill. I'm more influenced in the influence from the whole entire coast from Spain to North Africa to Turkey, Greece and coming back to Italy. At Epicerie Boulud we are going to have a patisserie, viennoiserie in the morning. It is going to be an all day dining/buying place.
Is there ever going to be a Boulud food court?
I don't think so, but Eataly is a phenomenon. It is fantastic. I think they have the pilot model in Europe and I think they expanded for the size of New York and made an impact. I'm very impressed by that. Could there be a French model like that? It could be.
From Xi’an to Beijing, the way of cooking is a means of survival
How did start your career as a chef? Can you tell us about the beginning?
Mr. Zhang :
I’m originally from Xi’an. When I was younger, I was really influenced by my mother – she was a very good cook. There were a lot of kids at home, I am one of 4. So my mom always made a lot of food, village cuisine.At the time when I was deciding what to do for a career, I thought I would be suited for a more technical, skilled profession, so I chose cooking.
I started my career as a chef when I was at university in Chengdu, where I majored in culinary arts at Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. This was a 3-year vocational program right out of high school.
During this time, I studied both Chinese and Western cuisines. I focused on Sichuan, Cantonese / Guangdong and Shandong cuisines. [There are what’s referred to as the eight culinary traditions of China: Anhui, Cantonese/Guangdong, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang.] I studied these because they are the major cuisines of China. After the three-year program, a one-year co-op opportunity took me to Changchun, Dongbei. There, I worked at a hotel with a primary focus on Dongbei cuisine. A year later, in 2003, I came to Beijing. I started working at a Spanish restaurant in 2005, where I got to learn a lot of Barcelonan cuisine especially within the Bask region! But the Spanish restaurant closed, so the chef at the restaurant recommended me to Maison Boulud through a connection.
Fine Dining in a Buddhist Temple
Nestled on the grounds of a centuries-old Ming Dynasty complex, hidden in a historic hutong neighborhood in central Beijing, the Temple Restaurant Beijing feels like a carefully guarded secret. "Many people feel it's not the easiest place to find. We don't have any street signs," says owner Ignace Lecleir, who opened the contemporary European restaurant last December. "The contrast feels like a discovery, especially if you go through the hutongs."
The Owner: Once an aspiring chef in his native Belgium, Mr. Lecleir later moved into hospitality management, serving as general manager at Daniel Boulud's New York restaurant Daniel before moving to Beijing. Earlier, he worked at chef Gary Danko's eponymous San Francisco flagship as well as Beverly Hills' L'Orangerie. He launched Mr. Boulud's first China outpost four years ago, and for TRB, his first independent venture, he came up with the contemporary European signature dishes in collaboration with Zak El Hamdou, who trained at Michelin-starred London restaurant La Tante Claire.
The Food and Drink: TRB's continental fine-dining menu is heavily inspired by French cuisine. House specialties include pot-roasted lobster with smoked aubergine caviar, king-crab ravioli and confit of suckling pig, complemented by a stream of between-course amuse-bouches such as crispy golden cheese pastries, cherry tomatoes topped with pesto-flavored goat cheese, and lobster morsels in foam. Desserts, from a white chocolate and passionfruit cheesecake to caramel mousse and coffee panna cotta, are capped with extra rounds of nibbles (dark chocolate truffles, white chocolate, housemade marshmallows). Given Lecleir's background as a sommelier, the wine list is fittingly expansive, with 700 labels, including French, Spanish and American bottles, housed in three on-site wine cellars.
The Setting: The 600-year-old Tibetan Buddhist temple complex that houses TRB is one of the capital's most spectacular locations—inside, a wall of windows allows diners to gaze into the renovated courtyard. The complex became a TV factory during the Cultural Revolution and later a hotel. Its latest reincarnation, led by Australian firm Hassell, weaves its evolution from ancient to modern into the restaurant's design: For instance, the bar-lounge area preserves the original stone archway, wooden beams and painted ceiling panels but incorporates sleek contemporary furnishings.
Beijing's housing developments are often staid affairs, built to house the city's booming population, former hutong residents, and its nouveau riche. Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid, or "Modern MOMA" as its developers have branded it in a reference to the famous New York museum, is firmly aimed at the latter. But with allusions to Corbusier's idea of "towers in the park," it offers an interesting vision of greener high-rise living for all. Its eight colourful 20-storey towers are connected by gently sloping footbridges, which allow free circulation between shops, cafes, and a hotel. A patchwork of gardens beckons the public. "How to bring back the street life of the old city under a new modern design, that was our idea," explains Li Hu, the local architect in charge. Filters protect residents from Beijing's pollution, but the building is also designed to protect the environment, too: beneath the complex sits a waste water recycling plant and one of the world's largest geothermal systems, which eliminates the need for boilers or electrical air conditioners. But green luxury in the concrete capital doesn't come cheap - remaining apartments are going for a prohibitive 44,000 yuan, or £3,000, per square metre.
· At the southern terminus of the Airport Expressway, near Dongzhimen, or at Xiangheyuan Lu. Parts of the Linked Hybrid complex, including an outpost of Hyatt's new Andaz chain, will be open to the public from July
Interview with Daniel Boulud
Daniel Boulud is the award-winning chef-owner of Restaurant Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Bar Boulud, Bar Pléiades, Boulud Sud, and Épicerie Boulud in New York, as well as five other restaurants in Palm Beach, Miami, London, Beijing, and Singapore, and one slated to open in early 2012 in Montreal. Chef Boulud was born and raised in Lyon, France, arrived in the US in 1981, and opened Daniel in 1993, after six years as executive chef of Le Cirque.
He has won James Beard Foundation Awards for Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Chef, Best Chef—New York City, and Outstanding Restaurant for Daniel in 2010. He is also a member of the Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in France, and received Citymeals-on-Wheels’s Culinary Humanitarian Award.
Among the many books he authored are Braise: A Journey through International Cuisine, Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef, Letters to a Young Chef, and Chef Daniel Boulud Cooking in New York City. The Main Course recently met him at Restaurant Daniel to talk about the latest developments in his restaurant group, Dinex.
You opened Boulud Sud and Épicerie Boulud in early June of this year. How is the response so far?
I think that people are very happy. The people of the neighborhood are diving into the Épicerie four times a day. We open at 7 in the morning and we serve until 11 at night, so we see them before work, we see them after work, we see them in between. My idea was to create a wonderful program of boulangerie, charcuterie, fromagerie, and then salads, sandwiches, soups, having also, of course, viennoiseries in the morning, then pâtisseries and ice cream. We serve coffee, we have a bar. We also have an oyster bar, sausages—hot dog, merguez, Thai sausage—and we are complementing that with other offerings soon. We’re going to make some crudo. It’s basically a tapas bar, but in the store. All these offer everyone a possibility to find what they need at any time of the day.
Is it a concept that you imagine being able to export to other cities?
No. But having a few more in New York could be possible. The concept is based on the fact that we already have a charcuterie program at Bar Boulud and DBGB, so we extended that program to retail as well, without serving the same charcuterie exactly everywhere. We have the bread—we have seven bakers working for us full time—so it was no problem to be able to provide some very good bread every day.
And then, between all our restaurants in New York and the corporate pastry chefs and all that, we may have about 50 pastry chefs. So I involve many of my chefs. Some of them do specific cookies for the store, some of them do the production of the desserts here at Daniel. It’s a little bit scattered right now, but we are building a commissary kitchen to be able to concentrate production of charcuterie and boulangerie, and some of the pâtisserie, but mostly the base of it, and then the finishing will be done there. We do all our ice cream ourselves. It’s kind of a little old-fashioned store, but in a very in-fashion way. Really, it’s about making a lot of things house made, it’s about following the quality of our offerings, even in the most simple way.
And what about Boulud Sud?
Boulud Sud, it’s the Méditerranée. I love Provençal, Mediterranean cuisine in France, and we have, I think, a very beautiful representation of flavors and a palette of cuisine, but I felt very limited with that. So I wanted to make sure that I was able to go beyond just the border of France in the Méditerranée. I wanted to embrace also the occidental part, which is Turkey, and certainly the more Middle Eastern side of the Méditerranée. That’s how it started. Many of the menu items are based on classic combinations and dishes, but then comes the refinement we put to that. It’s the personal touch we put to it that will really give Boulud Sud its edge, because they’re not all conventional dishes, even if the palette of flavors and the taste are very familiar.
How did you become familiar with that occidental side? Was that a cuisine that you had already been working with?
By traveling. Also because at Café Boulud, we have had the Menu Voyage for the past 12 years. In all our restaurants, we always definitely flirt with Mediterranean cuisine, but in a very scattered way. At Daniel, for example, in the summertime, we’ll have dishes that are really reminiscent of a technique or flavor or combination. We are very Mediterranean but never really put our focus on that.
And being next to Bar Boulud, I wanted to do a restaurant that was departing from the bistro, departing from all this pork-centric charcuterie and all the dishes like that. The wine program is also very interesting, with all the coastal countries of the Méditerranée. So to put that together was very important. We have a sort of very eclectic wine list, but mostly concentrating on the Méditerranée.
You’ve been expanding a lot around Lincoln Center.
Yes. We just locked up the corner. At the beginning, we weren’t going to take the corner where Épicerie Boulud is, but we worried about who was going to be the retailer. So we decided to come up with a concept. For me, épicerie was the proper word because it wasn’t a boulangerie, it wasn’t a charcuterie, and it was not a market. The word épicerie encompasses anything about food, and also some dry goods. We are selling olive oil, salt, some element of épicerie as well.
When you think about the Fauchon in Paris, for example, that always started with an épicerie theme. Then they went into more cooked products as well. So in a way, it’s in the vein of that. It’s an extension of the talent pool we have, and I think it works. It’s unique. It’s really a chef product made with his pool of talent around him, and you’ve got to have a large enough pool of talent to be able to achieve that.
You have two places in Florida. You’re opening in Montreal. Do those restaurants have to function more independently than the New York ones?
Every restaurant has to function independently, with its suppliers. The chef has to find his suppliers, his staff. The manager has to find his staff as well, his customer pool. Basically, every restaurant has to self-manage itself. And we have our chef and manager very responsible for it. Sometimes we have a local PR or promoter to support our PR team here, at Dinex. We are always doing special events and promotions to make sure that we keep the restaurant very active.
Sometimes it’s also being active in a social way with charities. We have been in Palm Beach for about 10 years, so the marketing and work we do there is different than what we do in Miami. While they are close enough, they are still very different. But sometimes, if we need some support in Palm Beach, we’ll take a sous chef from Miami, move him there for a couple of weeks, then bring him back to Miami. Staff exchange, cross training, and all that—I think it’s good.
How often do you travel?
As little as I can. But at the same time, I enjoy traveling and I think I have a team helping me today that I didn’t have five years ago. I didn’t have it 10 years ago for sure. The structure and the support in the business is much stronger today than it was, so it enables me to travel more comfortably and not worry so much all the time about the restaurants.
Is the team stronger now because these people have been with you longer, or is it because of the people you’ve hired in the last five years?
People have been with me for a long time. [Daniel Executive Chef] Jean François [Bruel], we have been together for 15 years. Many of the people on the management side have been with me for years. Our corporate chefs have been with me 10 years. I want to offer them security, and challenges and opportunities. There is a reward of security for myself as well. When I opened my first restaurant, I was spending 16 hours a day in the restaurant, but they were all in the kitchen. Today, if I spend 16 hours a day in my business, half of it is in the kitchen.
And you still spend about 16 hours working?
Am I cooking every meal? No, I’m not, but I’m definitely spending time with my chefs, communicating, tasting, watching, developing ideas. I sometimes miss cooking. Because I think it’s nice to be able to be in the kitchen and not have any distractions. But my distraction is now part of the business, I think. It’s one thing to accept, but I’m not detached from it, and I have people reporting to me all the time.
We communicate with our chefs, but we have AJ [Schaller], who is the communication person with all the chefs in the group, sending messages from me about recipes, about ideas and all that, and collecting information from all the chefs on the new things they have done, new menus, and constantly making sure we keep track of all recipes and have pictures of the food. We have a database established, so all the chefs in the group can have access to others’ menus and recipes. If anyone wants to be inspired by another one of our menus somewhere else, it’s fine.
When you say that you miss cooking, do you ever block off time to be in the kitchen? Do you say, ‘Monday morning between 10 and 12, I’m in the kitchen’? Do you get to do that?
It’s not like that, but I know the days when it is easier for me to spend time cooking than others. There is also a big social part in the business as well: people like to see me in the dining room. What I enjoy the most, when I develop a new restaurant, for example, is to spend time with the chef developing all the recipes for it. For three or four months, we will sit down, talk about the food, start to do the recipes, develop that, do a tasting.
It’s a very exciting time to see the whole preparation, creation, and formation of a new concept, a new menu, to build up a new program. Because once you have created the skeleton of a restaurant, things will change but usually the structure and the frame are made to function and won’t change all the time. It’s also affected by the price structure you have or the menu structure you create, so you try to respect that. After that, it’s mostly creativity coming into the dishes, which is the most important. But to create that platform of aspiration and direction, that’s the interesting part of things.
How long does it take?
Usually a chef is hired to start working for that development phase about four months before opening. At that time he starts building up a team by hiring people, or at least spotting people he’s going to hire. Then we start the development of the menus and the dishes. The two corporate chefs and the corporate pastry chef start to get involved, as well as the [new restaurant’s] pastry chef, the chef de cuisine, the sous chef. They all work together and start to build up the foundation of that new program. They have to write recipes, their full procedures, and their total costs. There is a lot of preparation to do besides just creating a dish.
Sometimes you do five dishes to keep one, so we taste a lot of recipes. In the case of Boulud Sud, for example, part of our R&D is to taste some recipes that are totally classic, such as Greek salad. Everybody knows what a Greek salad is, but our Greek salad at Boulud Sud is certainly way different than the Greek salad at Three Guys. But it’s a Greek salad. We press the cucumber sous vide. We marinate the tomatoes. We have an incredible feta. We make sure that all the herbs in the dressing are fresh, freshly dried, and all that.
You’re always looking at ways to refine your dishes.
Yes, refine and be as true to the authenticity of the recipe, but with something more personal.
It sounds as if it’s being true and authentic to both the recipe but also the Daniel Boulud way of doing something, no?
Yes, but at the same time, I don’t try to create gimmicks. I’m not going to make a sphere of onion or a sphere of tomato in a Greek salad. No. It’s about the product and the combination of products. There is not much gimmickry in the food.
How do you select the people you hire?
Of course they have to be good cooks but they have to be good people too. There has to be trust between them and me. I feel it when someone is just way too opportunistic and needs me just to help his resume. But it depends on the position. If the person invests himself with us for three years or four years, comes to maturity to be a chef, and we think he can be a great chef, we’re going to do anything for him to succeed in getting one of the positions. If it’s a cook who is just passing by and staying a year with us, we might see each other again down the road. We might try to place him somewhere else for a promotion. And really, the good cooks have all been rewarded with promotion.
Some of them started from out of school, like the chef de cuisine at Daniel. Some of them came already well trained and stay longer. [The chefs in our restaurants] all have done their tour within the restaurant group, but also really kept progressing within it. There is a trust in their ability to manage, to cook, to hire, to really deal with pressure, and to be good partners to the front of the house as well. We want to make sure that they feel included. They are part of management. The chef is a very important part of the management, but it has to be in harmony with the front management as well. It’s not the old days, when the chef didn’t care about the front.
Have you ever hired an executive chef for one of the restaurants who was coming from outside?
[Café Boulud’s] Gavin Kaysen. But I knew Gavin from before. He was working as Le Cirque as an executive sous chef with Sottha Khun, so I knew he went to the right school for me. I also knew him when he was preparing his Bocuse d’Or. We spoke. He was hired to become executive sous chef at Daniel, but when he was coming to New York for a final interview, the interim chef at Café Boulud gave his notice because he moved to Virginia. So I told Gavin, ‘You’re not coming to Daniel anymore, you’re coming to Café Boulud. Do you want the job or not?’ I was taking a gamble in the sense of having a chef who had never worked with us.
But at the same time, I knew. I liked the positive energy of Gavin, the fact that he was passionate about French cuisine. He was very disciplined and respectful and creative and smart. He first made sure to understand the program and to really work with what. Café Boulud has always been offering the chef an amazing support for his talent. But at the same time, it does not mean that everybody can fit in. The chef has to have talent himself to be able to carry the program there. So Gavin, but otherwise most of the chefs are from within.
At the time I had some wonderful chefs, wonderful sous chefs, but I didn’t have the candidate ready for it. And I didn’t want to put a French chef there because it’s maybe the most, not American, but New York restaurant I have.
What place does France have in your life and in your cuisine at this point? You’ve been here 30 years.
France still resonates in many places in the menus and the dishes. But at the same time, what does France have to do with a lot of the American restaurants who are established with a model of French cuisine, which is seasonal, market-driven menus, farm to table? It’s certainly also a model of discipline, a model of balance. By the nature of our team, we are very French at Daniel, but not in every one of our restaurants. I’m definitely very comfortable in America, cooking in America and being French, but that does not mean I Americanized myself or I have lost my French touch. I just feel that not everything from France fits here.
And I definitely fill in the gap with other things that are as exciting for me, and as challenging and as rewarding for cuisine. With DBGB, I’m doing matzo ball soup, burgers, bangers. The concept was not really French to begin with. But yet it’s a brasserie, mostly, and some food is very, very French, and some food is very, very American, and they work together because it’s New York and because we are here. DB Bistro is also kind of a modern bistro, so there are some traditional preparations, but most of them are more of a simple derivation of sophisticated cuisine. It is sometimes labor intensive, but also it is refined. It is refined and yet a bistro like that can produce 450 or 500 covers a day. It is not that we are so precious and refined that we can’t even pull them off.
How many covers a day do you do at Daniel?
Oh, it’s different. At Daniel, 220. We can go bigger. We have 130 staff, it’s only open at night, and it’s closed on Sunday, so…. I believe that at Daniel, the cuisine keeps evolving and our inspiration keeps cross-pollinating with the complicity with the chefs and with our suppliers. Every season, something new comes in, or sometimes something old that is new for that season, which re-fires our inspiration and motivation here. That’s what we like.
What characterizes the restaurant Daniel?
What represents Daniel, I think, is, to me, le grand restaurant. It has a huge backbone for setting, table, service, wine cellar, l’art de la table. And a kitchen brigade with bakers, butchers, charcutiers, pastry. The whole brigade is still in the model of the greatest restaurants of the world, I think. It’s classic enough, but it lives totally with its time. It has an amazing following from regular customers we have customers over the years who have been very faithful to me.
But the staff is still very young. The average age of our staff here is maybe 27-28. Except for me and a couple of the other guys, the rest are all in their 20s and 30s. That gives a certain dynamism and a certain energy. The restaurant is not getting tired, it’s not cruising. We have always been running and competing, and certainly rising. We keep rising. When you think about an established restaurant, the worst thing you want is to be cruising. Which means that people become a little more self-satisfied with what is done and don’t push anymore.
We constantly reassess our performance, our offerings. We want to make sure that the customer feels that there’s real value to the luxury we offer. It’d be easier to charge more money, like many luxury goods companies do. When you go and buy something in a luxury brand place, sometimes the cost of goods is 10 percent, and there is 60 percent marketing in it.
And you can’t do that here.
No. For us, our marketing is all about our work. Our only marketing budget is the work we put together and the satisfaction we give to our customers. I always feel that I have to make the customer feel very rewarded. And it’s not about me trying to get rewarded it’s more about the customer getting the reward. That makes you very conscious of how much you charge in everything you do, and whether it is the right value.
Is this idea of value something that is also stronger now than it was, let’s say, 10 years ago?
It could be, yes. But the funny thing, a main course today in most of the average good restaurants, like Café Boulud or many other restaurants, averages between $35 and $45. The calf liver at the Four Seasons Restaurant in 1983 was $36 at lunch. And today, we’re going to sell the calf liver for $32 because we think it’s an inexpensive cut of meat. I don’t think that prices skyrocketed compared to what they were 30 years ago. We are stuck in the mud. Food in America has always been quite affordable, and lately it has gone very high—very high compared to what it used to be.
I think that the days of profitability were better before than they are today, because we cannot raise prices as much as costs have increased. Little by little, we have to turn up the price cost, and everybody has to do it because it’s inevitable. We are all in competition for the spending dollars in dining. The customer is looking for value and it’s very important to be value conscious. We do that at DBGB, we do that in all our restaurants. I think that every company today, every chef, is always concerned about the value he is giving to his customer.
You worked in Denmark right before you came to New York, about 30 years ago. What do you think of the huge boom in Scandinavian cuisine now?
I always thought of Scandinavia as a very creative cuisine, with very creative chefs. I saw Scandinavian chefs learning in France during the ‘70s and ‘80s. I lived in Denmark but I could notice Sweden and Norway. They were very well traveled and very inspired by the combination of cuisine, which sometimes wasn’t really French but had some sort of backbone in French cuisine. When I was in Copenhagen, I was surprised by the excellence of the restaurants there. It was a small number of them, but there were some fantastic restaurants. Today when you see Noma and the attention that Noma is giving to Scandinavia, I think it’s just the right recognition. It has always been a very small country with very good talent.
It’s interesting that it did take that long for Scandinavia to get that recognition, when you say that it’s been so good for so long.
Yes. What’s interesting is that [Noma’s] René [Redzepi] did most of his studying in America before he went back home, working with Thomas [Keller]. He went back home and really studied what was going to make him happiest, what he had locally, what could really sustain his cuisine and be sustainable. He’s very creative, and I hope that he can do it for the next 40 years like many of us. Because, elBulli is closing, and everybody felt like the ride was too short.
Did you get to eat at elBulli?
Yes. I love to go to those iconic restaurants. But to me, it’s a different breed of business. I’m sure that the Danish today don’t go to Noma as much as everybody else from the world, because they can’t. Is it a good or bad problem? A good problem for the country. But it’s a lot of pressure on [the chefs] as well. Talent will always keep growing.
Beijing bars and hutong hideouts
From Peking duck, to dumplings, throbbing dance floors, and trance at Beijing’s coolest bars and clubs – with a few inflatable pools. A beijing fun guide to nightlife as never before.
by Amy Fabris-Shi
Duck de Chine/ photo: outlet
LEGEND has it that the first Peking duck was roasted in 1416 at Beijing’s Bianyifang Kaoyadian (“Convenient to Everyone Roast Duck Restaurant”). The bird went on to put Beijing on the global gourmet map. But that’s just the beginning of the culinary delights awaiting visitors to the city. Along with the hearty local specialties, the capital attracts a host of regional Chinese cuisines and trendy international outposts from Russia to Peru and beyond. Add in Beijing’s characteristically laid-back vibe and friendly service, and this eclectic selection of dining rooms and funky lounges are sure to satisfy every appetite.
Before we chase into the netherworld of Beijing nightlife, best to tickle the taste buds. And, of all the excellent Beijing dining experiences, the aforementioned Peking duck stands out as one worthy to bear the city’s name. You can still sample the roast duck pancakes in the restaurant that started it all – Bianyifang Kaoyadian, which now has 14 outlets around town. Our picks however are Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant (11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Lu, northeast of Qianmen, Dongcheng District, tel: 6705-5578), a no-frills family-run joint located in a tumbledown hutong residence (follow the ducks painted on walls through the construction site), or the more upscale, and slightly less greasy Dadong (1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District, tel: 5169-0329). Siji Minfu (32 Dengshikou Xijie, Dongcheng district, tel: 6513-5141) does a brisk trade in affordable and tasty birds and has a cosy branch close to Qianmen. For deluxe duck, you can’t beat Duck de Chine (Courtyard 4, 1949 - The Hidden City, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang District, tel: 6501-1949), which incorporates French culinary techniques and features a Bollinger Champagne Bar.
Dali Courtyard charmer/ photo: outlet
Dongbei jiaozi, or northeastern-style dumplings, are another Beijing staple snack. You can see the thick wheat wrappers being swiftly folded around pork and cabbage fillings in eateries across the city, after which they are boiled and served with dark vinegar and chilli. For over 30 varieties of dumplings in hygienic surrounds, try Orient King of Dumplings (Bldg 14, Chaoyangmennei Nanxiaojie, tel: 6527-2042). If you prefer the more delicate southern siblings of the dongbei jiaozi, head to Din Tai Fung, which has four outlets in Beijing (6/F, Shin Kong Place, 87 Jianguo Lu, Chaoyang District, tel: 6533-1536). This legendary restaurant chain from Taiwan specialises in Shanghai-style xiaolongbao, steamed soup dumplings filled with minced pork and stock.
A highly refined form of Beijing’s traditional fare is Imperial cuisine, once served to emperors in the Forbidden City. The Li family, whose patriarch was a steward for the Qing Dynasty Imperial court, has passed down several secret royal recipes, which present-day generations of the family now cook for guests in their own humble home in a hutong near Houhai. Family Li’s Restaurant has just five tables and is booked months in advance for lunch and dinner, so reserve early (11 Yangfang Hutong, Deshengmennei Dajie, Xicheng District, tel: 6618-0107).
Continuing with our Beijing dining sampler, moving beyond local dishes, Dali Courtyard (67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, tel: 8404-1430) serves up a taste of the regional fare of China’s southern Yunnan province. The alfresco courtyard charmer is hidden down a dark hutong near Nanluoguxiang. Set menus change monthly and include a deliciously spicy onslaught of barbecued meats, omelettes made from sheep-milk cheese, and rare highland mushroom dishes from the Himalayan foothills.
Elegant Capital M/ photo: outlet
Another regional Chinese restaurant worth seeking out is the bustling Qin Tang Fu from Shaanxi province (69 Chaoyangmen Nan Xiaojie, Chaoyang District, tel: 6559-8135). The menu has pictures and English translations, so be sure to point to the specialty pork burgers (la rou jia mo) and spicy flat noodles.
Lan (4/F, LG Twin Towers, 12B Jianguomen Waidajie, Chaoyang District, tel: 5109-6012) serves up Sichuan spice in an über-hot setting. The kooky 5,000sq m restaurant and club designed by Philippe Starck, also has a seafood bar, 35 private rooms inside chandelier-strung Mongolian yurts and a moody lounge with eagle thrones and visiting DJs.
You don’t have to be vegan to fall in love with Pure Lotus Vegetarian (inside Zhongguo Wenlianyuan, 12 Nongzhanguan Nanlu, Chaoyang District, tel: 6592-3627). Run by monks, this health-conscious vegetarian restaurant has a creative menu of healthy vegetable and mock meat dishes and heavenly presentations.
The Forbidden City area is a bit of a nightlife graveyard (Daniel Boulud famously closed his Maison Boulud at Ch’ienmen 23 in 2013), however, Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard (95 Donghuamen Avenue, Beijing East Gate of The Forbidden City, tel: 6526-8883) is a notable exception. The Irish chef is renowned for his eye-poppingly playful cuisine. Expect amusing diversions like a chocolate and mandarin flavoured dessert shaped in the form of a Terracotta Warrior kneeling in a pile of edible ‘dirt’.
Just off Qianmen Pedestrian Street, Capital M (3/F, No. 2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street, Tian'anmen, tel: 6702-2727) is the first Beijing outpost for Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut, whose M on the Bund and Glamour Bar have long been Shanghai dining and drinking institutions.
Temple Restaurant, Lama complex/ photo: outlet
With Tiananmen Square as a stunning backdrop, the elegant eatery dishes up modern European food in a glamorous 140-seat dining room, Oval Room, cocktail bar and several terrace spaces. A cocktail on the terrace watching the sun set over the ancient fortifications is truly a capital experience.
Hard to find but well worth the effort is Temple Restaurant Beijing, located within a 600-year-old Lama temple complex. The subtly renovated ancient temple buildings (check-out the centuries-old paintwork and Mao era revolutionary slogans) provide a stunning backdrop for one of Beijing’s hottest tables, created by former Maison Boulud general manager Ignace Lecleir. TRB’s finely executed menu of modern European creations (think: pot-roasted lobster with artichoke in white onion veloute) are paired with wines from the 200-bottle cellar.
In another former temple (this time Taoist) behind the Bell Tower, follow the candlelit stairway to cosy, red-washed Zajia Bar (23 Doufuchi Hutong, Dongcheng District tel: 8404-9141) adorned with shabby-chic clutter – from facemasks to vintage weighing scales. If you can’t find a seat at ground level, climb the staircase to the low lounges beneath the ancient rafters. Across the corridor, Zajia Lab is a tiny art space hosting some interesting performances and video screenings to an audience that perches on miniature wooden stools.
Part of the same temple complex, but striking a different tone entirely, Contempio Temple Bar (tel: 6407-6778) commands an annex building accessed through a lantern strung gateway. A suave black-and-white bar leads through to a more evocative back-room lounge with crimson sofas and a baby grand piano. Our favourite spot though is the bamboo spiked courtyard with a fountain, swinging love-seats and views up to the carved eaves of the main temple building that stands deserted behind the bar.
Zajia Bar, hutong hideaway/ photo: outlet
One of our favourite bars for a beer on a blue-sky Beijing day is the ultra-chilled Drum & Bell (41 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Dongcheng District, tel: 8403-3600). Head up the very steep wooden staircase to the adorable roof in the treetops with views of the historic Drum Tower and Bell Tower on either side.
It’s a short walk from here through the hutongs to Café Sambal (43 Doufuchi Hutong, Dongcheng District, tel: 6400-4875), a charming Malaysian diner in a traditional courtyard dwelling. Seated at old wooden chairs in the open-air courtyard or cosy side chambers, diners tuck into modern Southeast Asian delights like kapitan chicken curry and chilli crab, washed down with good wines and cocktails.
Mercante (4 Fangzhuanchang Hutong, Dongcheng District, tel: 8402-5098) is an authentic homestyle Italian trattoria transplanted into a mad Beijing hutong. It has just a handful of tables, including two on the raised streetside balcony where you can sip a Spritz and watch the passing parade of colourful neighbourhood characters. Book ahead or be prepared to wait for a table. You’ll be glad you did when you dive into lovingly prepared classics like homemade ricotta with celery and rabbit ragu over fresh pappardelle.
The new APM store in the Wangfujing tourist and hutong district is always buzzing with a host of stores and affordable restaurants inside like the local dumpling favourite, Shun Yi Fu. Not far from here in a hutong side street is another popular eatery with Northern Chinese fare at reasonable prices, Beijing Pie (No.159-2 Beiheyan Main Street, tel: 6528-2187).
Much of Beijing’s nightlife action happens in the western Sanlitun area. Nali Patio is a Mediterranean styled hacienda chock full of groovy brasseries, bars and boutiques with a strong Spanish flavour. In the warmer months, the sprawling rooftop at Migas (6/F, Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Lu Chaoyang district, tel: 5208-6061) is a hip place to drape on sunken lounges enjoying live DJ beats. When it gets really hot they bring out the inflatable swimming pools. The party moves inside to the industrial-chic indoor bar during the colder months.
Mercante for homemade Italian/ photo: outlet
Also at Nali Patio, Agua (4/F, tel 5208 6030) is a refined Spanish restaurant by talented Catalan chef Jordi Valles with seasonal menus (think: slow-cooked Wagyu veal cheek with marinated plums and beetroot salad), classy Aperitivo hours, and great weekend brunches. Mosto (3/F, tel: 5208 6030) serves up contemporary South American paired with a good wine selection, while Enoterra (4/F, tel: 5208-6076) is a well-stocked wine bar with merlot-hued lounge chairs for relaxed quaffing. Refuel at hip java joint, Moka Bros (G/F, tel: 5208-6079) downstairs. A stone’s throw from Nali Patio, Alameda (Sanlitun Houjie, beside Nali Patio, Chaoyang District, tel: 6417-8084) is a sunny Brazilian with great steaks, feijoada on Saturdays and a well-priced lunch rapido.
Follow the well-heeled party crowds through a non-descript carpark to Janes & Hooch (4 Gongti Bei Lu (diagonally across from Q Mex), Chaoyang District, tel: 6503-2757). At this glamorous, retro-styled saloon, besuited bartenders pour carefully mixed cocktails into art deco tumblers. The low-lit double-storey space is adorned with backlit bars, bagged brick walls and aged leather sofas. If only they’d turn the music down a bit to suit the oh-so-chic vibe.
Staying in Chaoyang District, Hatsune (2/F, Heqiao Building C, 8A Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District, tel: 6581-3939) rolls Japanese fare with a Californian twist. For a top-end Beijing bar tipple, head to Face (26 Dongcaoyuan, Gongti Nanlu, Chaoyang District, tel: 6551-6788), a seductive Indo-Chinese bar in an old middle school with sophisticated cocktails, opium beds and a walled garden. The Tree (43 Sanlitun Beijie, behind Poachers Inn, Chaoyang District, tel: 6415-1954) is a friendly pub behind the old Sanlitun North bar street, with excellent Belgian beers and thin-crust pizzas.
Beijing Pie, off Wangfujing, is a popular eatery with North CHinese fare/ photo: Vijay Verghese
For top of the city dining, head to China Grill on the 66th floor of the Park Hyatt (2 Jianguomenwai Lu, Chaoyang District, tel: 8567-1234). One of Beijing’s highest restaurants offers 360-degree views and a mix-and-match menu of both Chinese and international dishes, from Boston lobster to Australian Wagyu and pot-sticker dumplings. Save room for the to-die-for dessert platter. Stay on to party at Park Hyatt’s multi-concept nightlife venue, Xiu (6/F, Beijing Yintai Centre, 2 Jianguomenwei Street, Chaoyang District, tel: 8567 1838). This popular party palace features a spectacular sixth-floor open terrace offering views across the CBD, themed club nights and a heaving dance floor.
Beijing’s live music scene is centred around Gulou, the ancient Drum Tower district. Music aficionados congregate at voguish Yugong Yishan (West Courtyard, 3-2 Zhangzizhong Lu, Gulou, tel: 6404-2711) or in the MAO Livehouse bunker (111 Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, tel: 6402-5080), which hosts a regular line-up of underground punk, indie, metal and rock bands. Descend to the Dada basement (206 Gulou Dong Dajie (below Temple Bar), Dongcheng District, tel: 183 1108 0818) for some of Beijing’s best alternative and electronic music, from bass to skweee, psytrance, cold wave and more. Rock on Beijing, rock on.
Daniel Boulud's Maison Boulud Montreal Is Now Open
Maison Boulud, chef Daniel Boulud's new Montreal outpost, is now open. Maison Boulud Montreal will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner inside the newly remodeled Ritz-Carlton, which just underwent a $150 million makeover.
Executive chef Ricardo Bertolino has worked for Boulud restaurants for the past four years, including Daniel, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, Cafe Boulud and db Bistro Moderne Singapore. He'll be serving what the restaurant's website calls "refined yet soulful contemporary French food," "driven by the seasons and bounty of Québec's local purveyors." (Check out the menu — warning, PDF.)
This is the second Maison Boulud the other is located in Beijing. Boulud recently closed two restaurants in Vancouver, claiming "the seafood. was a little more challenging" than it is in Montreal, which is more similar to New York. Boulud told Eater last year after making the decision to open in the Ritz-Carlton, "The best partnership is. with hotels, with a management group where there's already a synergy." Here's hoping this Canadian coast turns out better than the other one did for him.
Inside Daniel Boulud’s new restaurant Le Pavillion
On Saturday, the city closed a swath of East 42nd Street because chef Daniel Boulud’s newest project, Le Pavillon, was expecting an unusual delivery: 10,000 pounds of black olive trees trucked in from Florida.
A massive crane hoisted the 20-foot-tall trees to a group of workers perched on a second-story platform at One Vanderbilt — a $3.3 billion office tower overlooking Grand Central Terminal that developer SL Green unveiled last fall. The trees were then funneled into the 1,400-foot-tall tower through a window that had been removed specifically for the purpose.
Once inside, the olive trees were placed in 3-feet-deep pits dug through the floor of the restaurant, where they will grow using special “grow lights” to mimic their natural habitat. Thousands of pounds of soil was brought in to fill the holes and cover their roots — one wheelbarrow at a time.
When Le Pavillon opens next month, the 11,000 square foot, 100-seat restaurant with a 30-seat bar, designed by Isay Weinfeld, will boast a flowering garden with trees bifurcating the glass dining room.
Even for Boulud — a world-famous chef with a restaurant empire that spans from New York to Dubai — it’s an impressive undertaking, one that has been three years in the making in partnership with SL Green.
“An opportunity to create a great restaurant like this comes once every 30 or 40 years,” Boulud told Side Dish during an exclusive tour of the eatery as it gears up to open its doors on May 25 for dinner service four or five nights a week, with lunch and breakfast service beginning in the fall.
Chef Daniel Boulud inside of Le Pavillion’s kitchen. Matthew McDermott
But Le Pavillon, which is named after the city’s first haute French restaurant in 1941, is also launching at a historically difficult time for Midtown Manhattan, an area that caters primarily to tourists and office workers and has therefore been decimated by the pandemic.
Some 90 percent of Manhattan office workers continued to work remotely through March, according to the Partnership for New York City. By September, less than half — or just 45 percent — are expected to be back at their desks, the organization said citing surveys of major employers.
Tourism is coming back faster, but hotel occupancy only stood at a recent high of 47 percent in mid-March.
Boulud — who’s flagship and eponymous name restaurant Daniel boasts two Michelin stars — seems unphased. He said he “believes” in NYC and its ability to come back stronger just like it did after 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008.
“New York has been through highs and lows, but I am confident that if there is one city in the world able to turn things around, to bring back the talent and business, and reinvent itself and thrive, it’s New York,” Boulud said.
Daniel Boulud lending a helping hand with the construction of Le Pavillion. Matthew McDermott
Boulud is so gungho for the opening he invited legendary chef Jaques Pepin, 85, to talk to the staff on orientation day about what it was like to be a young chef working at Le Pavillon, which closed eight years before Boulud arrived in NYC from France in 1980.
“I like the fact that it was a long time ago and yet it wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t be connected to people and stories from that era,” Boulud said.
And he insisted that the pandemic has not at all altered his vision for Le Pavillon, which has only been delayed by three months — even if his plan to build a garden inside a skyscraper is now on trend with the post-pandemic world.
“I always felt the space was so big we’d need to bring an ‘oasis of nature’ inside, while respecting the architecture of the building,” Boulud said of the trees.
The restaurant’s partners — SL Green, which is funding most of it, and Boulud’s company Dinex — declined to say how much the restaurant build out is expected to cost. SL Green called the expense a ‘nominal percentage” of its overall investment in One Vanderbilt, which is 73.7 percent leased.
The menu will be seasonal and focused on seafood and vegetables “from Maine to Maryland,” along with some simple grilled and rotisserie dishes. Boulud is also working on his own dish to rival oysters Rockefeller, which he will dub oysters Vanderbilt, and an updated chilled pea soup that Boulud first put on the menu when he opened Daniel in May 1993.
Standing outside of One Vanderbilt as its shiny glass facade reflected the image of the Chrysler building, passersby cheered Boulud as a photographer snapped away. For a moment he stared at a black cast iron Eagle — one of the originals from Grand Central Station — perched on a rail across from him.
“Maybe we’ll call it the Eagle Bar,” Boulud mused, picking up on an earlier conversation about-the-as-yet unnamed bar inside Le Pavillon.
Daniel Boulud coming to Vancouver, BC
VANCOUVER — Expect major menu changes - but no $150 burgers - after celebrity chef Daniel Boulud puts his stamp on Lumière and Feenie's this spring.
Visiting Vancouver this week, he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail that he plans on making significant changes to Lumière's menu, including adding a prix fixe and more à la carte items.
In a coup that's been the talk of the city, a new partnership was announced last week between Mr. Boulud and David and Manjy Sidoo, owners of Lumière and Feenie's restaurants. French-born Mr. Boulud now owns six renowned restaurants in the United States, including Daniel, his flagship fine-dining restaurant in New York. This spring, he will be opening a seventh restaurant in Beijing.
Feenie's will close next week before being relaunched as DB Bistro Moderne Vancouver, and Lumière will close for remodelling in May but keep its name.
I believe yesterday was that last official day of Feenie's
The staff is gone, the doors are closed!
I just wonder how much time DB is going to be spending in Van.
And how Rob Feenie feels about it. Didin't DB write the preface to one of Feenie's cookbooks? (could be wrong).