Daniel Boulud Talks National Expansion, Florida
Sitting outside the Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach, Daniel Boulud is dressed in jeans; a more relaxed figure than the man in crisp whites often seen chatting with diners at his New York establishments. Boulud has just spoken on a James Beard panel at the Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival, which went on earlier this week, and we got to chatting with the legend about translating his New York-based concept for a Florida audience, as well as his plans for further national expansion.
It's been nearly 13 years since he opened Café Boulud in Palm Beach’s tony Brazilian Court Hotel, and the five-day festival kicked off with a giant bash in the romantic courtyard of his restaurant. It was a stylish opening night worthy of the famed toque: Locals and visitors to the festival sipped champagne and martinis made with caramelized pineapple, while snapping up stone crabs and oysters displayed in a large rowboat.
“The courtyard is very colonial: We loved the setting when we took the space,’’ recalls the chef. “Palm Beach is a great village. It has notoriety, but not as a food town. The festival adds cachet.’’
Boulud adjusted his southern Café Boulud to fit the town’s mood, and its personality is distinct from the New York sibling. “We never try to adapt the Café Boulud here to the New York restaurant,’’ he explains. “It’s a resort town so you always think of cuisine more appropriate to a sunny climate. At lunch we have an array of salads with compositions of vegetables, grilled items and warm and cold sandwiches like the quintessential club sandwich served at every country club here. It’s a great setting that calls for something more casual. In New York I don’t make sandwiches at my restaurants. Here I enjoy creating even my own interpretation of a Cuban sandwich with suckling pig and pickles that I make myself. I always eat one of those when I make them. We also get wonderful corn and tomatoes in December, and we would never serve that in New York this time of year.’’
Café Boulud stands out as elegant but still relaxed, in the Palm Beach dining scene, which is peppered with old world places that haven’t changed in decades, along with party spots.
“There is an amazing array of restaurants here,’’ notes Boulud. “Some are more old fashioned and traditional, but people have an attachment to that. Then there are trendy places where they serve everything from pizza to sushi out of one kitchen. We keep our standard of service and food: We want to make ours one of the best and yet approachable.’’
The chef says the food available to him now has come a long way from when he first arrived in Palm Beach. “There have always been great restaurants and hotels in Palm Beach, but the most important thing was trying to find suppliers and local support. A lot was imported but things weren’t grown with the purpose of serving local suppliers. Now there are these big farms that produce beautiful things. We’ve also developed relationships with day boats and we get local snapper, grouper and stone crabs. It’s great when you are by the ocean.’’
Many of Boulud’s New York regulars are frequent diners at his resort restaurant, but his Florida following has gone beyond locals and snowbirds. “Palm Beach has a great clientele,’’ says Boulud. “Go to the Hamptons and you’ll find mostly New Yorkers, but here the entire east coast come flocking down,’’ “I have regular customers from Toronto, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. There are more and more Europeans coming in and, of course, South Americans.’’
Boulud also has a restaurant in Miami, a branch of db Bistro Moderne. “We don’t have a DJ booth and people don’t dance on the table and I think customers appreciate that,’’ he smiles.
As for further national expansion plans for next year, the legendary chef is opening an outpost of DB Brasserie at The Venetian in Las Vegas this spring and an outpost of DBGB will open in DC in this summer. But we also learned that Boulud will expand his Epicerie Boulud to other parts of Manhattan including the Financial District. "2014 is going to be a fun year! I'm returning to two cities that I love, Washington DC and Las Vegas. DC was my first home as a young chef when I arrived in America. Being able to return to that city years later with a restaurant of my own is the ultimate homecoming. And Las Vegas has always been a dynamic international food destination - I'm excited to be part again of the fraternity of great chefs there."