If he could do it all over again, Daniel Boulud says, he’d never set up shop in Vancouver. The much-hyped western outpost of his restaurant empire closed in March after a little more than two years, but that’s not keeping the New York chef down. He believes Montreal will be a better fit for his famous French food.
“Montreal is a city with a great tradition for food,” Mr. Boulud says. “I think there’s a French-Québécois cuisine that I understand and I feel comfortable with.”
The Michelin-starred chef, who has restaurants in New York, Miami, London, Beijing, Singapore and Palm Beach, Fla. is planning to open Maison Boulud, a casual but upscale French restaurant that focuses on seasonal ingredients, at the newly renovated Ritz-Carlton Montreal in early 2012.
Mr. Boulud spoke to The Globe and Mail from Montreal on Friday.
What happened in Vancouver?
Vancouver was fine. It’s a great city. I think the location was wrong. I would have never gone to Vancouver if it wasn’t for the friendship that I had with [Vancouver business partner]David Sidoo. I was there to help him maintain his restaurant. That was all. One thing I didn’t want to do is to lower my standards just for the sake of feeding the town.
If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently?
Never go there. Because it was only out of friendship that I did it. There’s Los Angeles, San Francisco, there’s 10 cities before Vancouver that I could have chosen in America, you know what I mean?
Montreal is different because Montreal is very close to New York and Montreal has been in my heart for a long time and I’ve been coming back and forth to this city for many years. I definitely feel a little bit more at home on this side [of the continent]
How will you tailor your food to Montreal diners?
It’s going to be casual, but it will have a certain sophistication. The menu will definitely reflect the ingredients of the east coast. And I tell you, the [products available on the]market here, it’s fabulous. I know because it’s the same in New York, basically. The seafood in Vancouver was a little more challenging.
Last year, you had mentioned you were in talks with the Four Seasons about opening a restaurant in Toronto. Is that still in the works?
I cannot really tell you that. Of course, they have been talking to me and definitely I have a lot admiration of their brand. But right now, the place I’m really focusing on and looking forward to is Montreal.
You just celebrated the 10th anniversary of db Bistro Moderne in New York, and your famous gourmet burger. These days, everywhere you look there’s another gourmet burger joint charging $10 a pop. You’ve unleashed a beast.
Yeah, but at the same time the recipe of the db burger has never changed from the day I created that burger. With the foie gras of Quebec and the Canadian beef and all that, we can do a very good damn burger here. You were among the first wave of chefs to really reach celebrity status in North America. Now, we have Twitter, food TV competitions, food bloggers. For young chefs today, is it easier or harder to make a name for themselves?
Good luck. I mean it’s not easy. I tell them that all the time. For the young chefs, I think it’s going to be challenging because there’s too much distraction today from what the core of our business is about. You can’t become a great chef by relying on that to build a business. I think the craft has nothing to do with technology. And with food competitions, it’s wonderful for young chefs to get the recognition but, you know, people forget you. After one season, you’re already a has-been.
The restaurant industry has chewed up and spit out many a fine chef. Have you ever felt burnt out, or tempted to throw in the towel?
So how do you recharge your energy?
I make sure I recharge the people with me all the time, so if one battery goes down the whole power doesn’t go down. In my restaurants, every chef is well structured, well assisted, well managed and very independent. I want to make sure the chef can do what I tell him to do, but also is able to do a lot on his own. But how do you actually relax?
That’s my biggest problem. I don’t know. I hope I’ll have a day off tomorrow. So that’s good. Going out with [Montreal chefs]Martin [Picard]and Normand [Laprise] that’s going to be really relaxing.
What are you going to do?
Ohhh, that I don’t think we can say. But we’re going to just eat, drink and talk.
Considering all the accolades and awards you’ve received over the years, what has given you the most satisfaction?
When I opened Daniel – that was 18 years ago – after six months of opening, the [International]Herald Tribune gave me best restaurant in America and one of the best in the world. I was like, “Whoa. This is certainly the best accolade.” And then of course the James Beard recognition for best chef in New York, best chef in America, best restaurateur, best service, best restaurant. ...
Do you just keep a big trophy case in your living room?
No, actually. When I get an award, and sometimes they paint my portrait or they do something like that, I send it to my parents in France. I’ve always told my parents, one day they’re going to receive a big crate and I’m going to put all my awards and everything in it, and they can create a museum.
This interview has been condensed and edited.