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One On 1 Profile: Daniel Boulud Remains A Chef At Heart As He Expands His Restaurant Empire

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Chef Daniel Boulud has been honored by the French government, he and his restaurants have received four James Beard Foundation awards, the Oscars of the food industry, and his culinary journey has taken him from France to New York and beyond.
NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.

At 6 p.m. in the kitchen at Daniel, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in New York and the country, and Daniel Boulud, award-winning chef, entrepreneur and author, is at home.

"It's OK, but I would love to have a little cube of beets inside,” he tells one of his chefs.

"In what I do, there are a lot of things I hate, but the only thing I don't hate is to be in the kitchen with my chefs, that I never hate that,” he said.

Daniel Boulud is one of the food industry's success stories, with restaurants in New York, including Daniel, Cafe Boulud and DB Bistro, among others and in Beijing, London and cities around the world.

He is the author of several books, most recently, "Daniel, My French Cuisine," showcasing recipes from his signature restaurant.

He'd already spent six years in the high profile position of executive chef at Le Cirque when Boulud took a leap of faith, opening his first restaurant, Daniel, in 1993.

Honors for the restaurant and Boulud poured in, including the James Beard Foundation Award for Chef of the Year, the industry's Academy Award.

Then Boulud took another leap of faith, reopening Daniel on the site of the old Le Cirque in 1998.

It was a happening, but it was far from a sure thing.

"I took the biggest financial risk in my life and I don't think I will ever take that risk again ever and it has been good, I think it has been a safe journey, thanks God."

Pan French or Fusion are not found on his menus.

Among food aficionados, Boulud is known for sticking to his gastronomic guns.

"I think we never really create restaurant because it's a trendy thing to do at that moment,” he said.

NY1 followed Boulud to a few of his restaurants, trying out new recipes.

"I think with this dish, when we did it at the beginning, we didn't have the contrast also of the little smoked eggs,” he said. “And we felt it was a little flat.”

"Just dig in.”

Suffice it to say, any initial problems with the dish were long gone.

The menus at Daniel or Cafe Boulud are not for everyone.

Boulud's famed original DB burger at DB Bistro costs $32.

But Boulud said his restaurants are not just for the wealthy.

"The advantage of having six restaurants in New York, and every one is for a different budget, I think I can afford sometimes to take ideas from Daniel and trickle them down into DBGB or DB Bistro,” he said. "But also, I mean, you know, if you can't afford truffle, don't think about eating truffle, that's the main thing."

Daniel Boulud grew up near Lyon, in a region of southeast France known worldwide for its food.

His early education came at home on a farm.

"I always enjoy spending time in the house cooking with my grandmother and preparing the meal for the family every day, lunch and dinner. And when I had a little bit of time off and that was my favorite pastime, and I guess that's why I became a chef.”

Boulud worked in some local restaurants, but for a brief moment, he considered another career as a jockey.

"I had a friend who had a lot of racing horse in the local track and she said maybe you should try and when I learned that I had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to clean the horses, I said no, that’s not for me.”

Boulud initially went to Denmark but eventually left for America.

He worked for two years in Washington D.C., then arrived in New York with a job at the Westbury Hotel.

"There were the old guard of French restaurateur here and there was this new generation coming in, and I think very exciting time in New York."

Boulud was hired at Le Cirque, a coveted, yet demanding job.

"I was living four blocks away and I would take a cab to go home because I couldn't walk at night anymore, I was just exhausted at the end of my day.”

The pace has hardly slowed down.

Boulud lives in an apartment, right above Daniel.

His glass-enclosed office looks directly down into the restaurant’s kitchen.

"It is very hard to compromise and say, ‘Well maybe I should quit this job and do something else so I can really spend more time with my family.’ My choice of being in the restaurant business was my choice number one and has always been my choice number one and so whoever decide to share the life with me and be with me, understands this is my first choice."

Boulud got married for a second time in 2013.

At this point, Daniel Boulud is not just a name, but a brand at the heart of all of his restaurants.

"At the end, it's about me, not only me, but what I believe my restaurants should be and what we believe the strongest association will be."

It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Boulud.

In the mid 2000s, Boulud and his restaurant were accused of discriminating against and failing to promote non-white employees at Daniel.

These types of lawsuits are not uncommon in the restaurant industry.

Boulud fought the charges, but eventually settled out of court.

"We learned to manage maybe better,” he said. “I think, you know, we aren’t responsible for what’s wrong in the system sometimes, but we will adjust."

Boulud's world extends beyond his restaurants. He is co-president of City Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound, elderly New Yorkers.

Boulud is especially passionate about his involvement in Bocuse d'Or, the so-called Olympics of Food, an intense competition held every two years in Lyon featuring chefs from around the world cooking for an audience of devoted foodies.

"They are like gladiators in the ring and there is the fans, there’s 2,000 people or more, 3,000 people watching and every country has a delegation of fans joining the team.”

Boulud is still French to the core, but he chose to pursue his passion here. For thirty years, he has called New York home.

"I almost went back home when I wanted to leave Le Cirque to start my own business, at one point I was thinking of going back to Lyon and do that and my daughter was just born and I thought maybe that would be a good time, but I felt New York was, I couldn't detach myself from New York."

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