French-born chef Daniel Boulud is one of the most acclaimed chef-restaurateurs in the USA. Earlier this month he launched his first European restaurant, Bar Boulud, at London's Mandarin Oriental hotel. He tells Kerstin Kühn how he overcame the challenges of opening a new venture so far from his comfort zone
Caterer You operate numerous restaurants in the USA, Canada and China, but this is your first European venture. Why did you choose London, not Paris, for your first restaurant this side of the Atlantic?
Daniel Boulud I nearly opened a restaurant in Paris about eight years ago. When Francois Pinault acquired Christie's he wanted to open a restaurant at the main building and asked me to run it. But I wasn't structured to do a corporate restaurant at that time and passed on the opportunity, which Jean Georges Vongerichten then took on.
So I missed my chance to come to Paris but have taken this chance to come to London instead, which was offered to me by Mandarin Oriental's corporate director of food and beverage, David Nicholls. I was immediately drawn to London because, like New York, it's a fantastic city for restaurants.
Caterer Were you nervous about opening a restaurant here?
DB There is a difference between me, a French chef who has lived in America for 25 years, and a French chef from France launching a restaurant in London.
I think I have a better understanding of expectations in a city like London because it's compatible with New York. For a chef bringing a restaurant from Paris or Lyon here it is a bit more challenging to understand the market and the culture. London is a very sophisticated city, like New York, so there's no doubt that things here are done to our standard.
Caterer Compared with other restaurants you have set up, how have you found the process of launching Bar Boulud London?
DB Being associated with Mandarin Oriental has definitely made the process easier - if I had opened up independently I would have faced many more operational challenges. The team at Mandarin Oriental has been incredible - not just the management but also the team of engineers and everyone involved - and on the whole it has probably been the easiest new restaurant launch I have done. But now all the work is on me and my team at the restaurant.
Caterer Tell us about the staffing process of the restaurant.
DB I would say about 60% of staff at the restaurant, both back and front of house, have come from the Park and Foliage restaurants at the hotel, which are closing. Then of course we needed more so we brought over a few kids from New York, who are originally from Europe or England.
The staff are very diversified - some of them have a restaurant background and some a hotel background, some are European, some are American. A few are French - I always have to have a little dose of French in my restaurants.
Caterer What has been your impression of the local chefs and waiters?
DB I have found that there is a great discipline here among the kids in the kitchen and I'm very happy with that. The front-of-house team still has to learn our standards of service but we're doing a lot of training and they're all very eager to learn.
Caterer What sort of training programmes have you been running and who oversees the training?
DB We have done a lot of classes with staff over the last few months, teaching them about the menu and our standards of service. They need to know all the important things to put them into co-ordination with each other and they need to understand what we expect from them.
Our director of operations from New York has been here overseeing the training and one of our maître d's from Bar Boulud in New York is coming over for a few weeks to straighten out everyone's performance. He's a young kid from Ecuador who has worked his way up from being a busboy and is going to be the manager at our restaurant in Miami.
He is such a good professional and sometimes that's the biggest reward: to be able to take someone from zero operational background and bring them up to general manager. That's why we do a lot of in-house coaching and we like to farm our staff out across the group rather than pull them in from other places.
Caterer What about kitchen training?
DB We have two corporate chefs and a corporate pastry chef in the business who don't hold assigned positions anywhere but work with all the chefs in the group. We have to have that and it's the fundamental support at the beginning that helps all the chefs and their new teams to get up to scratch.
Caterer How much of a challenge has it been to find the right suppliers?
DB That's always one of the biggest challenges and coming from America to London has made this even more tricky. For instance, in America we get wild halibut from Canada and they're really big, up to 50kg. Over here we have found an inconsistency in getting it wild and we get more farmed halibut, which isn't the same. We haven't found the right farm yet.
Pork was another challenge. We use a breed in America called Berkshire, which you can get in the UK, but over here they are smaller and parts, like the cheeks, are a bit dry. So we had to look around and find the right pork at the right size. We are getting there but it takes time.
Caterer Did you get help from other London chefs?
DB I wrote letters to some of the other chefs, telling them that I was coming to London, and some were very welcoming. For me, when someone comes to New York I say: "Welcome, what can I do for you?" Here I'm not sure that chefs have as much of a relationship in terms of trade and all that. In New York we participate in many things together - such as charities or events - which keeps us very tightly knit and there is no rivalry. Everyone's there to win and it's all for the benefit of the customer.
Caterer Let's talk about the menu at Bar Boulud. What's the restaurant all about?
DB Bar Boulud is first and foremost a bistro and wine bar and there is a big focus on charcuterie - sausages and signature terrines and pâtés - which we make on-site. Every chef knows how to make a terrine or a sausage but when you create a restaurant around this you need to collaborate with a real charcutier and have the proper equipment.
So we have Gilles Verot from Paris, who is wonderful and super talented and has provided us with two full-time charcutiers who oversee the production on-site. In addition to the pâtés and terrines we have a number of different signature sausages: pork, veal, blood and pig's head, and a Thai sausage with spices.
But even though the menu is quite meat-driven, we also have a big seafood offer, lots of salads and classic bistro dishes as well as a range of burgers to reflect our American background.
Caterer How have you priced the menu?
DB The restaurant is about offering value and being casual but at the same time making sure that we are very serious about what we are doing. We have a prix fixe menu at £20 for three courses for lunch and early dinner, which is a bargain. To me the spirit of a bistro wine bar is not to be expensive.
I might be a fancy chef with a big reputation but the challenge for me is to make myself affordable. It's easy to push up prices and make a restaurant exclusive but I want this place to be very lively. I would like to compare it to somewhere like the Wolseley, which is really buzzy and has established a very loyal clientele. Of course people can come here and spend thousands of pounds on wine but they can also come and have a beer and a sausage at the bar and spend less than £20.
Caterer What about the wine list?
DB The wine offer is all about Burgundy and Rhône, which are my two favourite wine regions and where I have the closest relationships with winemakers. They are the most diversified and sophisticated wine regions and from the low end to the high end you can find producers who make their wine affordable and very good and those who make their wine expensive and incredible.
So the wine list is divided into three main sections: Les Découvertes [the discoveries], featuring mainly young, lesser-known winemakers and bottles priced between £15 and £100; Les Classiques [the classics], a list of more traditional, well known winemakers, priced up to £500; and Les Légendes [the legends], featuring the big, expensive winemakers. We also have a very extensive beer list.
Caterer Your flagship restaurant, Daniel, in New York has won a number of accolades recently, most notably its third Michelin star and the James Beard Foundation Award for outstanding restaurant. After nearly 17 years of running Daniel, why the recent flurry of awards and what does the industry recognition mean to you?
DB I don't think you can ever rest on your laurels and we are always working to improve things. We have invested a lot in Daniel over the past 18 months and it has been really great to have had all that hard work recognised. It has given us even more confidence to continue what we're doing.
We also climbed 33 places to number eight in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, which is amazing. What's more is that this makes us the top French restaurant in the world, which for me is even better. In the top 10 there are a lot of chefs who are very avant garde, which I admire very much, but I don't think that this is necessarily a full representation of the world of cooking. So me being in the top 10 means there is also respect for a more classic approach to cooking.
Born in Saint-Pierre de Chandieu in 1955, Boulud spent his formative years training with some of the greatest chefs in France: Roger Vergé, Georges Blanc and Michel Guérard.
He worked in Copenhagen for 18 months before moving to the USA in 1982 as the private chef to the European Commission in Washington, DC. He later relocated to New York where he opened the Polo Lounge at the Westbury Hotel and Le Régence at the Hotel Plaza Athenée for the Forte Group before becoming executive chef at Le Cirque.
In 1993, he opened his flagship restaurant, Daniel on Manhattan's Upper Eastside, which was followed in 2001 by a more casual restaurant, DB Bistro Moderne, and later by Café Boulud, Bar Boulud and, most recently, DBGB Kitchen and Bar.
Today, Boulud runs 12 restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Palm Beach, Vancouver, Beijing and London, with a 13th set to open in Singapore later this year. He also runs the Feast & Fêtes events catering business.
Boulud has written six books.
Ingredients (Serves six)
2tbs extra virgin olive oil
5lb beef shoulder, trimmed of all fat
3 medium onions, sliced
2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp crushed black pepper
4 x 11.2oz bottles Chimay beer, or other Belgian-style beer
2tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup white bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2tbs fresh flat-leaf parsley
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 135°C. Season the beef shoulder on all sides with salt and ground black pepper. In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over high heat, warm the olive oil.
Add the beef to the pot and sear until dark golden brown on all sides - around 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the beef from the pot and reserve.
Add the onions, celery and carrot and cook, stirring, until they turn a deep, caramel colour - about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper.
Add the beer and vinegar and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the Dijon mustard. Return the beef to the pot, add the bread and 2 cups of water, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven.
Braise until the meat is tender, about 3 hours, turning the meat once or twice. If the sauce is too thin or not intensely flavoured enough, ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. Then add it back to the pot. Finally, sprinkle the dish with parsley leaves and serve hot.
BAR BOULUD DESIGN
Developed by renowned US designer Adam Tihany, the interior comprises a modern restaurant inspired by French winemaking culture, featuring dark wooden floors, red leather banquettes and chairs, and photography of various renowned Lyon bistros and brasseries.
Other features include an open kitchen in the main dining room, as well as a zinc-topped bar with a cork panel coating next to a glass-enclosed wine cellar and wine-barrel-inspired lights. "It whispers wine but isn't in your face," explains Tihany.
Divided into three separate areas - a lounge bar, main restaurant and two interconnecting private dining rooms - guests can also watch the chefs at work at the charcuterie bar running along the edge of the open kitchen.
BAR BOULUD FACT SHEET
Opened 6 May
Chef-patron Daniel Boulud
Executive chef Dean Yasharian
Pastry chef Rodolphe Tronc
General manager Stephen Macintosh
Sommelier David Vareille
Designer Adam Tihany Design
Capacity 169 - bar and lounge 48; main dining room 89; private dining 32
Food A full bistro menu, based on seasonal, rustic French cooking. Includes signature dishes such as truffled white sausage, grilled Atlantic sea bass, braised rabbit ragoût and coq au vin as well as a selection of terrines and pâtés made on site under the direction of acclaimed charcutier Gilles Verot
Address 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA
Telephone 020 7201 3849
BAR BOULUD UK SUPPLIERS
Chamberlain & Thelwell (seafood) Billingsgate Market
London E14 5ST
Tel: 020 7537 3412
Finclass (meat) 35 East Market Building
London Central Markets
London EC1A 9PQ
Tel: 020 7329 4779
H Forman & Son (smoked fish)
Stour Road, Fish Island
London E3 2NT
Tel: 0208 5252 399
Watts Farm (veg)
Lone Barn Farm, East Hall Road, Orpington
Kent BR5 4EZ
Tel: 01689 877 175
Wild Harvest (veg)
Fruit & Vegetable Market
London SW8 5HH
Tel: 020 7498 5397