On March 31st, the James Beard House debuted the JBF Kitchen Cam, livestreaming the frenetic kitchen preparations behind Dinner with Daniel, which celebrated the legendary French chef’s newest cookbook, DANIEL: My French Cuisine. As Boulud and his team put together several intricate courses in the tiny kitchen of the James Beard House, Daniel let me pester him with a few questions:
Tell me about how you came up with tonight’s menu.
The menu today is in celebration of my cookbook, DANIEL: My French Cuisine, and so it’s mostly dishes from the cookbook I wanted to highlight. The cookbook was representing a year at Daniel, so we chose some dishes that were within season right now.
Is this the first time that a high-end kitchen is being featured live on camera?
You know, maybe 12 years ago, I had a camera like this at Daniel, and people could go between seven and nine p.m. to see the live feed of the kitchen at Daniel. I killed the idea after about a week. Here it’s perfect in the Beard House, but in a restaurant with service and all that, it can get a little hectic.
Is there anyone you still find intimidating to cook for?
There are plenty of people that still make me nervous to cook for. It’s not anxiety, but certainly the awareness that it’s for so and so, and that they might be judging you. But usually I get my share of people being nervous to cook for me, so I kind of feel even on this one.
So it evens out for you.
When I was tracking #JBFChat on Twitter I saw that you mentioned your grandma Francine and that you learned to love cooking from her. What are some of the things she taught you?
Not only did she cook everything we grew, but everything we raised, everything we killed, and everything we transformed. She was in charge of the cheese making and certain activities in the house, but mostly the cooking.
Did you ever cook for her?
No, because I was not asked to make my own recipes. I was asked to help, but I was young. I left home when I was 14. But when I was about 16 and a half, I cooked for my entire family and our neighbors. We were about 40 people and we had a big celebration in the house, on the patio. I cooked for our friends and family and neighborhood, and it was, I think the most nervous moment I ever had in my life because that was the first time that I was cooking the food I had learned to make from the restaurant where I was working. I was also improvising a little bit because we didn’t have the same equipment in the house.
I learned from your cookbook that you don’t like bananas.
No. But the pastry chef has total freedom to use banana if he likes.
Do you think there’s any way you'll try bananas again, or are you just not interested?
If I’m on a deserted island and I have to eat bananas only, I’ll eat bananas. I think I could do that.
What’s your favorite kind of mushroom?
Ovoli, I hope you can have some this year. They’re very hard to get, very rare, but they’re delicious. They are from Italy and France, mostly northern Italy.
Finally, how did you know that Aaron Bludorn was the right person for your new executive chef at Café Boulud? (On Friday, March 28th, Café Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen announced that he was leaving his position of executive chef to open his own restaurant in his hometown of Minneapolis.)
We had been working on the transition with Gavin for quite a while, so it was just a question of when he was ready to leave. Aaron has been working the kitchen with Gavin for a long time as the chef de cuisine already, so he’s going to have some more responsibilities. He’s been with me for six years and he knows me.