This week, co-host Devina Divecha is joined by Chef Daniel Boulud at Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk to talk about what makes French cuisine timeless, and why he loves training the next generation of chefs. Chef Boulud’s company, The Dinex Group, currently operates fifteen restaurants across New York, Miami, Toronto, Dubai and Singapore; of which Daniel, their two Michelin star restaurant in New York, celebrates 30 years this year.

Nourish by Spinneys: Chef Daniel Boulud
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[00:00 - 00:22] Welcome to Nourish by Spinneys, the podcast which promises to inspire you to eat well and live well. I'm Devina Divecha. And I'm Tiffany Eslick. Welcome to a space where we hope to nourish your heart and soul. On the show, we chat with leading players in the food community from farmers to foodies,

[00:22 - 00:49] as well as health and well-being experts. It's all about engaging conversations and fresh ideas. I'm excited to be chatting today with Chef Daniel Boulud. So what was he like in person? Oh, he was really nice. We were grabbing something to eat in the business lounge and he came to chat with us for a bit in his very white chef jacket and equally white sneakers. You know, there was a time a decade or so ago when we saw so many, let's call them international

[00:49 - 01:09] chefs who opened variations of their award-winning or Michelin star restaurants in Dubai. And you know, some of those worked. Chef Vineet's Indigo always comes to mind. Well, others didn't quite take off. So it's interesting that he seems to have waited and only opened Brazzerie Boulud in 2020. Yeah, you're right. But he did share that he was considering opening a restaurant in

[01:09 - 01:32] Dubai in the early 2000s. But the global financial crisis and then other openings across the world just took that off his plate. Oh, interesting. Yeah, but he's been very happy with the response to the Brazzerie since they opened. And it has also earned a spot in the first Michelin Bib Gourmand in Dubai, which noted its interiors and menu as classics. And you were able to enjoy a meal there as well. Tell me about that.

[01:32 - 01:57] Actually, why don't we reserve that for after the interview? Hello, Chef Daniel, how are you? Hello. Thank you very much for having me. Yeah, no, thank you for being here. No, I appreciate it. You know, it's great to have you back in Dubai, you know, to visit your restaurant and also see, I guess, what's happening in the city. So what do you think about the dining scene over here in Dubai or even like

[01:57 - 02:26] the wider region? You know, what are your thoughts on it? I mean, of course, we always hear from the big cities what's happening everywhere. And I think Dubai is really resonating quite far now, and especially since Michelin came to the city and also Gouy Mio is here. So I think it brings recognition to many restaurants and

[02:26 - 02:49] talent here. And of course, there is the local scene, also the local restaurant. I mean, while I was here, I wanted to go to a sort of a local restaurant. I went to Alcana. Oh, yeah. Alcana, which is maybe not Emirati food, but it's Middle Eastern food. And so that was

[02:49 - 03:17] pleasant. That was very good. Far away from the crazy scene of some restaurants. Yeah, the bright, shiny lights. This is more casual. No DJ, no loud music. But delicious food. I mean, you know, I love lamb neck, that fall of the bones, beautifully balanced with spice and all that. So for me, that kind of food,

[03:17 - 03:39] almost like homey and soulful. That's what I love. Oh, no, that's so nice to hear. Because there's obviously a lot of that over here in this market as well. Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to do the souk and see if they had also a food stand there a lot. So I might try that this afternoon. We'll see. I'm glad you mentioned the awards as well, because, you know, they announced the world's

[03:39 - 04:01] 50 best list for Mina. And again, there's a lot of restaurants, you know, that have been awarded across the Middle East region as a whole, but also in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And I think for me, I'd like to ask you about this, what was really nice to see a lot of homegrown restaurants make it on that list. Have you tried any of those? Or do you want to?

[04:01 - 04:23] I didn't have a chance to try, but I know that there is an incredible talent here in this town, you know, that represent, I think, Dubai very well in terms of creativity, in terms of ethnicity and quality, of course. Yeah. And I think, you know, you've been here and you've also attended the Taste Festival

[04:23 - 04:46] as well. You know, do you think things like this, you know, why are they important for the dining community or the dining scene here? Well, I mean, the Taste of Dubai, I think it's a wonderful event. It's big, it's crowded, it's popular, but at the same time, it shows the vitality around food and around how much

[04:46 - 05:12] people care to sort of have fun around food. And I think the festival is based on that. It's not about trying to show off a total force in culinary execution, but more, I think, having the opportunity to bring a casual offering to the festival. But also, I think Brasserie

[05:12 - 05:38] Boulu here, it's also meant to be sort of a casual place. It's a brasserie and of course, in New York, we have different level of restaurants and Michelin star in New York, Daniel and also Le Pavillon are very different than the Brasserie Boulu here. But we are very proud

[05:38 - 05:58] to have a mention of Bib Gourmand at Brasserie Boulu at the South Hotel because I think that's a recognition for the approach to what we want to do here and the quality we have in the execution. I want to dial it back a little bit, talking about this restaurant here in the hotel. What

[05:58 - 06:23] was it that interested you, I think, to even come over here to Dubai and open your concept? I almost opened something 12 years ago. Oh, right. Or more, 14 years ago. I came, my first visit in Dubai and we looked at doing something and then there was a real sort of meltdown a little bit economically. So we kind of postponed

[06:23 - 06:44] and then got busy doing other things in life and opened in Singapore instead at the time and didn't get a chance to come back to Dubai right away. But we have, you know, South Hotel is a French company and we have great relations with Accor and South Hotel. So when they did

[06:44 - 07:09] the Obelisk South Hotel here with the Raffle Group, we felt that was, they approached us and said, you know, we would love for you to take over the restaurant there. As doing a sort of a French Brasserie that fits with the type of hotel here. Yeah. No, we're glad you're here, of course. Absolutely. So you mentioned a little bit about how it's so important to be kind of approachable and

[07:09 - 07:33] casual as well, you know, in the Brasserie. And I just wanted to ask, like with French cuisine, how have you seen it change in, you know, the years since you became a chef and evolve? French cuisine has always been in motion. There is not a revolution in French cuisine, but there is a constant evolution. And I think some country have a revolution in their cuisine

[07:33 - 08:01] because it really goes from the most sort of classic and creative to very creative and very sort of avant-garde almost. As long as I've been a chef, I've always been fascinated by the evolution of French cuisine. I think French cuisine adapts itself to anywhere and

[08:01 - 08:28] we try to find the local ingredient. We try to look at a certain seasonality, but you know, Dubai has maybe less seasonality than Paris for sure. But at least there is also the source of the ingredient, the quality of the ingredient, the traditional technique, and then the interpretation of that and the creativity and the evolution within. So I

[08:28 - 08:50] would say that the array of French cuisine is very wide and very deep right now. And I think Dubai has a lot of representation of that. Yes, indeed it does. And where do you kind of, I know you said it's constantly evolving, which is amazing. What trend do you see or where do you see it go from here? What's next

[08:50 - 09:11] for French cuisine? I think French cuisine is not a trendy cuisine. Just like the Italian cuisine. It's not trendy, but everybody loves it. Being a trendy cuisine, it means that it fits the time, but would

[09:11 - 09:34] it last the time? And I think I never felt that French cuisine was trendy, but French cuisine is adaptable. And I think it's affordable when it comes to what it is for the quality of what it is. And also it can be very soulful or it can be, you know, we have a lot of regions

[09:34 - 09:58] in France that define a lot of style of preparation and cuisine. And I think that's a great source of inspiration. And today, I mean, you see in Paris, there's Japanese chef who cook French, there's French chef who cook Japanese, and there is this fusion of talent and cuisine

[09:58 - 10:26] that go together. I mean, in New York, I have seven restaurants and I think seven of them give a different offering of French cuisine. One is more of a wine bar and bistro. The other one is all on Mediterranean cuisine. So there is a lot of Middle Eastern flavor at Boulusud and at Bar Boulus it's more of a Lyonnais wine bar with Burgundy, Rhone and

[10:26 - 10:47] all that region, that rich region. And then Le Pavillon, for example, we opened Le Pavillon a year and a half ago and it's a 50% vegetarian, no, I would say no, 50% seafood, 40% vegetarian and 10% meat on the menu. And that's the balance. And I've always cooked vegetarian. When I

[10:47 - 11:09] opened Café Boulud 25 years ago, I had an entire vegetarian menu on my menu. There was a different menu. One of them was Le Voyage and Le Voyage was all the cuisine except French cuisine. And Le Potager was vegetarian. La Saison was about the season and La Tradition

[11:09 - 11:32] was about the classic French. And this had always been my four muses as being a French chef in New York. I always adapted to aspirations that really talked to me. And we just opened a new restaurant, Joji, a Japanese omakase, superb, 10 seats, exceptional. And I'm not

[11:32 - 11:53] doing the sushi, I'm not the chef, but we do work in collaboration. We manage that place and we have exceptional chef for that. And so there is a wide spectrum of what I love about French cuisine and I keep expressing myself through it. I have so many questions now.

[11:53 - 12:19] All of my questions right after this short break. Stay with us. Welcome back. I'm Devina Divecha and you're listening to Nourish by Spinneys and my conversation with Chef Daniel Boulud. Is there a favorite part of France for you when it comes to the

[12:19 - 12:46] type of cuisine you enjoy? Because like you said, it's so different across the different regions of the country. Do you have a favorite? Well, like we say in France, you do the tour de France, which means then as a young chef, you travel through France and work in different regions. So I worked in Provence for quite a while and really love that cuisine and resonate with Mediterranean cuisine, of course. And

[12:46 - 13:08] that's when I was inspired also to create Boulud that really borrow all the DNA of Provence, but also the coast of Spain and Italy and North Africa and even Eastern Mediterranean with Turkey and Lebanon and Greece, of course. And so there is all this blend of flavor that

[13:08 - 13:34] live well together. And I lived also in the southwest of France, the Pays Basques. And there, there was very different style of cuisine as well, where you had a combination of terre mère, where you really felt like the ocean and the land blend well together into many different recipes and also a little bit more spiciness, a little bit more character that

[13:34 - 13:56] is unique to that region. And of course, I traveled in every one of the region of France from Burgundy to Alsace to Normandy to Brittany to the region of Bordeaux. And of course, my region, Lyon, and the region of Lyon. And so all that is a source of inspiration. But

[13:56 - 14:23] French cuisine is not, it's made of many different type of cuisine and there is the fine dining, gastronomique. And that has amazing history as well. When you go back to Carême in the 1800s and you go back to the 1700s even, where there were chef of kings and tsars. And the

[14:23 - 14:48] source of reading now and information about French cuisine is such an incredible sort of treasure that we keep feeding ourselves with. And I mean, for me, at least I love it. And sometime, you can read 20, 50 recipes that you enjoy reading it and one of them

[14:48 - 15:12] sparkles an idea and say, oh, that's cool. I like to do that again or reinvent that. Yes. Is that kind of what inspires you when you're creating a dish or you're cooking kind of inspiration? Well, there's one of these, one of that ideas. But I mean, what inspired me, I think first and foremost is ingredient, how to create combination of flavor and texture. But then

[15:12 - 15:33] after making sure that, you know, the seasoning is balanced, that the food goes well with wine and that's why you will never find something very spicy or something too acidic or because that will conflict with enjoying a great wine with it. But now the inspiration come also

[15:33 - 15:54] the seasons in New York, except Singapore and Dubai and maybe Miami or Bahamas, which is at least three or four places that the season are more challenging. I have also a restaurant in Palm Beach. So those five are more into the tropics. And so there we adapt

[15:54 - 16:16] a cuisine that also blend with some local ingredient and local lifestyle, I would say. And then in New York, we have a much more, a bigger influence on the season. So of course, all that resonate with how you feel and what is coming into the season, the market and

[16:16 - 16:38] things that are sometime very short lived. We have them only for months. So how have you adapted then that to the restaurant you have here in Dubai, for example? Are there any examples of kind of marrying it with local ingredients? Yeah, I mean, we have a lot of local seafood here and vegetables that we are able to source.

[16:38 - 17:06] And of course, we supplement that like every other restaurant with what the European market bring here, what the maybe Australian market bring here and what the Asian market bring here. And also, I mean, the Middle Eastern market, all these sort of food market, food supply together help us decide what we like to do.

[17:06 - 17:31] You've mentioned ingredients a few times, which is great to hear. And I kind of want to move into, I suppose, a sort of related topic around sustainability. What does that mean for you in F&B? And how do you practice your idea of sustainability in your restaurants across the world? I grew up on the farm. I was a farm boy. My parents had a very active farm where we were

[17:31 - 17:54] doing our own cheese, we were raising our own goat, chickens. We had cows, we had duck. I mean, you can't imagine how much things was happening. And my father was doing farmer's market every Saturday. And you really understand, you live on sustainability because that's

[17:54 - 18:17] the only way you can make a farm function. It's all on sustainability. And does it always translate to what I do and the profession I choose? No, but it does a lot. There's a lot of things that resonate with how I grew up and I care about things and how I feel

[18:17 - 18:44] responsible about things. We are all very, very engaged in New York, for example, which is a city like Dubai, who need people responsible to help have a better understanding and a better action toward sustainability. And in New York, it's incredible now the amount

[18:44 - 19:08] of local farmers, of local fishermen, farmers, and growers that are able to supply us. We take a lot of pride at supporting them, even if it's more expensive sometimes. But it's, I think, part of our responsibility. And of course, water, for example, we use a system

[19:08 - 19:36] to filter and we have a company called Nordak. So we really use the local water and it is revitalized in a way that it is as good as a source water. But you know, if you cook with olive oil and you live in New York, there's no olive tree there. So you got to bring your olive oil. It's easier to get local or at least sourcing within the radius. And I think

[19:36 - 19:59] the important thing is how responsible you are with your radius and what is a good radius. I mean, of course, if you live in the middle of the desert, you're going to have to expand that radius. If you live in a place that already has a lot locally, I think it helps. Yeah, no, for sure. And I think one of the, I guess, conversations around this is also

[19:59 - 20:21] related to people. You know, you've had an amazing career and so many people have come to your restaurants. Can you just share a little bit about your thoughts on, I guess, training the next generation of chefs? How's that going? Well, I've always been concerned about training. I have trained thousands of chefs. Actually,

[20:21 - 20:42] yesterday again, a young chef came to see me. He just became the chef at Heston Blumenthal, new restaurant here. And he used to work for me 10 years ago or 12 years ago. And it was a nice surprise to see him. This year, restaurant Daniel is celebrating 30 years anniversary.

[20:42 - 21:05] For me, this is the constant passion and energy that I pull out of the business is that there is always this youth and this young chef that are coming and want to learn and are passionate and care and want to understand discipline and want to understand the craft in a way

[21:05 - 21:34] that's going to shape their life. And we are very good at that. I wrote a book called Letters to a Young Chef, and that's, I think, easy to get on Amazon. And this book is about me sitting down with a young chef that is choosing this profession and all the good advice I can give him. And I also asked 10 famous chefs, friends, to give me a letter on subject like

[21:34 - 21:54] discipline, like creativity, like passion, and all the things that resonate with being a chef, cooking, and why you choose that profession. I'm definitely going to check that out. That actually sounds amazing. I may have some books here. I don't know. Besides that, I have a foundation with Thomas

[21:54 - 22:17] Keller and Jérôme Bocuse. And we have created a foundation called Mentor BKB for Bocuse, Keller, Boulud, or vice versa. Whichever order you want to go in. But the foundation is also with a lot of American chefs in the committee. And we raise money

[22:17 - 22:43] to be able to help young chefs, to help young chefs to have grants and travel the world and keep learning from other chefs so they can take three months off and travel and visit other chefs. And we have given hundreds of grants like that over the years. And we continue to be very invested also in education in New York, but in the US, I would say, in general.

[22:43 - 23:04] And we support also the American team to the Bocuse door, which we went to Lyon this January. And so there is a lot of initiative like that. And of course, we go and visit the cooking school and encourage the students. And we have a lot of interns also who come. And right

[23:04 - 23:27] now we have kids coming from all over the world. And there's some wonderful cooking schools here as well. I met a lot of them from the ECCA. Yeah, I know. It's really great to see. And over the last few years, like you say, the schools have come up here and I've been in a few times to that school. And it's just amazing to see so many people wanting to learn and wanting to do more. I also wanted to ask,

[23:27 - 23:49] I guess, what are you working on now? What's keeping you busy? Anything new in this market? There's always new projects. I mean, we are building a restaurant in Los Angeles. We are opening a lounge, an ultra lounge in New York. You can imagine, for example, this entire

[23:49 - 24:14] floor, but on the 55th floor of 1 Vanderbilt, the restaurant where Le Pavillon is. There's going to be an incredible lounge in the middle of New York City. We are also opening a new cafe in a fine store there, but very high-end cafe. And of course, I want to still find

[24:14 - 24:36] time to write a new book. I want to have time to share that with my family as well. I have a young kid. And also, I'm working on a market in two years from now. We are opening a very large market. So it's more counters, counter food.

[24:36 - 24:56] Would that be in New York? A lot of different counters and shopping and all that. Yeah, in New York, on 23rd and Madison. And then a steakhouse in two and a half years. So there's a few projects. There's already at least six projects in line for the next few years. So that's going to keep us busy.

[24:56 - 25:26] It will. I'd like to ask you a question that we ask all our podcast guests. What is it that nourishes your soul? I think it's my team. First, it's my family. It's my family because that's my secret garden. And that's where I spend, you know, I live right above the restaurant. So I'm homework,

[25:26 - 25:50] and then of course, my team is very important for me and what we achieve together and what we do. It don't matter if it's Chef Nicolas here in Dubai and the team here, or if it's in New York or in Toronto or Singapore, but also customer. Customer are incredible. They

[25:50 - 26:16] are very loyal. They travel also, and they support me. But they also, what I love the most I think is the fact that they adopt staff members. It's not just me. It's about the people that work for me and what they do for them. And I think that's a very big compliment.

[26:16 - 26:39] But what nourishes my soul the most often is when I go back home in Lyon and I'm with my parents and we cook together and I have my whole family around and all that. That for me is of course, and then, you know, when I travel, travel is very, very nourishing.

[26:39 - 26:59] It's meeting new people, discovering new tastes and of course, discovering new concepts as well. Yeah. Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for your time. I'm excited to try your food in a few hours. Thank you. Thank you.

[26:59 - 27:21] And I'm excited to cook for you in New York as well. Yes, one day. Very much. Thank you. Thank you, Dubai. I think that answer is fantastic. And he sounds like someone who's pretty zen about everything. I suppose if you have so many things that nourish your soul, your soul is happy all

[27:21 - 27:47] the time. So Spill, tell me about your dinner at Brasserie Boulud. Okay, so let's get into all the food that I had. It was amazing. It started off with a selection of these dainty and moorish canapes and then salmon and truffle, which are of course favorites here in Dubai. The main was this pan-seared beef tenderloin with braised short rib and it really was melt in your mouth. And of course, because it's a French brasserie,

[27:47 - 28:10] I absolutely love the bread. I love that bread too. And actually, I think you can judge a restaurant on bread and Brasserie Boulud has the best baguettes in town. Yeah. And then just pairing that, the bread and the butter, it was perfection. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Nourish, which was brought to you by Spinneys and hosted by me, Devina Divecha and Tiffany Eslick. We're produced by Chirag Desai and

[28:10 - 28:26] artwork is by Michelle Clements and Jehan Youssef. You can follow Spinneys on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok for more and visit us at where you can shop for fresh produce and a variety of local and exclusive products. We'll be back in two weeks with our next episode. Talk to you then.

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