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Daniel Boulud: Lyonnais chef voted winner of Best Restaurateur 2021 by fellow chefs

New York's French chef Daniel Boulud voted world's best
New York's French chef Daniel Boulud voted world's best   -   Copyright  ED JONES/AFP
By Jez Fielder  with AFP

He calls himself "the most French" of the great New York chefs: meet Daniel Boulud.

The 66-year-old Lyonnais, who arrived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1982 and never left, is now a bone fide celebrity in North America.

At the helm of his restaurant "Daniel", his flagship with two Michelin stars (the third was lost in 2010), he was voted Monday by his 184 peers from 25 countries "best restaurateur 2021", according to the French association Les Grandes Tables du Monde.

Another reward for Daniel Boulud's small empire of gastronomy which, by his own admission, is worth $100 million thanks to some twenty establishments - almost all of them bearing his name - in the United States, Canada, London, Dubai and Singapore.

This umpteenth prize is for the restaurateur a "professional consecration and truly a sign of friendship and support from (his) colleagues", in an environment deemed to be very harsh in terms of competition and pressure.

Still in the same place

He has been on Manhattan's 65th Street, between the very chic Park and Madison avenues, since 1998. His hundred employees get their acts together six evenings a week to serve 150 covers in a beautiful New York building with an interior redolent of art deco and Venetian palaces.

ED JONES/AFP
French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud works poses for a photo at the bar of his restaurant 'Daniel', in Manhattan, New York city on November 19, 2021ED JONES/AFP

Like all New Yorkers, Daniel Boulud suffered during the COVID-19 epidemic which killed at least 34,000 people in a city brought to its knees in 2020.

Some of his establishments have been closed but "Daniel" has maintained a terrace of sheds on the pavement "with heating in the winter and air conditioning and music in the summer" for a few die-hards.

New York as a cultural mosaic

Emerging from the pandemic, Daniel Boulud thinks that New York will remain "one of the five most attractive cities in the world" with always a prominent place in French gastronomy. The economic and cultural capital of the United States, an incredible cultural mosaic of 8.5 million inhabitants with enormous social inequalities, counts, according to the Consulate General of France, 183 French restaurateurs.

"In love" with New York, now American, Daniel Boulud still boasts of being "the most French of all French chefs in the United States" thanks to a "cuisine which has its French references" but which "never stops to innovate ".

French fusion?

Pheasant terrine sprinkled with sumac, venison topped with beetroot sauce, the chef practices classic French cuisine (...), but with many American products, seasonings, techniques and compositions "borrowed from Asia, Latin America, the Middle East.

With its pan-fried foie gras, "it feels like the Périgord and yet we are in New York (...) a very multicultural world", he enthuses.

The price of "luxury" and an "exceptional dinner"? About $300 (€267) per person with wine and service, according to the restaurateur.

"Customers want to have fun, they spend on wines, they go out a lot. We find them with a regularity and loyalty that reassure us," says Daniel Boulud, who is now counting on the return of visitors from Asia and the rest of the world.

By rewarding him, the association Les Grandes Tables du Monde hailed the man who "for many North Americans embodies French gastronomy, even gastronomy at all". His peers also see him as "a wise and conscientious businessman".

In fact, this boss, who congratulates himself on not having "debts", opened in May an ultra fashionable and a little less staid restaurant at the foot of the new One Vanderbilt skyscraper, in the heart of Manhattan, the economic lung and global finance.