25 March 1955 |
|Cooking style||French cuisine|
I've discovered the burger is a crazy thing in Vegas, but I was one of the early chefs to do a lot of burgers.
I have real admiration for chefs who can maintain an edge and find new inspiration in their cooking after many years.
For me, the food I like to make is the food I can enjoy all the time anytime. It's not too calculated or technical.
I think in France, for example, we can say whatever we want about the French, but going out and dining is more about the intellectual moment to share with the people you dine with than trying to figure out what the chef did with that little piece of salmon or lobster and all that.
I actually don't think there is any difference between French and American cuisine. French cuisine was always about discipline, about ingredient, about creativity, but also about simple. I see America as very similar in these rights.
I think fine dining should be part of the community where it is, more than just for the people who are going to make a special occasion.
In any sauce you make, start with a concentration of flavors with great acidity. You then re-dilute the sauce, but the proportion of liquid you add should not be so high that you wash away the extracted flavor you're aiming to create.
I am very concerned about nutrition and always try to be careful about what I eat.
Sauce is certainly ancestral to French cooking. The technique is very tricky, but it's also very fundamental.
If you're on a budget, Sweetgreen is a new chain of salad bars that are very good but inexpensive. You choose from a menu or customise your own, with some protein, a healthy salad and a great dressing.
I think Spain will always remain inspirational, and I think French cuisine will continue to be very French and yet very relevant with its time and keep evolving. But the last thing you want for it is to become too trendy and confusing. It has too much history.
25 years ago, when I started in New York, I had the pleasure to cook for Andy Warhol. At the time, I could have traded art for food – I should have done so, because I could get his work for nothing!
I try to come to Asia twice a year. I also go to Europe – to London as well as to France to see my family – four or five times a year.
For me, 30 days, it's already pretty good for ribeye or sirloin on the bone. I like my meat grass-fed and juicy. The French never age their meat more than two or three weeks.
The problem is that there is many great chefs and many great cookbooks, but none of them work at home.
Every time – well, not every time, but in celebration of a great review or a great accolade, I take the team of Daniel to Katz's Deli for lunch. We take the trip on the subway, we were like 40 or 50 people, and we go in the back room and have a pastrami sandwich.
From Japan to Thailand, I keep discovering amazing talent, cuisine and food markets.
I try to pack light with a folding leather suit bag. Anything more than five days, I need to check in my luggage. What takes the most space? Chef jackets, aprons and tools.
No one knows restaurants like a New Yorker – they're incredibly discerning and restaurant savvy.
I've always loved it in Las Vegas, and it is the only city in the world that brings so many different talented people from so many places.
In the springtime, we have softshell crab from Maryland, which I'd never had until I came to America. In the summer and early fall, we have striped bass, 'stripeys,' which come all the way up the Hudson River but mostly gather in the sound at the tip of Long Island, off Montauk.
I never go to Vancouver without stopping by Thomas Haas' shop for the best chocolate in North America. A former chef patissier at Daniel, he returned to his hometown and created a top quality brand by sticking to his passion.
If you're in a major city, there's a 25-year cycle. In Vegas, it's probably 10 or 15 years, except for those landmark places like Spago or Nobu. In Vegas, you have to reinvent yourself once in a while.
I love to create, and to me, the ultimate freedom of expression is a blank canvas or a block of clay to capture whatever emotions your imagination gives it.
I am very proud of Jim Leiken. He has worked with me for six years and has been patient enough to learn the ropes. He's now matured into a true chef and is working on building his team.
When France was the only reference for chefs to learn, you could go everywhere in the world, and they would copy dishes directly because they didn't have much expanded imagination or technique or knowledge.
I love Italian food; it's soulful like French food. Italian food is original and homey; it's market-driven, but also can be locally sourced.
I think at Le Cirque I learned how to make real food, which is what people crave, not just gimmicky things on a plate.
That's what's interesting about the Lower East Side: It's New York, but it's also edgy. It's not as stuffy as Tribeca or Soho.
I had a lot of fun creating some restaurants with a casual note to it, such as DBGB, for example, where it was about bangers and beers, being a very casual brasserie with very affordable food but very interesting homemade program.
If you aren't born here, to be a real New Yorker, you have to bring your talent, be a successful mentor, and support the New Yorkers who made the city by giving back.
The hardest thing for a chef is to become comfortable with what you do. Not to be too neurotic and worried with what you are doing and how wrong or right you are.
A lot of chefs don't have a natural sense of economy. I was with one guy the other day, and I had to show him how to peel a turnip, because the way he was peeling turnips, he was throwing half of it in the garbage. It's not about being cheap. It's about being proper.
It's not good to thicken sauce with too much butter because it can cause heaviness. You don't want to avoid butter, but you also don't want to put too much – add it slowly.
As a child growing up, it's going to be what you're going to remember most. What you liked or not liked then is going to define who you are at the table!
I appreciate the constant evolution in refining food, but not in making food gimmicky.
For me, good service is efficient and discreet; it's that critical balance. As soon as the client sits down, the communication flow has to start. Customers need to feel that the waiters are supervised – that there's a system in place.
There was no Internet, not even many cookbooks except the old reference books. So we would sit down at night, a group of six chefs, and we'd exchange recipes and each talk about how we were doing things. It was the only way to learn new ideas.
I think there are a lot of chefs in D.C. who have made D.C. what it is today. I am very respectful to them. I'm very admiring of what they've done.
Balthazar has a great New York vibe with the accent of a Parisian brasserie. I usually have the corned beef hash with a fried egg on top and wash it all down with Krug Champagne.
I was 25 years old when I arrived in D.C. It was just myself and two people who worked and helped me in the kitchen. I was only cooking for three people most of the time.
I always had a lot of fun in America, with much more freedom than if I had tried to cook in France. I wouldn't have the same motivation or inspiration, and I wouldn't have cooked for the same kind of people in France, so it wouldn't have given me this edge I had in America.
A lot of young chefs today get carried away by trends, by influences, by movements.
For me to go casual is not to go simple. To me, it is to be able to bring back the art of tradition and the soul of French food and my interpretation of that.
I enjoy what I do because it keeps evolving – when I was a cook, I wanted to be a chef de partie; when I was a chef de partie, I wanted to be a chef; when I was a chef, I wanted to be a restaurateur, and now I am a chef entrepreneur. I am still fulfilling my dream.
I did all of California from north to south. I did Florida from north to south. I went to the Midwest. I spent time discovering the culture because I thought I was going to stay in America for only two years. Then I decided to come to New York.
I love to make a one-pot meal – think stir-fry but in the French Fricassee. I start with what takes the longest to roast and then add vegetables, fresh herbs, and starch until the meal is complete in one shot.
I have no pretension that I belong in D.C. I mean, I have to be cautious on how we do our restaurant.
The biggest thing is education for young chefs and how they should focus on one cuisine rather than trying to imitate too many. It's like art – you can see the cycles from many past artists and new artists being inspired by past artists.
Something I learned when I was very young: with cooking, it doesn't matter where you are; you can always cook. You can end up in small village in Peru where somebody's cooking, take a spoon and taste it, and you might not be too sure what you're eating, but you can taste the soul in the food. That's what is beautiful with food.
In Singapore, there is this life and locals and restaurants and then big casinos and an array of chefs, and even Miami is almost close to Vegas when it comes to an amazing presentation of chefs. But they don't have these massive hotels that have become their own culinary villages.
After six years at Le Cirque, I decided to start my own business. I opened Daniel at 76th Street in May '93.
I want to make sure the fine-dining restaurant has a clientele who is local as much as tourists and foodies.
I can't conceive of cooking in a sunny place like Florida because my motivation comes from the changing seasons. That's why I decided to live in New York.
In the Bronx, you have the southern Italians; in Queens, the Greeks, Koreans and Chinese; in Brooklyn, the Jewish community; and in Harlem, the Hispanics – all with their own markets.
New York has an amazing history of farming and fishing that goes right back to the Pilgrim Fathers. At its core are the four seasons, which are distinct, well-established and similar to those in Lyon, where my family lives: when it's snowing in New York, a week later it will be snowing there.
I usually try to eat in my restaurants before I fly, as I'd rather sleep on the plane and just order a salad with cheese, maybe some ice cream.
I think D.C. has always been very, very vibrant for food. Like Boston in a way. Boston and D.C. were really the two cities that were the most active with their local chefs and their local food scene.
I take so much pleasure at seeing customers who are happy: happy with what they eat, but happy with their friends and sharing a great moment together, and I think that is more important in life than the endless pursuit of perfection.
Le Cirque at first was one of those general French restaurants in town, which were cooking more or less the same food. At Le Cirque, I wanted to do something different while respecting the foundation of the restaurant. I did that through the menu.
When we manage a restaurant, we start making money from the first day. When we own a place, it's often five years before we earn the first penny that is clean of debt.