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NEW YORK — The city that never sleeps owes its high-flying rep to New Yorkers like Daniel Boulud, who arrived some 20 years ago and has hardly put head to pillow since. As the Lyonaise culinary force behind Daniel, Cafe Boulud and db Bistro Moderne, the chef’s gift for gastronomie has led to fame and fortune. But for every four-star review, every bowled-over foodie, Boulud has paid the price with his free time, spending his mornings prowling the Meatpacking District, sifting through clams or bagging sugar snap peas at the market and preforming nightly miracles in the kitchen.
With a montage of photos and recipes, an essay by Peter Kaminsky and bons mots served up by the man himself, “Chef Daniel Boulud: Cooking in New York City,” released this week by Assouline, chronicles a very busy day in the life of the chef as he shuttles among his three kitchens. At 6 a.m., bakers mix the bread dough as a special delivery of milk-fed chickens from Pennsylvania arrives at Daniel. The florist drops by with bursting pink peonies. Boulud dashes off to F. Rozzo & Sons to inspect the fish, then prepares a special lunch for wine guru Robert Parker at Cafe Boulud. And on and on, through the dinner service, ending — 35 pounds of butter, 103 glasses of wine and 17 hours later — at 1 a.m. when Boulud and members of his staff wind down at Sushi Hatsu with a late-night snack.
“We actually did all the shooting in two days,” he says. “But we wanted to capture the idea of everyday activity in the restaurants. It’s behind the scenes, a movie of a good New York day.”
Of course, in its glossy pictorial form, Boulud’s day is also a little more glamorous than the real thing. “All the meetings and all the time I waste in the office, that’s part of our life,” says the chef. “I wish I could just walk into the kitchen and forget all the rest. I get tangled into all that stuff, but that’s not in the book.”
Instead, Boulud fills in the blanks with 75 recipes, including one for an elaborate stuffed saddle of lamb with chanterelles, swiss chard, pine nuts and tomato confit from the famed eight-course tasting menu at Daniel, as well as recipes for staff treats like pozole, a pig’s head soup that is eaten for lunch.
It’s not the only secret Boulud imparts. In the index, he gives up the phone numbers for his local sources for everything from sel rose to truffles to artisanal goat cheese. He offers a recipe for the Hulla-Boulud martini and waxes nostalgic about meeting one of his sous chefs some years back.
But Boulud’s new book is really an ode to the raucous kitchens, with salsa music playing in one area and Led Zeppelin in another, where his creations come to life. After all, while Daniel customers swoon for Boulud’s asparagus, as it’s served with roasted halibut tail, Boulud prefers a more timeless preparation.
“The best is just grabbing an asparagus with your fingers and dipping it in the sauce,” he says. “That’s the great thing about being in the kitchen. Nobody cares.”