Ask the Living Luxe team to name a first-class, Michelin-Starred chef and restaurateur who has an unparalleled passion for all things French cuisine and fine dining, and one culinary genius instantly comes to mind: Chef Daniel Boulud. When we chose to feature the famous gourmand — known for his exquisite menus and business savvy — on the cover of our annual Kitchen & Bath special, we couldn’t wait to learn about his past, his food and the impact he’s made on the restaurant industry. Here’s what lifestyle editor Jeanne Beker discovered about the chef extraordinaire. If we do say so ourselves, his story c’est délicieux.

By Jeanne Beker


Great culinary experiences are often so sensually profound that they stay with us forever — like the time Daniel Boulud was about six or seven while on vacation with his parents in Brittany, France. They took him to a fancy restaurant where they ordered a giant platter of fruits de mer, or seafood. “It was the most magical moment,” the world-famous French chef fondly recalls. “The service and all the pomp and circumstance… It was just so unique.” Perhaps it was that memorable, heady experience that ignited the young Boulud’s dreams of becoming a culinary master. Though he never usually went to fine-dining establishments with his parents, he did grow up on a farm outside of France’s Lyon — a city that boasts some of the world’s best cuisine. His family grew and harvested a lot of their food on their farm and went to the farmers’ market weekly. “There was always an opportunity to follow the seasons and go to the field and forage and harvest,” he happily reminisces. “And we were always entertaining family, friends and neighbours. I don’t know if that’s the reason I chose to become a chef, but I will say that most of my passion for cooking came from growing up around food.”


Today, chef Daniel Boulud’s name is synonymous with the finest French cuisine on the planet, and his empire of myriad tony restaurants in New York, Palm Beach, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Singapore, The Bahamas, the Berkshires and Dubai continue to impress and delight even the most die-hard foodies. At 68, almost four decades after moving to New York, it’s been a life well lived in both kitchens and boardrooms for Boulud: He’s one of those rare individuals who is both an artist and an entrepreneur, though he never had any formal business training. He started out apprenticing at one of Lyon’s best restaurants as a teenager, and while it was a lot of hard work, he claims the mentorship he received was instrumental in nourishing his growth as a restaurateur. Besides his fascination with what it took to create a successful fine-dining establishment, it was Boulud’s intense love of people that inspired him most. “I’ve always learned to please people, and when I started cooking, I felt that I was choosing a profession that really took pleasure at giving pleasure,” he explains. “I not only loved the hospitality aspect, but also the camaraderie, the collective work we did together in the kitchen as a team. I always enjoyed that. Because you know, you can be the greatest chef in the world, but you still need a trained team around you. And there’s always a constant flow of giving and teaching and learning that goes along with that.”


Boulud credits all his mentors with instilling in him a grounded sense of what a great restaurant must encompass to not only survive but thrive. “I had four of the greatest chefs in the world as my mentors, and I think each one had an impact on how I approach the restaurant business,” he says. “It’s all about the art of giving, the art of cooking, the act of welcoming, the art of wine serving. I think I sometimes pay more attention in my restaurants than I pay in my home,” he laughs. “Of course, my home is run in a very organized way because your home is truly your refuge. But a restaurant is the refuge of others, so we have to make sure that the place always feels right.”


” I like to cook with ease. I want to be relaxed when I cook at home. I don’t try to make anything fancy, but I make things delicious and soulful.”


With the constant focus on feeding people in the finest ways in all his diverse establishments, one might think that this prolific chef would simply take a break from kitchen duties during his downtime. But Boulud insists he so adores cooking that he really can’t stay away from it. His secret to happily cooking for his own family is to cook super simply. “I cook with flavour and I make sure that I bring flavour to every step of the preparation, whether it’s seasoning, roasting, steaming, grilling or basting,” he tells me. “And the vegetables, the herbs, the spices, the sauces — whatever will bring flavour to the preparation, whether it’s a humble chicken or a nice fish. I like to cook with ease. I want to be relaxed when I cook at home. I don’t try to make anything fancy, but I make things delicious and soulful. That’s what I grew up with.” For this gourmand, soul food has to do with the essence of his native cuisine, and what it is to prepare food with love. How does he explain the continuing appeal of authentic French food, even though we’ve all been exposed to so many styles of cooking by now? “French cuisine can live with you forever,” he opines. “Some cuisine can entertain you on occasion. Some cuisine can be interesting to discover, but not always adapts to your diet or your lifestyle. I think French cuisine encompasses all elements of cooking. But that doesn’t mean that French cuisine is the only cuisine one should have.” And since one cannot — and should not — live on French cuisine alone, Boulud boasts a wonderful sushi restaurant that’s part of his New York empire: Joji. Another refreshing fact about the chef is that he’s adamant about taking the snobbery out of fine dining. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Peruvian, Italian, French, Spanish. I just love good cuisine, but good cuisine doesn’t necessarily mean fancy cuisine,” he insists. “It’s just delicious, soulful food, and it tells a good story. I think when I cook French, I feel that I need to relate to the food in a way; it either takes me back somewhere or I’m inspired by a recipe that I have either learned or have heard of, or one that I am searching for.”


What seems to intrigue Boulud the most these days, and what keeps him in the fine French dining game, is the 300-year history of French cooking, and the fact that some of the greatest chefs over the centuries have reinvented it. “I think French cooking is always in a state of reinvention and yet, French cooking is always trying to go deep in its roots,” he muses. “What’s unique about this cuisine compared to all the other cuisines is that it runs the gamut from three-star fine dining to cuisine bourgeoise to cuisine regionale to bistro cuisine to brasserie cuisine. We even have the kind of cuisine that you eat at home at festive times. We have classic cuisine and modern cuisine. And French cuisine loves to adapt ingredients from other cuisines.”


Boulud also appreciates that French cuisine, first and foremost, was created to go with different wines, to create the perfect pairings. “Sometimes the dish exists and we have to find the right wine to go with it,” he notes. I’m personally impressed by the sense of courage and confidence that truly great chefs always demonstrate in the kitchen, so I ask Boulud if he considers himself to be adventurous and brave. “Oh, yeah!” he shoots back. “I would not be in North America if it wasn’t for that. I could have ended up just where I started cooking. But one thing my mentor chef told me is that I was choosing a wonderful profession that could take me anywhere around the world. It doesn’t matter where you are: You can always cook and show people your talent. And you will always be interested in the community because you are part of something new.”


Boulud says every time a new chef comes to town, you can see the community welcoming and supporting their talent, no matter where they’re from. And that, to him, is very heartening. It reminds him of how wholeheartedly he was embraced by New York City, when he first moved there all those years ago, and how wonderfully Canadians have embraced him as well. Boulud’s wildly successful Café Boulud at Toronto’s posh Four Seasons Hotel is proof positive. And these days, he’s especially proud of chef de cuisine Colin Henderson, who rose through the ranks at the hotel, and is now doing a great job running the restaurant. “I think for us, what we really enjoy is to be able to mentor and to promote,” explains Boulud. “Colin had the chance to be mentored well and to be promoted, so he really grew into his position. He knows the hotel and restaurant very well, but he also really knows the cooking. I want every chef to be. able to integrate their creativity and knowledge into our creativity and knowledge. His contribution may not represent the entire menu or the entire direction, but it’s part of it. And I think that’s what’s very important, that the program — or menu — is created together.”


It’s that feeling of teamwork that the affable Boulud particularly savours, and he stresses that it’s a team effort based on trust and collaboration that contributes to the success of his 20 restaurants. Chef Colin Henderson, for example, has full responsibility in his role at Café Boulud — for everything from food to finances. “He must cook responsibly and buy food responsibly. He must prepare food responsibly and mentor responsibly. There are a lot of things that make a great chef. It’s not just what you have on the plate,” states Boulud. “Too many restaurants have closed because they don’t understand the importance of the business. And financially, they cannot sustain the cooking. Cooking is definitely a beautiful thing, but it’s not a fantasy. It’s a harsh reality when it comes to financially succeeding and financially surviving.”


As hard-nosed a businessman as Boulud can be, he has an extremely soft spot in his heart when it comes to helping the less fortunate, and his charitable work has become legendary. Over the last 25 years, with his Sunday Supper gala fundraisers at his beloved namesake restaurant “Daniel,” Boulud has helped raise $23 million for the “Citymeals on Wheels” program, of which he’s co-president. And he did a beautiful thing during the height of the pandemic, which was such a horrible time for so many restaurant owners: He, in partnership with SL Green, initiated a charity called Food First, where he and his staff served meals to hospital workers and other frontline responders. “From the time I was a young apprentice, we always helped the less fortunate,” he says. “We made sure they had people to count on, to make sure they were okay. I think charity has always been a big part of my life.”


Inspiring future generations to appreciate fine dining is also of utmost importance to the chef. Maybe it’s the sweet memory of his own fine-dining experience as a child, but, contrary to what some might think, he believes that children should be exposed to fancy restaurants by the time they’re about six or seven years old. “The best thing you can do for your children is to take them to a place they have never seen. Take them to a place that will make them think about the experience for life,” he advises, enthused by the notion of educating children about food. “In all our restaurants, we enjoy having children. And we always make sure that the children are happier than the parents. We show them the kitchen, we take pictures with them. We want them to feel entertained and that we value their presence.”


There’s no question that chef Boulud’s culinary talents are only exceeded by the generosity of his spirit. What would he like to be remembered for? “I think I’d like to be known as a good man who’s done wonderful things for my profession and for people,” he reflects. “And also, for mentoring and hiring and giving and living the life. I think I have a certain joy in me, but I also want to be remembered for the places I’ve created that have touched people’s lives. I just hope I can continue to grow and bring continued excitement to others.”


” There are a lot of things that make a great chef. It’s not just what you have on the plate.”