Chef Daniel Boulud Talks Culinary and Artistic Creativity

The chef on his collaboration with Vik Muniz, and dining with Andy Warhol.

 

When we meet the celebrated chef Daniel Boulud at his restaurant Boulud Sud, in front of Lincoln Center, he is gracious and animated. Known for deconstructing traditional culinary formulas and reimagining them in unique ways, Mr. Boulud sat down with us to discuss his creative impulses both inside and outside of the kitchen. And as it turns out, there is much to be said about the correlation between culinary and artistic creativity.

Of late, the Michelin-starred chef has collaborated with a throng of contemporary artists including Brazilian Vik Muniz and Spaniard Manolo Valdes. His relationship with Muniz has yielded a Wine Stain series at Bar Boulud, a chocolate portrait at esteemed uptown restaurant Daniel, and a Pictures of Pigment series, inspired by French impressionists Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Matisse, hanging at his Upper West Side Mediterranean establishment, Boulud Sud.

His accolades extend beyond that of a decorated chef. Boulud has also established himself as one of the world’s leading restaurateurs. Each of his restaurants, from the eight in New York, to those in Palm Beach, Las Vegas, London, and Singapore, boast a unique aesthetic, all carefully curated by the culinary titan.

It helps that Boulud is no stranger to the art world. Over the years, he has consorted with French artist Jean-Michel Folon as well as American designer Milton Glaser, who once sat down at his table to create an impromptu Crayola-on-napkin-masterpiece. Boulud also spent the early 1980s rubbing shoulders with Andy Warhol, who often dined at restaurant Le Cirque, where he was executive chef. “I didn’t have any money at the time,” he laments, playfully, “so I couldn’t negotiate a deal and say, ‘Hey Andy, can I get my portrait done?’”

Today, his fruitful collaborations with Muniz are far from his only artistic endeavors. Boulud worked with artist Manolo Valdes to redesign Daniel in 2008, with the artist creating a Las Meninas-themed collage series exclusively for the restaurant. The chef would also like to try his hand at the less traditional; he is now looking to commission a street artist for his downtown restaurant DBGB.

Boulud’s personal favorites? Chagall and Miró. Once, he also had the pleasure of working at the legendary Moulin de Mougins restaurant on the hill of Notre Dame de Vie in France, just a few steps from Picasso’s Mougins studio. “I would take my motorcycle in the afternoons, go up the hill and try to spot him in his studio […] finally, he did come to the Moulin one day,” Boulud recalls.

When asked what a perfect art-inspired afternoon in the city looks like, he replies, “I would start my day at the new Whitney, then head over to the MoMA, for lunch at the Modern, and finish up with a sunset on the Met’s terrace.” For someone who has built such a formidable career in the kitchen, we predict that Daniel might also be a budding artist, or curator, at the very least.


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