Industry Insiders: Daniel Boulud, French Ace

Daniel Boulud is one of a handful of people who can claim ownership of four stars from the New York Times’ restaurant critic. His modest roots in Lyon, France, instilled his understanding for local produce, and anyone who has visited one of his restaurants (Daniel, Bar Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, DBGB) understands his love for a decadent burger. The New York-based chef will also be sharing his culinary mastery with supporters of the Le Fooding d’Amour event on September 26-27.

How’d you get involved with Le Fooding? I knew of it in France, through the media. I found out about it coming to New York through my friend, Yves Camdeborde, the chef of Le Comptoir, and my nephew Jean Luc Martin, who is a maitre d’ there. We’re always in contact, and Yves told me that Alexandre Cammas would be coming to New York and it would be great for me to meet with him and see if we could participate in the event.

What did you particularly like about the organization? In America, we definitely have many of those events. This is not a novelty to have chefs by stations and to have bartenders doing special cocktails. The food and wine festivals are all over the country, with charity dinners and all that. What’s interesting here is that it’s done in a very young and casual way. They approach music, art, food, and mixology together. I also like the fact that the French chefs are coming to New York to do the party. I think that’s interesting, because it’s good to have some fresh ideas coming into New York. It’s going to be very successful.

What will you be preparing for the event? For the event, with Cafe Boulud, we’re preparing a couscous. It’s traditional flavor and a contemporary approach to a couscous. We are making hamburgers, with different part of the braised lamb and a very good broth with it. It’s spicy and sweet.

Are there any organizations in the U.S that you would compare to Le Fooding? I will compare Le Fooding with when Danny Meyer does his barbecue block party, where thousands of people come, and there are all the different barbecue makers and beers.

Alex Cammas started Le Fooding because he said that he was tired of the “regulated, very serious nature of gastronomy in France.” How does French dining differ from American dining now? This is like if a punk or a rock artist was saying that classical music is just boring, and “let’s live the rock ‘n’ roll‎.” That punk had to learn classical music in order to become a good punk musician. So, I think it’s the cycle of generations. There’s certainly a young generation of chefs in France who want to detach themselves from old gastronomy. Luckily, they’re very talented and very creative chefs, and that gives them a platform and a window to do that. With Le Fooding the idea is to bring the great young chefs — not always the chef who has a three-star rating, but the one who has the best bistro in town — and the most creative of the new generation. In America, we add many opportunities to present our young chef into old food and wine festivals, which is something that would not exist in France.

Where are some of your favorite markets? In New York, Union Square is my favorite, but it’s also one of the largest. I like to go to the fish market in the Bronx. I love going down the aisle of those huge fish markets. In Europe, my favorite markets are in San Sebastian, Nice, and Paris. Rungis Market in Paris is amazing. It’s a big market for professionals; maybe the best in the world. In every city I visit, I always ask the concierge to direct me to the best market. It gives me a sense of what people are eating locally, because the only people you have in the market are locals. I was born and raised on a farm, so every Saturday from the age of eight — when I was old enough to go with my father to the market — until the age of sixteen, I was with my father selling our vegetables. Today, every chef dreams to be a farmer, and for me I was a farmer and I dreamed to be a chef.

One piece of advice you could give about making selections at the market? When you go to the market, you use your eyes to spot the good things; you use your brain to look a the price and compare; then you use your nose. Sometimes you can use your hands, but often farmers don’t like when you touch things. When you go to the market, you get involved with what you want to buy. You have a relationship talking about the product with someone who has grown it and nurtured it. It’s a whole different thing from grabbing something off the shelf and putting it into a cart.

Le Fooding Takes Over NYC

The French are better than we simple Americans at many things (staying thin, being fashionable, appearing cultured), but most importantly, the French know their food. Alexandre Cammas took his inherent French penchant for dining to new heights when he founded the gastronomic movement, Le Fooding, in Paris almost a decade ago. On September 25th and 26th, Le Fooding invades New York for their first stateside appearance. Le Fooding d’Amour Paris-New York is centered upon 6 renowned chefs from New York and 6 from Paris cooking for charity (Action Against Hunger) at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. Tickets are inexpensive, the idea behind the event is monumental and with the talent in the cooking arena — Yves Camdeborde (Le Comptoir de la Relais), Inaki Aizpitarte (Le Chateaubriand), William Ledeuil (Ze Kitchen Galerie), Alberto Herraiz (Fogón), Stephane Jego (L’Ami Jean) and Christophe Pelé (La Bigarrade), plus David Chang (Momofuku), Julie Farias (General Greene), Daniel Boulud with Olivier Muller (db Bistro), Wylie Dufresne (wd-50), Sean Rembold (Marlow & Sons) Riad Nasr (Minetta Tavern) — it’s physically impossible for the food to be anything less than superb. Alex and his event coordinator, Zoé Reyners, give BlackBook a sneak peek.

What is Le Fooding, the movement? Zoé Reyners: It started 9 years ago in Paris while Alex was a food writer. He used the term fooding in an article to rhyme with fueling. It was unintentionally expressing what he felt about gastronomy at the time in France. Back then, it was a very regulated, very serious matter. Alex was fed up with this and wanted to inject some feeling into it. That’s why he ran with fooding. The idea was well-liked by the press and people started talking about that word. With a bunch of his food writer friends — who had the same feelings about food at the time — Alex decided to use this word “fooding” as a banner for what they were thinking. They held the first event with friends. It was a casual thing to do with new chefs, but the media attention surrounding the first event showed that this was something necessary, and something that people agreed with. Events were organized more often. The website was founded, a phone line, and an office were set up. Step by step it became a real company. There is now a team of 50 writers working for the annually distributed Le Fooding guide. The first completely independent issue was put out last year. Before that, it was as a supplement for larger magazines.

When you got started, what was the reaction of your target audience? Alexandre Cammas: The young French people responded very well and quickly to what we were doing, but it was more difficult to get attention from the old-school chefs and old-school food writers because Le Fooding was different and new. We weren’t just food writers … we started to be involved in concrete things. Normally food writers don’t take risks and straight criticize what’s good and not good. For the first time, we took some risks, and we organized events.

How do you decide on restaurants to review for the publication? Alex: The criteria to select a restaurant in our guide, or for our events, is after we have dinner, we ask ourselves if we want to come back to a restaurant. If so, that’s a good restaurant. You can explore this question, not only with three-star Michelin-guide restaurants, but you can ask the same question for pizza parlors, for bistros, for cafés.

Who are the people who explore this question? Alex: Naturally, it’s the people who are curious, who are open-minded to the taste of the time and to tastes of the time. If you’re straight-minded, if you just like one sort of cuisine, Le Fooding doesn’t much care for your type. We make the guides and the website for people who are curious, like we are.

Why did you choose to introduce this concept to New York? Zoé: The question people usually ask us is, “What’s new for New Yorkers because this spirit already exists here?” I think the event is actually very different from the kind of events organized in New York.

Alex: A guide is a guide, but we’re pairing our guide with the charity event. It’s quite different from TimeOut or from BlackBook.

Is advertising in the guide created in-house? Zoé: We don’t create the advertising, but we have graphic designers handling much of the advertising so that it’s not completely different from our illustrations, the text, or the spirit.

Alex: There’s definitely a spirit. The guide is funny, and you can just read it for pleasure. You aren’t supposed to just want to look in it for an address of a restaurant. For the events, it’s the same. We started in Paris with events. Therefore, we decided to come to New York and start with events too.

What do we need to know about the event? Alex: The event we produce in New York City will be very different from the events that you know surrounding food. It’ll be at P.S.1. We usually do our events in art centers. The spirit is linked to the idea that food is not only food. It can be about the atmosphere and the culture that surrounds it. Also, it’s not only star chefs that you have to pay lots to eat their food. We don’t come with the most famous chefs of France, but we come with the ones who are alive in Paris.

Zoé: I think people know them, but they aren’t the mythical chefs. They’re active, innovative, creative chefs.

Tell me about the graphic design aspect. Alex: We’ll create a collector’s menu. Each chef will be represented by one graphic designer. The chefs of Paris will be represented the best graphic designers of Paris; and the New York chefs will be represented by designers from New York. Some of the designers are: Ich & Kar, Change is Good, Gianpaolo Pagni, Helène Builly, Vanessa Verillon, Nicholas Blechman, Tim Tomkinson, Jan Wilker, Paul Sahre, Jeanne Verdoux, Christoph Niemann, Andre and So Me.

Will the chefs contribute any ideas to the design of the menu, or is it completely up to the designer? Zoé: The designers meet the chefs. They’ll taste their food. They try to understand their spirit, their way of being, their humor, and then they are inspired to create a design in which they are completely free to do whatever they want.

When will people start buying tickets? Alex: The other thing that is different is the price. It’s a price accessible for all the people who like food and who like this sort of party spirit, and not necessarily for the people who have a lot of money. They’re $30, alcohol not included.

And once inside? Zoé: Guests have the choice to go to 6 different chefs each night, and taste amazing food. It’s a huge meal for $30 and it’s a distinguished chef’s meal. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., the venue will be open only to VIPs on the guest list and for around 200 people that will have $60 VIP tickets, with Veuve Clicquot champagne included. The VIP space will be open from 6 p.m. to 11:30, whereas the rest of the venue will be closed at 10 p.m. Besides approximately 100 tickets each night, all the tickets will be available on the 15th of September on the Le Fooding website. Before that day, some tickets will be available if you have a secret code. Alex: We’ll also have DJ’s spinning in the VIP area and in the general admission area, including Paul Sevigny and Kolkhoze from Le Baron in Paris.

Industry Insiders: Alexandre Cammas, Le Spécialiste

The founder of Le Fooding, the most iconoclastic food movement in France, on air conditioning, dandyism, and his culinary expertise.

How would you describe yourself? You’d be better off asking one of my colleagues. They’d be more objective. To sum it up simply: curious, persistent, mixed, free.

Name three restaurants/bars/clubs you like and why? I love too many to list just three, so I’ll try to choose three who can respond to two criteria: good and cool. To find a mix of these two in France is rare. Le Chateaubriand, a unique restaurant, is sexy, gourmet, alive, déclassé, and they do their own thing. A French cultural exception. Racines is a wine bar and restaurant in an old Parisian covered passage. Sublime products, treated with respect by a patron who has one of the best natural wine lists in Paris. Rose Bakery, a snack place, tea-house, luxury grocery store, full of soul, no décor— except for the food itself, salads full of freshness, cooked on the spot, cake pans overflowing. They have a great clientèle with lots of cinema people, reasonable prices, and the size of the bill is inversely proportional to your soulful experience.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Jean-Louis Costes and Yves Camdeborde, for the same reasons but not at the same level. The first decided to reinvent the French café, the brasserie, to think outside the box, to import the world of design to the French restaurant business. He took great risks, listened to no one, and became a great success. It’s so easy to distinguish his establishments from the multiple copycats. Yves Cambdeborde, former chef at the Crillon hotel, did it his way, listened to no one, and reinvented the gastro-bistrot, accessible to anyone. Without him, we wouldn’t have all these good bistros that assure our reputation with all those fine gourmets, for whom most of the Michelin-starred establishments are just for soulless tourists.

Name one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry. Silent air conditioning. Because, in general, I don’t like air conditioning.

Negative trends? Noisy air conditioning. I also hate hotels where you can’t open the windows. Like in Tokyo.

What is something that people might not know about you? I snore when I sleep on my back, but not when I sleep on my stomach. So, there are worse people out there.

What are you doing tonight? I go out and eat every lunchtime, so, in the evenings , I go back to my place. This evening, for example, I’m going to finish The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou, a sublime book on the condition of blacks in 1960s America. Then I’ll surely attack L’Exposition by Nathalie Léger, a short text on feminine dandyism. And then maybe I’ll get up again and write down on paper all the new whims that are inside of me to be able to sleep in peace.

Most anticipated event you have coming up in 2009? The first Le Fooding event in New York in September of this year, with a 99.99 % chance of happening.