About Those Chefs in The Bear.... (2024)

So many famous chefs turn up on season three of The Bear that the show turns into a kind of game. Oh, there’s Rene! It’s Thomas Keller! Look, Dave Beran! Seeing them all walk through the show made me think about some of the meals they’ve made.

First up: Daniel Boulud. (If you want to read the review I wrote of his first restaurant, you can find it here.)

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Friday, October 1, 2010
It’s been years since I sat down to lunch at noon and spent the entire afternoon at the table, slowly, dreamily, eating (and drinking) the day away. After today’s languid five-hour meal at Daniel, I wonder why I got out of the habit.

The idea for this lunch grew out of another long lunch, when Daniel Boulud and Colman Andrews boozily began reminiscing about the French food of the seventies. It was a halcyon time, the beginning of nouvelle cuisine, when young chefs were throwing out all the rulebooks. It was also the time when Daniel was starting out, working with French masters like Michel Guerard and Paul Bocuse.

And so, this “retour aux annees ’70,” an homage to all the great French chefs of the time. It was also, Daniel said slyly, an attempt to lure Colman (who has just written a book on Irish food and a biography of Ferran Adria), back to France.

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As a seduction, I’d say it was entirely successful. We started with whole foie gras wrapped in a peppercorn jelly; the soft, rosy livers shining merrily inside their dark wrapping, their sweetness underlined by the prickle of the peppers. We drank an extraordinary sauternes, a ’62 Coutet (with its original price - $4 - still stamped on the bottle).

Back in the seventies you couldn’t pick up a food magazine without reading about the truffle soup Paul Bocuse made for Valery Giscard D’Estaing. A golden dome of puff pastry rose dramatically above the bowl. Daniel changed the recipe, creating a textural treasure hunt; each time you stuck your spoon through the amazing pastry into the intense game broth you came up with some wildly different texture. Now it is a bit of quenelle that dissolves in an instant, now a chewy little nugget of truffle, now a soft pillow of liver. (Apologies for the lack of photograph.)

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Georges Blancs frog’s legs, heady with parsley and garlic and served in a puddle of clarified butter, were so invitingly fragrant that it was impossible not to pick them up and eat them right down to the bone. The Raveneau Chablis (2004), was not only the most perfect Chablis I’ve ever tasted, but also the perfect wine for this dish, the acid cutting right through the butter.

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Why did I forget what a shock it was the first time I tasted the Troisgros salmon? Eating this lovely little square of fish in its sorrel sauce, I suddenly remembered that moment in Roanne, remembered thinking that I had never really tasted salmon before. Thinly sliced and barely cooked (and only on one side), it was, for me, the doorway to sushi. Eating it, slowly, thoughtfully, I began to wonder what fish might taste like raw. It was then – and is now – the epitome of simplicity, and utterly satisfying.

Next we had an extraordinary tart of cepes and innards, an Alain Chapel dish from 1974. Even more appealing, at least to me, was the tender little kidney on the side; it looked like a rose just beginning to bloom, with a flavor so gentle it was hard to remember that kidneys generally have what Leopold Bloom memorably called “a fine tang of faintly scented urine.” (Apologies again for the missing picture.)

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As those plates were being removed a trio of large ducks was paraded about the room and then carved with great fanfare. The carcasses were put though an enormous duck press and the jus went into the sauce. The meat was dark red and deeply flavorful, with the primitive and faintly metallic tang that comes only from blood. The wine with that, a Domaine de la Grange des Peres 2000 impressed me more than the two fancy 1990 Volnays served with the previous course.

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Then there was a rare cheese, Le Timanoix, followed by a caramelized fig tart and a spectacular cake that Gaston LeNotre invented to honor the Concorde in 1978. (Although with its mass of chocolate curls it looked more like an homage to Shirley Temple). They were both great, but even greater was the Boal Madeira from 1865. Think about it: We were drinking wine that was made while the Civil War was being fought.

And that, of course, is one of the great things about food. It is one sure way to bring the past into the present. And as this lunch reminded me, the seventies are worth remembering.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010
Colman Andrews, who arranged the lunch at Daniel, wrote to tell me that my Iphone had very graciously changed "cuisses de grenouille" to "cuirass de grenouille." "Rather leathery, don't you think?" he asked. He also pointed out that my phone had decided that foie gras en gelee should be foie gras glee - which both of us rather liked.

Then we continued a conversation we started at the end of lunch. He said that Americans don't like French food anymore, and that French cookbooks don't sell. I pointed out that Balthazar is the hardest restaurant to get into in New York; it is packed from the moment it opens for breakfast until well after midnight. So clearly we do like French food.

This isn't "writing"; it's just a casual conversation, but I thought you might be interested.

Was thinking later about your contention that Americans DO like French food, they just don’t like to cook it, and I think there’s something to that. The whole point of the kind of stuff we had yesterday, though, is that NOBODY should try to cook it at home. It’s restaurant food and depends on a whole repertoire of stocks and other fonds, many hands to do the work, etc. That incredible multi-level soup, for instance... I mean, I guess somebody could reproduce something along the same lines if they wanted to go to the time and expense, but why would you? We might fool around on the fiddle but we don’t think we’re Pincus Zukerman. Why should we assume that we can cook like Daniel (or Jean-Georges, or Michel Richard, or....)? Whereas if you want to make, say, Italian food, all you really have to do is cook like Mamma—which of course is equally impossible, but much easier to imagine. Anyway, it makes it hard to write a book about cooking French food (though we did it, in a way, with the Saveur Authentic French book), which just leaves books about eating it I guess.

Would be nice to think that “nouvelle cuisine” was the next big thing, though. Yeah, right.

That's why Americans love the idea of provincial French cooking so much. Bistro food books do sell. Our French home cooking covers always did well on the newsstand. People want to make cassoulet and poulet a la creme....all that cuisine de bonne femme.

As for chef cooking - I don't get why anyone at all buys any of the chef cookbooks. Not just the French guys; you look at David Chang's recipes, and every seemingly simple dish requires about a million steps. For me, part of the joy of that meal of Daniel's was being reminded of how much pleasure there is in that kind of extravagant food. That soup was extraordinary - on so many levels - well, it all was. I don't eat at big deal French restaurants much anymore, and it made me want to make the rounds again.

The one place I wish he'd gone in a different direction was dessert. I was trying to remember great nouvelle cuisine desserts, and I couldn't. Or is it just that the new desserts are so much more interesting?

Yes, you’re right. I do think it’s interesting, though, that people (“our” people, the serious food folk) tend to think that they should be able to—that they have the right to be able to—reproduce the most elaborate and labor-intensive of restaurant dishes, when they would never think themselves capable of playing serious music or painting museum-quality art or imagine themselves capable of leaping into Scorcese or Coppola territory with their Flips.

I know what you mean about not going to big-deal French restaurants any more (though I do always try to go to one or two when I’m in Paris), and about wanting to make the rounds again. I don’t think there’s much of that kind of food left in NY though. We experienced together how things have fallen (or our expectations have risen?) at the Cuisses de Grenouilles. I didn’t like the last meal I had at Jean-Georges very much (though he is certainly capable of doing this kind of food). Per Se to me is a different thing, not French—which I would usually say is a good thing, though not necessarily in this context. Haven’t been to Citronelle forever, but I imagine Michel would still be a real contender in this arena if he wanted to be. It was this kind of cooking I had in mind when I called the piece I did on Michel Bourdin at the Connaught years ago in Saveur “The Last French Restaurant in the World”.

Re desserts, as you know that’s never been my thing, but I thought the fig tart was very good. I do think desserts are on a whole different level, conceived differently and using different technology, today. I can’t really remember any ground-breaking masterpieces from the old days either. Lots of sorbets and tarts as I recall, basically the same old stuff, though often very good. (You may or may not remember, but I recall vividly your reaction to the very very simple pear sorbet at the old Boyer.)

I tweeted about the menu and mused how wild it would be if nouvelle cuisine turned out to be the next big thing. It won’t of course, but I got a lot of comments back on that and all but one seemed to love the idea..

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One more meal with Daniel. This was a spectacular 2017 tribute created by six famous chefs who had worked with him.

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The dinner honoringDaniel Bouludat the Charleston Wine and Food Festival was a dream of a feast. Held in a private penthouse overlooking the harbor, each dish was paired with astonishing wines, starting with magnums of Krug Grande Cuvee.

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The first course,by Jean-Francois Bruel, current Executive Chef at Restaurant Daniel, was even more delicious than it looks in the picture above. Not easy; it would be hard to come up with a prettier plate. Slices of citrus-marinated scallop, caviar, crisp notes of radish, a hint of wasabi... Tiny kisshu oysters were hiding somewhere, along with crunchy little bits rumored to be Buddha's hand. The scallops were served with a very amiable Trimbach Riesling, 2009 Clos Sainte Hume that made them very happy.

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Kavin Kaysen(of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour in Minneapolis) concocted this little confection - a mere couple of bites - of gently cooked langoustine topped with crunchy popped rice on a puddle of charred eggplant and another of red curry. So delicious! With it we drank a 2012 Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche poured out of magnums.

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Andrew Carmellinihas too many restaurants to list here. Should we go with The Dutch or Locanda Verde? His complex French-inflected lasagna layered gossamer sheets of pasta, delicate as flower petals, with sliced truffles and Parmesan cream. It all went whispering into the mouth before the flavors exploded. The 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin Coeur du Roy from Domaine Dugat-Py was an ideal companion.

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Normand Laprisecame down from Canada to cook for the event. He proudly served this rare magret of duck, the steely flavor edged with the bittersweet taste of sea buckthorn. To drink? A big bold 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve des Celestins from Henri Bonneau.

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Clearly the wine was getting to me. By the time the fifth course rolled around - Wagyu beef with charred onions, salsify and trumpet mushrooms - we'd been at the table for hours, dozens of speeches had been made, and I neglected to take its picture. But the dish, by Gramercy Tavern'sMichael Anthony, was a triumph. So was the 2005 Colgin IX Estate, a stately American claret. And then dessert, this elegant little waltz of cakes, creams, confits and mousselines byRemy Funfrockof the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island served with - are you ready? - 1996 Yquem.

And so to bed. Well, almost. A final speech byMickey Bakst, who conceived the entire affair. (Mickey himself is so beloved in the restaurant world he's known as "America's Maitre d'.") A few more words from Daniel himself, perhaps the most gracious man on the planet. Each time someone rose to honor him, Daniel gave it right back, honoring the honorer. The final gift? At the door each guest was presented withDaniel's latest book,signed with a deeply personal note

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A true friend, hearing me lament the loss of my beloved Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, gave me a bottle of Weller 12 year. (When Steve Wallace introduced me to Pappy it cost less than $50 a bottle; it now has a cult following and sells for thousands.)

“Try this,” he said, plunking the bottle on the table. “It’s made at the same distillery.”

Smooth and rich with hints of vanilla, it’s the most comforting quaff I know. Not cheap, but worth it.

I am in love.

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About Those Chefs in The Bear.... (2024)


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