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Starter for 10: interview with Daniel Boulud

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daniel boulud_chef2011 - 0001-D.-Boulud-by-E.-Kheraj_2011_resized.jpgSuperstar chef Daniel Boulud touched down in London just for a few days to celebrate the first anniversary of Bar Boulud at The Mandarin Oriental. He took time out of the kitchen – and his busy schedule – for a chat with Square Meal. Read about the Lyon-born chef’s plans for a career in horseracing, how he cooked for the French president and his thoughts on Gummi bears – and find out who has a man crush on him.

If you hadn’t been a chef, what would you have done?

I could have been a jockey – a friend of mine had a racehorse and wanted me to be the jockey because I was light. But it wasn’t creative enough for me.

What inspired your love of cooking?

I qualified as one of the best culinary apprentices in France when I was 16. At that age it was a predilection – not of success, but of knowing that I was going to be OK in cooking and that I would stick to it. Also when I was 16, I was one of the very few selected to cook for President Georges Pompidou. From that day I knew that being a chef would be a mix of harsh pleasure but also glamour.

What has been the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my life was in 1993 when The Herald Tribune listed the 10 best restaurants in the world. They chose two or three restaurants from each country and one was retained and put forward for the list of the best in the world. Daniel [Boulud’s restaurant in New York] had only been open nine months, but it was nominated. It was an amazing feeling.

And a personal triumph?

Receiving the Légion d’honneur from the French.

Which chefs do you admire?

One of my best career moments was meeting Paul Bocuse on my second day in the kitchen, when I was 14. He was the best friend of my mentor.

You presented a TV programme in the US called After Hours with Daniel, about places that chefs go to unwind. Where do you like to eat when you’re off-duty?

I went to The Ledbury recently with Pierre Koffman. And I like eating at Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley.

And which chefs do you hang around with?

Last night I was with Thomas Keller at Heston’s Dinner. And for the 50 Best awards, the Spanish delegation of chefs came over from San Sebastián – there were about 25 of us.

Do you have any guilty food pleasures?

I do eat a lot of junk. I love Gummi bears.

Which kitchen gadget can you not live without?

I think a thermometer is the most important thing. What we are cooking is so totally to the degree, it’s essential to be able to measure temperature. And it means we don’t have to touch the food as much.

How would other people describe you?

Stefan Chomka [from Restaurant magazine] tweeted recently that he has a bit of a man crush on me. He said that I’m a gentleman and that my leather jacket is cool.

Interview by Nicky Evans, News and Online Editor, 18 April 2011.
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