Daniel Boulud has been a New York City institution for more than a quarter of a century, first as executive chef at the legendary Le Cirque, and later as the ruler of his owning dining empire. But his first Las Vegas venture was short-lived. Fortunately for local foodies, he’s returned with DB Brasserie in The Venetian. In anticipation of his review of DB Brasserie in this week’s issue, dining critic Al Mancini recently sat down with Boulud to talk to him about the restaurant, returning to Las Vegas and some of the impacts he’s had on the dining world. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.
How does it feel to be back in Las Vegas?
Very happy. I would have never left. But after five years with Steve [Wynn], I was the only chef from outside [Wynn]. And I had aspirations to do something else, and it was difficult to do it there. So we kind of amicably ended our relationship. I think I served him well. He served me well.
For people who remember your restaurant, Daniel Boulud Brasserie at Wynn, how would you tell them this compares to it?
I’m not trying to make any comparison. There it was Daniel Boulud Brasserie. This is DB Brasserie. So that means a little more casual—with the initials, it gets a little more casual than with a full name. So this one may be a more authentic brasserie than what the Wynn [restaurant] was. At Wynn, I was told it would kind of be a great restaurant with the feeling of a country house by the lake. Here it’s more of a feeling of an urban restaurant in a city like Lyon.
How does this restaurant compare to a brasserie today in France?
I think many of the brasseries [in France]—unless they are chef-driven—they are not very evolutive in cooking. They are very classic. They stick to standard classic food, versus me being a chef who enjoys not only making some very classic French dishes, but also having spent three decades in America, being very interested in the melting pot of cooking in America. And so we have dishes that have nothing to do with the French repertoire, but they have to do with me.
You created the first celebrity chef gourmet hamburger about 15 years ago in New York. How do you feel when you walk down the Las Vegas Strip and see all of these celebrity chef hamburger restaurants? Do you feel flattered, or do you say “enough already”?
I think the problem is that there’s a lot of bad shit out there with the burgers. For me, I think we try to be very, very serious with the quality of the meat we use. The provenance of the meat. The process of making the burger. Even if it’s super-casual, it’s good. In the end, I think for the consumer it’s a question of how much they trust that chef and the food he’s making.
You were on the cutting edge at a time when the chef became the face of the restaurant. In the old days it was the front-of-house guys.
I know. Even in New York, all the French restaurants were mostly all [about] the front of the house. And then in 1982 you really started to see chefs taking control of their destiny.
Are you proud that you played a part in that, and the fact that chefs are now among the most famous people in America?
Of course. It’s amazing. And television—[Laughs]—the front-of-house could barely come close to a chef when it comes to entertaining people.