NEW YORK Daniel Boulud precisely sets the paper-thin slice of yellowfin tuna atop a creamy vitello sauce, tops it with several fried capers and a perfectly fluffed-up handful of salad greens. On the rim of the plate he balances a fried sweetbread, a diver posed to leap into a perfect sea of red.
It's a sight to behold.
What's really eye-opening about the dish, though, is that the ingredients are all equally fresh despite having traveled to his kitchen from all corners of the globe: The tuna was caught in the Pacific Ocean. The sweetbreads comes from a farm in upstate New York. The greens are from Long Island and the capers from Spain.
"Another global dish," Boulud says.
Dining at Boulud's award-winning restaurant Daniel, widely regarded as one of the best in the United States, is otherworldly. The combinations of flavors and the sculptural presentations are dazzling.
Boulud, now hosting "After Hours with Daniel" on Mojo TV, demands perfection from his staff of about 45 cooks. All clad in crisp white jackets, the chefs work in a cathedral of stainless steel, high heat and Italian tile.It's an intimidating sight for the culinary novice, and you realize you have as much a chance of cooking like him as you do of hitting a cut fastball from New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera. But that doesn't mean you can't adapt some of his philosophies at home and learn to shop like a chef. His advice:
Growing up on a farm in France, Boulud has been in tune with the seasons from an early age. His family ate what it grew.
Before supermarkets were stocked with our favorite foods year-round thanks to refrigeration and shipping, that's the way everyone lived. With the rise of the small farm and specialty grocers we can readily live seasonally again.
When you're planning a meal, explore the farmer's markets and find out what grows at what time of year. If you want strawberries in October, don't expect fresh picked berries that were locally grown if you live in the Northeast.
Like most top chefs, Boulud constantly talks with his suppliers about what's fresh.
"I've always been cooking with a sort of market-driven aspiration and seasonality in my menu," he said. "At least half the menu will change during the season."The warm weather on the East Coast this year has given Boulud the opportunity to pull from both summer and fall crops to create what he is calling an "Indian Summer" menu. You can try Eckerton Hill Farms heirloom tomatoes from Pennsylvania, usually more typical of late summer, or ravioli with sherry emulsion confit root vegetables, an autumnal dish.
It's trendy to favor sustainable agriculture or to say, "I buy only goods that have been grown within 25 miles of my house," but more and more suppliers are setting up shop on the Internet and creating additional avenues to find quality goods.
This means seasonal and local can be a relative terms.
The environmental impact of shipping small quantities of food over long distances is certainly an issue. But if you want a specific item from specific small-scale farm, likely to be extremely fresh and raised with care, you can probably get it for a price.
Inspecting his Maine peekytoe crab salad, Boulud smiles as he points out that the bibb lettuce is from a farm on nearby Long Island and the heart of palm was from Hawaii. He says he's supporting the "local" farmer, just one happens to be a 10-hour flight from New York."You drive from Vermont or you fly from California, in less than 24 hours you get it," Boulud said.
Eddy Leroux, chef de cuisine at Daniel, kneeled over a cardboard box of individually wrapped heads of puffy, white cauliflower in the restaurant's vast subterranean prep kitchen. He turned one over to check the spot where it had been cut from its stem. It was moist and white as if it had been harvested just hours ago.
There's no reason you can't be equally discerning.
"Make sure you get the best source for what you do and what you buy. ... Talk to the person in charge and make your little research and understand if that person is passionate, if that person is interested or if that person is just doing a job," Boulud said.
Get out of the supermarket and cultivate relationships with your butcher, fish monger and shop owner. If there's something you tasted at a restaurant and want to try to make at home, ask the chef for a recommendation for a supplier.With a little effort your pantry will be stocked with a bounty of appetizing foods, and that might just inspire you to make some wonderful meals of your own.
Chef Daniel Boulud on his favorite suppliers
When creating the menus for his five restaurants, including the four-star Daniel, chef Daniel Boulud doesn't just head to the local supermarket. He uses dozens of sources around the world to secure the freshest and most flavorful ingredients.The rise of shopping on the Internet has given amateur cooks access to many of the same purveyors the culinary all-stars use. Here's what Boulud has to say about a handful of his suppliers who can be found online:
"Chefs rarely finish dinner without a superb cheese course, and I get most of mine from Murray's. I would like to think they save their best for chefs like me, but the truth is he's got enough to go around. Murray's truly has the best quality artisinal cheeses to be found. In the winter months I would choose a St. Nectaire or a Tomme de Savoie from France, or when it comes to great American made, Hooligan from Colchester, Conn., or Pleasant Ridge from Dodgeville, Wis."
"This site is the work of Jacques Torres, pastry chef extraordinaire turned chocolate maker. While it's hard to pass up a visit to his Manhattan store, the Web site makes my mouth water almost as much. For a baking enthusiast on my holiday gift list I would go for Jacques' House Selection Chocolate. It's the superior baking chocolate Jacques uses himself to make most of his products. Since it's shaped in little disks there's no need to chop it up before mixing it into a recipe. The dark chocolate has a 60 percent cocoa content."