With the release this week of Daniel Boulud’s new cookbook Daniel: My French Cuisine, I can’t pass up this little trip down memory lane.
About five years ago, when I was still living in New York City, a very fabulous woman was working on a self-published book about food and dating and had enlisted me to help her with some marketing and PR, as I was a marketing manager for a reputable cookbook publisher at the time.
On her own, she’d managed to get Daniel to comment on her project but, before she printed his quote, she felt that a dinner at his eponymous restaurant to make absolute certain he stood behind it was in order. I was her lucky guest; I think she thought I’d bring the publishing cred, just in case.
In my many, many years in New York, I’d been to some of the finest restaurants in town. But never Daniel. I hadn’t really bemoaned it; in fact, I figured it was probably just another one of those grand dames of New York that more than likely was past its prime.
I was beyond mistaken.
For starters, Daniel was there cooking all night. For New York chefs with a reputation and longevity, that’s a rare occurrence. And I don’t mean he just whisked in and out to make a grand appearance and say hello to important and/or regular guests. He was there from the time we arrived around 7 to the time we left after 11. Most of that time, he was out of view, in the kitchen.
He knew we were there, and why we’d come; the hostess assured us that he’d be out at some point to talk to us. In the meantime, what would we be having for dinner? I wish now that I could recount for you the meal –with its many exquisite courses – that was put forth for us. But the reality is that I was along for the ride, not writing about the restaurant, and so just let myself fall under its mighty spell: tranquilized, romanticized, absolutely dumbfounded by the beauty and the ingenious preparation of each plate. The wine, too, was glorious.
What I can tell you about though was the charm and graciousness of Daniel himself. True to his word, he joined us at our table sometime close to 11 p.m., us giddy with delight over the meal and certainly happily buzzed. Daniel came thoroughly prepared to talk about the topic of my friend’s book, aphrodisiacs. He was a terrific flirt. He was more than happy to endorse her book with the quote he’d offered up some time ago.
He asked about me. I told him where I worked and he said he was ready to do a new cookbook, a big one. I asked him who his agent was; she was one of the biggest agents out there, one whose name I knew well. Why hadn’t she talked to us he puzzled. I said that she perhaps had.
He asked for my email address; he wanted to make sure that his agent got in touch as soon as possible because this book, he really wanted to do it soon! I obliged and the next day went excitedly to my office to tell one of our editors that he was fishing for a publisher. That same day, I got an email from Daniel’s assistant. For reasons not known to me, the publisher I worked for didn’t pursue the book. I imagine that the book he was thinking on back then is the one that came out this week from Grand Central Life & Style – and I’m eager to delve into it.
Once we got past the industry talk, the night got really interesting. Daniel began recounting stories to us about his life in France, about his family, about love and romance. With his French accent and his fanciful way with words, everything out of his mouth sounded like poetry. What I recall most vividly was his description of how he liked to spend his summers. He had a little rowboat, he told us, that his family took out on a lake somewhere in France on warm summer nights. The raison d’être? Not to fish, not to speed about, but to slowly “chase” the reflection of the moon on the surface of the water for hours. That, he said, was his greatest pleasure.
I’d never heard of anyone doing anything quite so charming, and without any discernible goal. It was the stuff of children’s books, fairy-tale like. But after our remarkable dinner it made complete sense that a man who’d think up such a delightful pastime would be the very same one who could create such poetry on a plate.
He spent nearly an hour with us, until the restaurant closed. If he was exhausted from the long night working, it was never apparent. If he was annoyed by our self-serving pursuit, he never let on.
I’ll never forget that dinner and the conversation—and I’ll never stop wishing for my own little boat, a French lake and a full round moon to lazily follow around on a dark summer night.