In your opinion, what does it take to be a good chef?
Passion, for sure. Dedication, compassion and motivation. You’ve got to be able to be understood, but also to understand your customer and your staff. If you’re not motivated to cook, to create and work hard, it can be very painful and depressing as a chef. It’s also really important to have a good team. Without my team, I’d be nothing. But you don’t get a great team just like that; you have to build it. A good chef is also someone who knows how to cook everything. But to be a great chef takes perseverance.
As the host of After Hours with Daniel, what are some of your favorite haunts?
If I want to be pampered, I go to my friends like Eric Ripert, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller. When I eat casual, I like to discover places. For quite a while now, my wife and daughter have refused to go out with me because we’d arrive at a restaurant and the chef will want to show that he can cook. They’d send so much food out that finally, my family couldn’t stand it. They said, “No way. We’re not going out with you anymore.” After that, they put their foot down and insisted on ordering a la carte. It’s good to be well-treated, but sometimes, it’s good not to be known. It’s a real pleasure to just go out, eat and drink what you like. And it doesn’t take three days to recover because the chef wanted you to taste the entire menu.
Having been born in France and after spending a long time in the US, how has that influenced your cooking?
It motivates me to bring more of France to New York. I wanted to represent both countries in db Bistro Moderne, which is a chef-driven French-American bistro. I’ve always loved burgers and I wanted to represent America and France at the same time, so that’s how the db burger was born. I’m a big proponent of American food and culture. It’s like here, food is part of life.
You have been in the industry for a long time and seen it through its metamorphosis. What would you like to see more of?
I want to see more identity and authenticity, because food is about memory. You remember the dishes you enjoyed when you were young and look for a chance to have dishes that allow you to experience the same emotion and connection. We create dishes all the time, but the ones we are remembered for which make people come back, are the ones that are simple and recreate an emotional experience. I’m at an age where I’ve been cooking for more than 40 years and I’m still proving everyday who I am. So when I see young chefs, I just want to wish them well, because it’s not easy to get to and stay at the top.