Chef Daniel Boulud knows a food city when he sees it: the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur has over 13 restaurants (and counting) under his belt—from New York to Singapore—but it’s no secret that the decorated chef has a thing for Montreal in particular.
We sat down with Chef Daniel Boulud and Chef Romain Cagnat, the new executive chef of Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton, Montreal, to get an idea of what it takes to keep a successful restaurant decadent and reflective of local flavors—especially in a city as vibrant and rich as Montreal.
Forbes: Do you have any travel plans outside of New York or Quebec you’re particularly excited about?
Daniel Boulud: Now that we have learned how to deal with pre testing, and vaccinations and all that, it’s not so difficult to travel and as long as you follow the rules and regulations of safety,” explains Boulud. “So of course I’m excited to get back to the Mediterranean and to Asia. I’m doing a trip to Asia next year, early next year also, because I have a restaurant in Singapore and I want to go back to that region as well.”
Forbes: What are your favorite Quebec ingredients?
Daniel Boulud: Every time I come here of course I like any seasonal product from the Gaspé, so for example we have beautiful Prince Edward Island oysters that we are serving right now. I have great products in New York—but the products in Quebec vary so much. It’s only a few hours away by plane, but I think there are so many amazing products in this region. The cheese in Quebec is amazing and I love the seafood from the Gaspé.
Forbes: Are there any restaurants in Montreal that you love to go to when you’re here or that you’re dying to try?
Daniel Boulud: Of course! I love Montreal Plaza. I also have my alumni at Bar George, Kevin [Ramasawmy]. I haven’t been back to Joe Beef for a long time and David [McMillan] and Fred [Morin] are good friends. But when I come, I usually work and I don’t have much time to be able to socialize with all of them.
The next time I’m in town I want to spend a day seeing everyone; catching up. Maybe in the springtime we’ll go to a cabane à sucre and get together like we did in the past.
Forbes: How do you capture the vibrancy of a city when you decide on a new restaurant location? What drew you to Montreal so many years ago?
Daniel Boulud: I mean, of course, it doesn’t matter if I am on vacation or if I’m opening a restaurant, the first thing I will do is go to the local farmer’s market.
I love the Atwater Market in Montreal in particular. I love to see local farmers and distributors and fishmongers, and butcher and all that they carry with them.
I think the local market is the easiest way to get a sense of what the city is living on, you know? Like, if I go to Barcelona, if I go to Korea, I want to see what’s at the market because that gives me an indication of what I can expect to find for my restaurants.
Forbes: What set Montreal apart from other locations you’ve considered?
Daniel Boulud: There’s the seasons, you know, so you have to kind of see the full spectrum of what’s available in the market year round. It’s not like Florida, where, you know, there’s one season.
Forbes: You have a lot of restaurants around the world! Do you find it hard to let go of the reins and trust your local chefs to hold your original vision?
Daniel Boulud: It doesn’t matter if it’s my own restaurant in New York or if it is in Montreal under the helm of Chef Romain Cagnat, the chef is in charge of the team, the menu, creating dishes, making relationships with the suppliers… everything.
I don’t supply a playbook. I never gave Romain a book that said ‘this is what you have to do.’ Because now the chef is in charge—it’s his own organization.
So of course, we are a brand and I am the brand. I bring support and direction; if they come up with a menu and I don’t understand at all where we are going, and where he’s getting this idea from and what, then I will intervene. But in general, with this group of restaurants, we’re able to feed off of each other with inspiration and ideas.
We usually do menu meetings at least five times a year and in those menu meetings, it kind of shapes the direction for the season. And then themes keep changing in it.