For Daniel Boulud and Marcus Samuelsson, the future of gastronomy is full of joy

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In late March, longtime friends Daniel Boulud, right, and Marcus Samuelsson flew to Toronto and took over the kitchen at Café Boulud.Kennedy Pollard

At the end of March, two world-renowned chefs and lifelong friends, Daniel Boulud and Marcus Samuelsson, flew to Toronto and took over the kitchen at Café Boulud to collaborate on a very special meal. They cooked for around 120 local chefs and restaurateurs who, like them, had been through the wringer for the past two years as the pandemic forced the closure of restaurants around the world.

However, this particular evening was not intended to rehash the industry’s struggles of recent months – the billions in lost revenue, the layoffs that numbered in the thousands. (According to Statistics Canada’s February 2021 Labor Force Survey, there are still about 319,000 fewer jobs in the restaurant industry in Canada than in February 2020. Amidst this bad news, there is hope: Restaurants Canada says annual sales at full-service restaurants are expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023).

Instead, it was a celebratory event that the two award-winning chefs James Beard organized to applaud the passion and resilience of their fellow restaurateurs, who had struggled to keep their businesses afloat as the lockdowns came. came and went.

And they specifically wanted to signal to the culinary communities of Toronto and Montreal — where both have eponymous restaurants in Four Seasons hotels — that they were back and ready to continue the legendary tradition of fine dining, no matter the obstacles ( virus or other). ) coming.

“It’s time to move forward, not look back,” the pair told friends at the feast, which included dishes such as Vanderbilt oysters, a classic Lyonnaise salad, lamb Ethiopian braised and Red Rooster’s signature Hot & Honey Fried Chicken – a menu that showcased their diverse backgrounds and culinary strengths.

Some of the dishes featured included Vanderbilt oysters, a classic Lyonnaise salad, Ethiopian braised lamb (pictured) and Red Rooster’s signature hot and honey fried chickenKennedy Pollard

Boulud, born and raised in Lyon, moved to New York 40 years ago and built a global restaurant empire inspired by French cuisine. It now has 14 restaurants, including the two-star Michelin restaurant, Daniel, which is consistently ranked among New York’s best. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, moved to Manhattan in 1994 and has since opened more than a dozen restaurants around the world, including Red Rooster Harlem and Marcus Restaurant + Lounge in Montreal.

Over the years, they’ve seen trends come and go and smiled benevolently when industry watchers predicted – for the umpteenth time – that fine dining was dead. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Boulud and Samuelsson set the record straight.

Gastronomy does not die, they said, it evolves. Like always.

The industry has been in such turmoil for the past two years, how have each of you coped?

Boulud: We are creative. Chefs always find ways to get things done, so we did what’s in our blood – we served food in times of crisis to the people who needed it most. [Boulud, for instance, created a charity called Food 1st that served meals to hospital workers and other front-line responders in New York with the goal of getting his staff back to work]. One of our strengths is that we know how to make fine cuisine, but we also know how to make “fine” cuisine in volume. We have reconfigured our restaurants to adapt to hygiene and safety requirements and we have continued. We all know how to cut back and watch what to do. However, we could not have done anything without the loyalty of our customers and our suppliers, who have never let us down.

Samuelsson: Fine dining takes a lot of body, so we’ve had hundreds of staff – who are our family – affected by the closures and restrictions. However, restaurants are at the heart of every neighborhood and it was important to me to find ways to give people hope. One of the benefits of being in the culinary industry is that you are part of a community. We help each other, we support each other and we support each other. [Samuelsson partnered with World Central Kitchen (WCK) and Food Rescue US-Miami and used his Red Rooster kitchens in New York and Miami to provide free meals to those in need]. The past two years have been tough but I’ve never been prouder of the industry. We got together. We adapted, and like everyone else, we worked with what we had.

What does “hurry” mean to you two?

Samuelsson: That means hosting dinners like the one in Toronto where we hosted our fellow chefs, restaurateurs and business partners for a delicious meal. [The next night the two men also collaborated on a sold-out, five-course dinner for the public who paid $280 apiece to sample dishes such as a Snow Crab Risotto and Grilled Japanese Medai]. We did these events to send flags to our teams and customers that we’re back. We missed you and fine dining is going nowhere. Sometimes the world gets messy and complicated, but how to be in a kitchen isn’t that complicated. You aim for excellence and you help each other. That’s all we can say about it.

Boulud: Gastronomy will never disappear because it’s not just cooking. Gastronomy is people. I can have the simplest meal, but if I have amazing service, cool music, a wonderful, warm atmosphere, and delicious food, that’s good food for me. Marcus and I have countless examples of children who worked for us 20 or 30 years ago, who learn the skills and techniques necessary to be successful, and then they go on to give their own interpretation of what gastronomy means to them or gastronomy. That’s what mentoring is for. It’s about learning from each other to keep the traditions of gastronomy alive and relevant for new generations of food lovers.

Gastronomy is not dying, according to renowned chefs Boulud and Samuelsson, it is evolving.Kennedy Pollard

During the pandemic, you both continued to open new restaurants: Chef Marcus with Red Rooster Overtown, Streetbird Las Vegas, Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House in the Bahamas and even a Streetbird at Yankee Stadium with hot fried chicken and spicy ; Chef Daniel with the centerpiece of French cuisine Le Pavillon in midtown Manhattan and an “informal” French restaurant called Le Gratin which will open in May at the Beekman Hotel in New York. Some are very high end while others are more affordable. Clearly, gastronomy is subject to interpretation, how do each of you define it today?

Samuelsson: As a young man, I worked at the Georges Blanc restaurant in Vonnas, France (actually Daniel worked there too, but at another time). It was a restaurant started by his [Blanc’s] Grandmother. It was very simple but everything was done to the highest standard. Georges also had a bakery nearby that made the most amazing croissants I have ever tasted. As a young student, I took notice of all of this – all family businesses, all of incredible quality but at different prices. The key was that, regardless of location, everything was done with exceptional care. Fine dining is about paying attention to quality at every level and incorporating a million little touches that help create a truly memorable experience that can’t be easily replicated.

Boulud: We believe in gastronomy, but we also believe in conviviality. I love seeing parents bring their children to one of my restaurants to give them a culinary education. They often ask, “Am I doing the right thing by taking my kids to a fancy restaurant?” Of course, I say yes. Gastronomy is more than good food. It’s about spending the best time with your family. It’s about creating a moment that kids and parents won’t forget.

Boulud said gastronomy is more than good food. It’s about spending the best time with your family.Kennedy Pollard

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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