03/28/2013 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Daniel Boulud: Top U.S. Chef Dishes On Canada's "Outrageous Poutine"

MONTREAL - Daniel Boulud gives a categoric yes when asked if there's an identifiable Canadian cuisine. He should know. After all, he's been described as one of the finest chefs in North America.

An impish smile crosses his face when he mentions the Canadian dish that has particularly pleased his palate.

"Poutine," the French chef says in an interview at his posh Maison Boulud restaurant in Montreal. "For me, it's so interesting.

"I've had some outrageous poutine. It was so good, so tasty."

But it's not just poutine that tingles his taste buds, the chef says, pointing to oysters, duck, foie gras, venison and game birds.

And let's not forget the fish.

''All the salmon — from the east coast to the west coast — fabulous," he said.

Maison Boulud is the Montreal outpost in Boulud's international food empire of 15 restaurants in cities including New York, London, Beijing and Miami.

The Montreal establishment is closing in on marking its first year and is one of the attractions in the newly refurbished Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel.

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The chef is also active in Toronto: his Cafe Boulud, part of the Four Seasons Hotel, opened last fall.

A Vancouver venture, however, closed after two years in 2011.

Boulud is best known for Daniel, his Michelin three-star restaurant in New York, which has been acclaimed as one of the 10 best restaurants in the world. He's been in New York since 1982 and was executive chef at the upscale Le Cirque when that restaurant became one of the highest-rated in the United States.

While there's no questioning the high-end look of his Montreal restaurant, Boulud says pretentious fine dining is a thing of the past — or at least it should be.

"It's not about how fancy the place is," says Boulud, whose voice is tinged with an obvious passion as he lists off the key ingredients for successful fine dining. It's not just the food but also the service, the wine, the setting.

"For me, fine dining is a communion between simplicity and perfection."

It's the total experience that counts, says the hands-on chef, and that can be had in a casual or an upscale environment.

"Fine dining is in fine shape when people can appreciate it in a more casual way."

Boulud, a native of Lyon, is comfortable when he visits Canada from his New York base, saying being in Montreal reminds him of home.

"Toronto, it's a little more urban, certainly more like New York, a bigger city."

The recipient of a slew of awards, including the 2011 Chef of the Year award from the Culinary Institute of America, Boulud is not wedded to trends and his menus have traces of the traditional cooking he grew up with on his family's farm in the Rhone Valley.

"Sometimes you see trends with ingredients because everybody uses it," he says, citing using kobe beef or white truffles on pizza because it's expensive or trendy at the moment.

He says he tends to think seasonally instead of a being a slave to food fads.

For example, he loves to use crab in the spring and to combine it with watermelon or lime. In the fall, green apple and celery might be used.

"Every year we have a new interpretation of how we compose this dish," he said.

Still, restauranteurs do keep an eye on each other to see what new ideas can be gleaned and one of the places they watch is the Great White North.

"New York is looking at Canada for what's happening here," said the chevalier of the French Legion of Honour.

"It's the north so there's always things that happen here that don't happen anywhere else. Canada is looking down south as well, at what's happening in New York, what's happening in Charleston, South Carolina."

Ingredients such as Canadian salmon and oysters are also popular, he said.

The 58-year-old described Canadians as "quite sophisticated" when it comes to food.

Boulud pointed to Quebecers with their history of food taken from their European roots and to other ethnic groups such as the Italians, Portuguese and Asians who have made contributions to Canadian cuisine.

And he says it's not impossible to create fine dining at home.

Joking that with his experience, he could probably figure out how to cook a meal using candles, Boulud said having a good source of heat, either electric or gas, is crucial for preparing a good meal.

So is having a good selection of knives and pots and pans.

"Today we have an excellent quality of stainless steel and some of them have a copper core inside which is good for conduction," explained Boulud, who is active in promoting food education and hunger relief, as well as running restaurants.

He also advised home cooks to be careful to get good quality produce for their ingredients and to pay attention to the preparation — letting the meat rest, for example, when it's ready so the juices can soak in. Underseasoning and overseasoning are other areas to watch.

However, he acknowledges there's a certain amount of trial and error and people are bound to learn from their mistakes.

The author of seven cookbooks also had one last bit of advice to anyone planning to pick up a skillet.

"I would always take a cookbook written by a chef who cares about making sure the recipe works at home," said Boulud. "That's not always the case."