It's no secret that New York star-studded chef Daniel Boulud is obsessed with poutine, but don't confuse a cheap food thrill with his sophisticated knowledge of classic Canadian foods, from caribou to wildflower honey.
After all, the Lyonnaise chef, 58, helped develop the locally-sourced menus at his two new Canadian restaurants last year — Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton Montreal and Cafe Boulud at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.
Besides opening a small empire of more than a dozen elegant French-inspired restaurants around the world and and staying busy on the celebrity chef circuit, Boulud also just finished his eighth cookbook, DANIEL: My French Cuisine, due in the fall.
Boulud, 58, spoke to The Huffington Post Canada about his favourite Canadian restaurants, the world's most memorable food city (hint: it’s not New York), and the time he threw a legendary dance party in his kitchen.
What does 'Canadian' food mean to you?
As is the case with so many countries with such a variety, I think of Canadian food by region. Depending on which European country settled there, traditions vary. For example, there’s the old-world French influence in Quebec — casual, rustic dishes like poutine and tourtiere, or more Nordic traditions with smoked fish. But there are also traditions created by indigenous ingredients — maple syrup, wildflower honey, game meats like caribou and venison, spot-prawns and seafood from the West Coast. The summer markets offer some of the best produce in North America. Canadian food is all of these things and it’s the combination of climate and cultures that makes it unique.
What is one of the first things you crave to eat when you return to your hometown?
Homemade saucisson de Lyon (Lynonnaise sausage) and my father’s jambon cru (cured ham).
What’s your favorite food to make for yourself at home after a boozy night out?
French-style scrambled eggs with toasted baguette are perfect when I want something quick and easy…and if we’re a large gathering, soupe a l’oignon so you can keep boozing while it cooks!
What's your favourite poison?
My new collaboration — The Dalmore Selected by Daniel Boulud bespoke single-malt whisky— it’s the perfect muscle relaxer after work.
If you could prepare only one last meal, what would it be?
Whole-spit roasted pig.
What would be in your emergency "survival pantry"?
Spices from La Boite a Epices in New York; they will lift any basic dish to a new level.
What is the wildest thing you’ve done in a kitchen, culinary or otherwise?
Michel Troisgros and I threw a spontaneous after-hours caipirinha party in the kitchen — there were around 50 people dancing in a samba train, making music with kitchen utensils on pots and pans… needless to say it was memorable.
What is the best restaurant that no one’s ever heard of?
La Chassagnette in the Camargue (France). The chef, Armand Arnal, used to work for me and now he has his own place to pursue his passion for Provençal ingredients, many of which are grown in the restaurant garden, and combine it with what he learned from experiences in Japan and America.
What would you be doing if you couldn’t be a chef?
An artist. I love to create and to me, the ultimate freedom of expression is a blank canvas or a block of clay to capture whatever emotions your imagination gives it. For sure, I would be an abstract artist and I look forward to my retirement so I can practice!
What is your favourite cheap food thrill?
Poutine at Au Pied de Cochon (in Montreal). The most decadent and delicious fries you’ll ever eat.
What is the most memorable food city in the world?
San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain. The vibrant culture for food is unavoidable from the packed pintxos bars like La Cuchara de San Telmo, to gastronomic temples like Arzak and Mugaritz. Creativity and tradition are combined to create unforgettable experiences in a stunning setting.
Which Canadian restaurants have you been to and would recommend?
In Montreal, I always visit my friend Carlos Ferreira (at Ferreira Cafe) to enjoy his Portuguese taste for food and wine. I also love Normand Laprise’s Toque for creative, refined dining and Joe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon for casual authenticity.
In Toronto, Susur Lee’s cooking is a must. I have real admiration for chefs who can maintain an edge, and find new inspiration in their cooking after many years. Nota Bene for fantastic grilled steaks and pasta. Acadia is great as well, run by a Restaurant Daniel alum, chef Patrick Kris, who has always had a clean, elegant touch with local ingredients.
I never go to Vancouver without stopping by Thomas Haas’ shop for the best chocolate in North America. A former chef patissier at Daniel, he returned to his hometown and created a top quality brand by sticking to his passion.
What's the most unusual and delicious food that you would suggest people try?
Manioc. It’s one of the most popular ingredients in Brazil, and yet is the least understood worldwide. When cooked properly, it’s a great alternative to flour for gluten-free recipes.
'Grilled' is a new regular chef interview that runs every other week. Who would you like to hear from next? Leave your comments below.
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