On April 6, just 3½ weeks after the incomparable Daniel Boulud beat a long-anticipated retreat from Vancouver, his team in New York was putting the finishing touches on the contract that would enable his return to Canada. His fresh assault is to be launched through the far more sensibly considered bridgehead of Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton, whose general manager Andrew Torriani had been courting Boulud for six months. The hotel is in the midst of a massive renovation that will ultimately see it shed 99 rooms and gain a floor, along with 46 condominiums and a rooftop swimming pool—and when it reopens in January 2012, in place of the venerable Cafe de Paris you will find something entirely new: Maison Boulud.
“It’s a rebirth—a new life for this hotel,” chef Boulud said to me, late that morning at his ﬂagship three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Daniel, on 65th Street in Manhattan, where his windowed office sits dramatically perched a half-level above the rest of his kitchen, to provide a better view of the work stations below. “It will be something new for Montreal, something unique.”
Boulud’s unique qualities as a chef and restaurateur have given rise to an empire that includes five restaurants in New York alone (Daniel, Café Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, DBGB Kitchen), as well as outposts in Miami (DB Bistro Moderne), Palm Beach (Café Boulud), London (Bar Boulud), Beijing (Maison Boulud) and Singapore (DB Bistro Moderne). Aside from the Boulud Brasserie, which he closed last summer after a five-year run at the Wynn in Las Vegas, he has experienced but one major setback—Vancouver—where he stepped in to replace the ousted Rob Feenie at Lumière and Feenie’s, relaunched the latter as DB Bistro Moderne, and failed at both, closing their adjacent doors on March 13. “It’s a passage in life,” Boulud says, his disappointment obvious. “Fortunately, ﬁnancially it made no difference. Emotionally, I would have loved to have been there longer.”
With my memories of the previous evening’s meal at Restaurant Daniel still vivid, I would venture that if I were a Vancouverite, I would—emotionally—have loved for him to be there longer, too. But the quality of the food that the Boulud restaurants consistently deliver everywhere was never really the issue in Vancouver. Nor was the service, or the aesthetic. The story is more complicated than that.
Some have written that the problem was the location—that obscure West Broadway, across from a KFC, was too down-market for even hometown-favourite Iron Chef Feenie to sustain. Others posited that the HST and B.C.’s increasingly intolerant drunk-driving laws combined for a collective blow too great for Vancouver’s over-serviced post-Olympic restaurant industry. It has been noted, too, that this small city is not so big on French food.
All these things are true. But the most pertinent theory may be that Boulud inadvertently stepped into a maelstrom when he cut a deal with Feenie’s one-time business saviour, who had then become the architect of his ouster, businessman David Sidoo. Feenie’s dismissal was so public that it struck many as a deliberate humiliation. Many loyal Lumière customers of the Feenie era did not like it—and in a market the size of Vancouver, such customers are not easy to replace.
So, yes, delivering Boulud as successor was definitely a coup. But as I understand it, even if Sidoo had cloned the DNA of Auguste Escoffier and brought the Emperor of Chefs back from the dead to cook at the rejigged Lumière, local interest would have proved mild. “The real backstory is that there was a subterranean boycott because of the way Feenie was treated,” a top Vancouver restaurateur explained to me on condition of anonymity. “Sidoo gave people who ordinarily would have welcomed Daniel Boulud an excellent reason not to go.”
Meanwhile, Boulud has very ably turned the page. The episode has hardly hurt his reputation. When I asked one of the Europe-based Ritz-Carlton principals whether Vancouver had ever influenced their pursuit of Boulud, they had no idea what I was talking about. For the Ritz’s GM Torriani, it all simply came down to the fact that at Daniel, he had been served “one of the two best meals he had ever had.” (The other was by Joël Robuchon.) As Daniel concludes with a dismissive shrug, “Everybody knows it was more that David Sidoo needed support from Daniel Boulud than it was Daniel who needed Sidoo.”
Pages: 1 2