Chef Daniel Boulud is a master of haute cuisine. He’s scooped up three Michelin stars for his restaurant, Daniel, in New York City and owns 13 other award-winning eateries around the globe.
Café Boulud and dbar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville are recent additions to his culinary collection.
He also keeps busy with his cookbooks, TV shows and public appearances, as well as sitting on the board of the New York charity, Citymeals-on-wheels.
But it’s not all terrine de fois gras or nettle agnolotti for the 58-year-old celebrity chef.
When Boulud wants to unwind, he climbs behind the wheel of a McLaren or Ferrari and runs laps around the Watkins Glen race track.
The racing enthusiast has completed the Ferrari school at Mont Tremblant in Quebec and roots for Fernando Alonso in Formula One.
Although the Frenchman’s love of motoring and fine cuisine may seem at odds, the two pursuits have a rich, symbiotic relationship.
After all, the Michelin guide is still considered the preeminent authority on top culinary experiences around the world. It began as the tire company’s rating of fine-dining establishments for motoring Parisians (intended to drive sales of automobiles and tires).
“When you go from Paris to Nice, all the best restaurants were along the Route Nationale 7,” recalls Boulud, the eldest of five whose family farmed in the village of St. Pierre de Chandieu near Lyon.
He says motorists travelling to or from Paris often stopped in Lyon for lunch, dinner or to spend the night. “That’s why the Lyon region was so rich in starred restaurants.”
After starting his culinary career at age 14, Boulud was able to buy his first car a couple of years later — a Renault 4, the simple, reliable and iconic French car that sold more than 8 million units from 1961 to 1992.
“(The) Renault 4 was like a Ford Fiesta; it was an economy car but I was driving it like a race car,” he adds. “In the 70s, there wasn’t any way of catching you with speed because there weren’t any speed traps or cameras — or cops by the roadside.”
But he wrecked that car when he drove off the road one foggy night while out cruising with friends. So his parents bought him a new car, a “super-sporty yet econo-sporty” Renault 5.
“They bought it for me because I needed a car — I was in the middle of the countryside — in order to go home on the weekends,” explains Boulud, who was 18 at the time and working at the three-star Georges Blanc restaurant in the rural commune of Vonnas.
“It was also a utility car, because every time I would go to the farmers’ market or I would go to pick up things from farms around Georges Blanc, basically we were using my car for anything useful. I was one of the young chefs with a car, so you’re always ready to help with anything.”
But the cars Boulud admired most were the locally badged Gordini.
“They were taking Renaults and turning those into pumped-up cars,” he says. “Gordini was always blue with a white stripe. I had friends and cousins who had Gordinis. There was the Alpine, the R8 and the Dauphine Gordini — they were like street cars that were also doing rally racing and the course de côte, which is an uphill race.”
Although Boulud missed out on the Gordini craze, he and a girlfriend did snag a mid-70s Mini Cooper, which they used to explore farms, markets, and restaurants.
“Every day off, we would go to a different region in Burgundy or in Beaujolais,” he recalls. “The entire region is so rich with food so, on a day off, we would drive like 50, 60, 100 miles, just to have frog legs and crayfish.
“Then we would drive the other side, and go to the Beaujolais and spend the whole day going from village to village. It’s very beautiful, very hilly — a charming, charming region and, of course, we would drive down to Lyon. This was a sexy car.”
Decades later, he would retrace that route on what Boulud calls an epic, 100,000-calorie road trip with a group of friends, as they researched new wines for his restaurant in New York. Touring in a BMW sedan (with a designated driver), they travelled from Burgundy and Beaujolais down the Rhone Valley to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
“From Chablis to Chateauneuf,” he jokes. “Eating and drinking every day, and we would easily do six wine cellars a day, and each wine maker has at least six, eight, 10 different wines to taste.”
Boulud, who lives above Daniel in New York, is currently without a day-to-day automobile.
He sold his Aston Martin DB7 after 10 years because he found he wasn’t using it much, but admits to second thoughts on that score. He does pick up a high-end car now and then from Miller Motorcars in Greenwich, Connecticut.
His dream car is a 1968 Mustang (gray with red stripes) but he’d also like to try the Fiat Abarth — perhaps harkening back to his Renault days.
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