After spending an entire day with Daniel Boulud, I realized why the 60-year-old chef and restaurateur with 14 properties under his belt is showing no signs of slowing down.
So many chefs have come out of Boulud's kitchens. In Miami alone, I can think of three (outside of his own restaurant, of course) off the top of my head -- Andrew Carmellini and Conor Hanlon from the Dutch, as well as Scarpetta's chef de cuisine Marlon Rambaran.
Boulud visits Miami several times a year. This time around, after 13 years of locally sourcing from Swank Farms in West Palm Beach, he finally thought it would be nice to put a face to the farmers whose produce he's been using. He also cooked for them -- along with a dining room full of fans. Boulud prepared the new fall menu items at DB Bistro Moderne, all of which highlight local purveyors.
It's a warm day at Swank Farms and DB (as he's called by everyone) is looking extremely fashionable sporting black jeans, a blue-washed button-up, moccasins, and Ray-Bans. He's surrounded by paparazzi, a handful of media, and his entourage of people who make his life happen every single day. But the chef is like a child, going about freely and playing with whatever crosses his path, from a bicycle to a shrub of flowers, he stops to smell and ask the question: "Are they edible?"
Growing up on a farm just outside of Lyon, France, DB is no stranger to farm life. But even after 52 years in the field (the chef began farming at the age of 8), he's still learning and keeping an open mind. "Have you ever seen Indian oregano?" asks Darren Swank, farmer and owner of Swank Farms. DB's response: "No, show me." The spice would then be incorporated into a spontaneous picnic lunch he and his DB Bistro chef whipped up under the hot sun with no real kitchen available. "Sorry that we're running the farm like a kitchen," said DB as he walked around the table personally serving everyone beautifully cooked turnips.
Swank Farms opened its 20-acre facility, six acres of which are used for farming, back in 2001. The first account would be the also newly opened Café Boulud in West Palm Beach. It's a relationship that in the span of a decade has only gotten stronger. "Congrats for year after year expanding quality and selection," DB told them. "Out of all farmers in Florida, you are the one that likes to entertain chefs." Swank Farms grows everything from sishito and padron peppers to all types of lettuces and beans. Next on their agenda: rabbit.
"My father would be happy here," said DB several times throughout the day. It was DB's great grandparents who started the farm in Lyon, which is still managed by his parents today, although production is only for subsistence. His grandparents opened the original Café Boulud in Lyon in the '50s only to close it a decade later. "We were five children and they wanted to expand living quarters for us." It wasn't until 50 years later, in 1998, that Café Boulud would reopen in NYC. The rest is history.
Since DB Bistro opened, Boulud has always sourced local products, as he does in all his restaurants, but he hasn't really showcased it until now. "I've been talking to farmers and going to farms was my life, but it was an oxymoron to talk about local farmers in Florida until recently and so we decided to do farmers dinners and want to welcome some of our finest purveyors." These included Swank Farms, Paradise Farms, and AAA Farms, as well as Trigger Seafood who chef de cuisine Jason Pringle sources a lot of the fish from on a daily basis, depending on what fisherman Jorge Figueroa can reel and hook that morning.
DB fans and devotees attended the dinner for a chance to meet and greet the chef, buy a signed copy of his cookbook, and eat food that actually had his hand in. All the dishes from last night's dinner will be permanent fixtures on DB Bistro's fall menu and can be ordered a la carte. The dishes also come with the peace of mind that comes along with supporting your local farmers.
We started out with an amuse bouche. A slightly seasoned piece of wahoo from fisherman Jorge.
Swank Farms baby beets with quinoa, tabouli, sheep's milk yogurt, red sorrel, and six types of beans.
Trigger dayboat snapper grenobloise with a spinach subric, mushroom fricassee, and cauliflower (all from Swank Farms). Jorge pulls this particular fish from the Keys. Although he goes out into the sea with no particular plan of what catch he'll get that day, yellowtail snapper is almost always guaranteed. And this one in particular was exceptional.
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"Sebastian Bouillon who could be French and is from Leon in Spain, like I am from Lyon in France, is really the champion when it comes to raising pig." AAA Farm-raised suckling pig with pak choi, daikon radish, and baby turnips all from Swank Farms was beyond exceptional. The pig skin was perfectly golden and given a little touch of Boulud NYC with some caramelized pear. "Sebastian is very smart because he knew how many Cubans were here and said if I'm gonna go after a Spanish community, I'm gonna go to Miami," joked Boulud.
For dessert, pastry chef Jerome Maure prepared a pineapple vacherin with Paradise Farms pineapples, crispy coconut meringue, vanilla chantilly, carambola pineapple sorbet and coconut ice cream.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha