When New York City went into lockdown, many of its most celebrated dining institutions closed their doors, choosing to eschew the off-premises options that were quickly adopted by their more casual peers. Fine dining prides itself on being an inimitable experience, from the culinary creativity to the grand presentation to the sterling service, personal care is put into every detail. Without these factors, many restaurants feared taking their fare away from the restaurant would at best dilute their identity and at worst, damage their reputation.
Acclaimed chef and multiconcept restaurateur Daniel Boulud was among those who shuttered his businesses when dine-in bans swept the Big Apple. But after two months, the chef and his team are back in action with a completely new concept, Daniel Boulud Kitchen, which is challenging the notion that fine dining does not travel well. In late May, the off-premises-only operation began bringing the dishes of Restaurant DANIEL to New Yorkers’ own homes.
“Because Restaurant DANIEL is shut right now, we thought that it would be a good opportunity to make some meals to go, reflecting seasonality, the good quality of ingredients, and, of course, the art of cooking from DANIEL,” Boulud says. “So we are learning about that business; it’s a good thing. We try to really pay attention and maintain our service standard. We want our customers to feel the difference, and we want to be reasonable in price as well.”
Just as the brick-and-mortar restaurant changes its menus regularly, so too does Daniel Boulud Kitchen. It debuted over Memorial Day weekend with the Sunday in Provence menu featuring dishes such as Salade Niçoise, ratatouille, focaccia, as well as a bottle of rosé. The picnic-inspired meal was $150 for two to three people or $275 for four to six. Days later, the second menu, the Boulud Chez Vous premiered; the three-course menu gave guests the option to choose between a few appetizers, entrées, and desserts. The $75-per-person meal could also be augmented with a la carte wine bottles or cocktail mixes for negronis. The following week, Boulud’s Bistro menu was added to the mix. Similar to Boulud Chez Vous, the more casual bistro meals allow guests to choose their three courses but at a lower price point, $58 per diner.
Although Boulud’s restaurant group, Dinex Hospitality, includes a catering business, Feast and Fêtes, building Daniel Boulud Kitchen was a very different undertaking.
“We’re used to going to people’s homes, but we usually send the chefs, the food, the waiters, and everything. Here it’s an extension of that but in a different way,” Boulud says. “Takeout, I think, is about the quality of the food execution before it leaves the [restaurant] and the presentation, as well. We pay attention to the presentation and of course transportation is key.”
At present, the concept is staying within a relatively tight radius to deliver its meals via the platform Tock To-Go. Boulud’s relationship with Lexus helps; he’s long been a culinary ambassador for the luxury car brand, which has provided him and his staff with a car to make deliveries.
For each order placed, 5 percent of the sales goes to Hand in Hand, a Daniel Boulud Foundation. The chef established the nonprofit in March as a way to help his employees amid the temporary restaurant closures. And thanks to the launch of the to-go concept, all of DANIEL’s executive chefs are back in the kitchen.
Although Daniel Boulud Kitchen is still in its earliest stages, Boulud is already planning for expansion. For one, he’s working to partner with Caviar in the future, extending the concept’s delivery radius. Even more ambitious and already in motion are plans to bring Daniel Boulud Kitchen beyond the concrete jungle to popular summer destinations like Westchester, the Hamptons, and Greenwich. These orders would differ from the city meals in that they would include a Friday night dinner, a Saturday meal (lunch or dinner), and a Sunday brunch. This service could be offered as soon as late June and will run through the summer.
“I think it will be worth it for people to order but also worth it for us to make the trip to the Hamptons. It’s exciting,” Boulud says, adding that the to-go concept is well-situated to serve a wide variety of fare. “I’m able to offer the fine dining of DANIEL, but also the more casual fine dining all the way down to … our retail café, Épicerie Boulud, where we have done a lot with sandwiches and salads and more casual food.”
Even as life begins to return to normal across the country (if not in New York City, specifically), Boulud will remain invested in this project. He sees potential in off-premises, not just in terms of culinary innovation, but also in bringing more restaurant employees back to work.
Still when asked whether he thinks Americans will return to fine-dining restaurants when they can have such exceptional fare delivered to their doorstep, his answer is a resounding yes.
“I think a restaurant offers you something you cannot have at home. A restaurant offers you something your friends cannot do for you. Your friends don’t serve you. Maybe your friends make good cocktails; sometimes your friends will cook well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high-end restaurant or a casual bistro or a local pizzeria, the privilege to have someone who plans something every day to perfection, makes something for you like that,” he says. “It’s not [even] a privilege; it’s just the pleasure of having someone cooking for you, having someone serving you, and having someone connecting with you in a way that makes you want to come back and patronize a place.”