New York recently experienced an influx of new French restaurants, and Chicago is poised to see its own renaissance. That poses no surprise to celebrated chef Daniel Boulud, a venerable figure in the Big Apple dining scene. French-born Boulud will visit Chicago later this month for Chicago Gourmet, participating in its Grand Cru tasting event on Saturday, September 24.
Chicagoans already see best new restaurant contender Obelix in River North serving contemporary French food from a Midwesterner’s perspective. Meanwhile, Boka Restaurant Group has recruited acclaimed chef and suburban native Daniel Rose to next year open a French restaurant in River North.
“French cuisine never went out of style, it’s just other cuisines became, you know, the things of the time,” Boulud says. “But French cuisine, just like Italian, just like American, just like Japanese, Chinese will never go out of style. It will always be there.”
Boulud mentions a tradition of mentorship, with French chefs passing on lessons to chefs of different heritages and giving them opportunities. It’s the kind of infrastructure that brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey (Le Bouchon) have created at Obelix (Nathan Kim, who is of Korean descent) and Taqueria Chingon (Marcos Ascencio, who is of Mexican descent).
“French restaurants have always been connected with the seasons, connected with tradition, connected with you know — soul,” Boulud says. “And then you can put a lot of creativity and spin on French cuisine if you want to.”
Boulud is known for several restaurants in New York, including two-Michelin-starred Daniel, and he owns restaurants in Montreal, Dubai, and London. However, his appearance in Chicago doesn’t mean he’s considering further expansion in the Midwest. Boulud reminiscences about Chicago chefs Charlie Trotter, Jean Joho, and Jean Banchet. He refers to Alinea chef Grant Achatz by his first name and mentions how excited he is to dine at Curtis Duffy’s three-Michelin-star restaurant Ever. He dined at Grace during his last visit. But alas, he’s not scouting spaces — Lexus sponsored this visit. Boulud is a “Lexus Culinary Master.”
“No, I just want to go and see my friends,” Boulud says. “It’s a great opportunity to see many of my friends that will join the festival and participate.”
Those friends, Boulud says, cultivated a scene where aspiring chefs could learn. Boulud called it a school, saying chefs were mastering many different types of cuisine from the ‘80s through the ‘90s.
The pandemic makes it harder to gather. For the last two years, Chicago Gourmet has been reduced to fewer tents and events. This year marks another step toward normalcy with a fuller schedule (though the Grand Lawn isn’t ready to make its return).
“Since COVID, happened, we haven’t had the chance really to connect much,” Boulud says. “I’m very excited to go back to Chicago and reconnect with all of them.”
Boulud will participate in the first of two Grand Cru sessions. More than 40 chefs are onboard. Tickets still remain for some events — some, like the Hamburger Hop are sold out, which brings out top chefs across the city.
Chicago Gourmet, at Millenium Park, Thursday, September 22 through Sunday, September 25.