Bouley Botanical: Why My Private Dinner with Chef David Bouley Did Not Convince Me to Cook Like Him
This weekend I was extremely fortunate to meet the acclaimed chef David Bouley and enjoy a private dinner prepared by him at his new dining venue Bouley Botanical. The setting is stunning. Bouley Botanical is a soaring two story venue lined with vertical window gardens containing over 400 edible plants, all used in his cooking.
The kitchen is open to the diners--and what a kitchen! The red and brass range, and his copper pots alone had me drooling, forget what came out of them.
Well actually, I wasn't drooling over some of contents of those pots, but we will get to that....
First, lest I seem like an ungrateful cad, let me begin by saying that any dinner prepared by the acclaimed chef is an extraordinarily special experience, and I wish to thank my hosts, the folks from Toto USA , for the exceptional time. Thanks also to Veronika Miller for including me as one of her "Designhounds." I was most fortunate to find myself inside Bouley Botanical.
That said, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I enjoyed an anniversary dinner with my husband at Chef Bouley's first restaurant in NYC, Montrachet. I remember it well, and wish my cooking skills were up to recreating the wonderful taste memories.
The food at Bouley Botanical, while very good, did not measure up to that meal, but Chef Bouley is after larger goals. He wants to change how Americans eat and his efforts are laudable.
Here is the story, and why I didn't buy into all of it.
Before dinner, Chef Bouley also recalled his first restaurant fondly, explaining that he was a pioneer in using local ingredients in what was then called "nouvelle cuisine." He went on to disclose, however, that unlike his Montrachet days, he no longer uses butter and cream in his cooking.
Chef Bouley explained that he is at the forefront of the healthy eating movement spurred on by the many doctors who have turned to integrative medicine to cure our nation's obesity, diabetes epidemic and other health woes. And its not just the evils of butter and cream, sugar be damned too! You have heard it before.
News to me was the importance of not only using fresh herbs and vegetables, but caring about the soil in which they are grown. The Chef's explanation got a bit technical for this black thumb but it sounded smart. Chef Bouley also talked about the benefits of fermented foods.
Then he showed a film demonstrating the preparation of a variety of alternative oils using unusual, but healthy, ingredients like vanilla bean and turmeric that he urges everyone to prepare before they start cooking dinner. A cookbook is coming soon. Your extra virgin olive oil is now on the hit list along with that butter and cream.
This is where he lost me. Who has time for that? Plus, there are so many food fads, with new villains seemingly daily, that I wonder if any natural ingredient without additives is bad as long as it's eaten sensibly.
After his talk, we were served a multi-course meal prepared with Chef Bouley's new methods. Those unusual oils imparted interesting taste sensations, not all of which were wholly pleasing to me. Plus he served, count them, 3 desserts. So much for the sugar devil.
Which brings me to my beef (full disclosure: I eat that).
Not surprisingly, David Bouley can make most things taste good, but he is famous for a reason! If all of those desserts were prepared without some form of sugar, the man truly is a magician. I don't know how the home cook could manage that feat.
Additionally, while I completely agree with him that Americans need to have a more healthy diet, I argue that we need to teach folks how to do that with less steps, not by adding more (i.e. preparing all those special oils).
In my opinion, we should all cook like my grandma. No processed foods, all fresh vegetables (she grew most of them), and the best meat, chicken and fish she could find. And the current "fermented' trend--the lady made her own sauerkraut, and let me tell you about the deliciousness of pickled beets and eggs for Easter.
She sounds right on trend, don't you think? Funny that she died when I was 11.
So like my grandma (and Chef Bouley), I believe that healthy eating requires us to know where our ingredients come from, and how they are made. That means we must schedule time to go to the market and select our fresh food, and we must prioritize food preparation like she did.
Unlike Chef Bouley, I follow my grandma's footsteps and contend that there are no evil natural ingredients as long as they are eaten in moderation. I believe that some butter and cream won't kill you-- a little can go a long way and it undeniably makes food taste great. Neither will the occasional sweet treat.
And no way am I giving up my extra virgin olive oil. I am too busy selecting my food and making it to start preparing those oils too.
But if you are curious about the type of taste sensation vanilla garlic oil gives to mushrooms, book your next event at Bouley Botanicals. You will surely eat healthy, and it will be a terrific evening in a wonderful setting.
For me, it was another New York Adventure.
First and last photo from David Bouley's website. Other restaurant photos by Lynn Byrne.