Daniel Boulud sits in his miniature office cantilevered over the kitchen at his restaurant Daniel. He calls it "the sky box," and we've mounted a steep, narrow metal ladder to get here. A window reveals the cooks at work below, but you can't hear a thing: the room is soundproof.
On the console is a pitcher in the shape of a chicken and a pair of red sneakers so big they look seaworthy. They're Shaquille O'Neal's, purchased at a charity auction. Our visit is a few days before an April 7 dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Daniel. The $1,250 tickets are already sold out, benefiting Citymeals-on-Wheels, a nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound seniors.
Daniel opened on 76th Street in 1993, and moved to the former home of Le Cirque, where he'd been head chef, in 1999. It is the gem in an empire that stretches from the Bowery to Beijing and includes more casual eateries Boulud Sud, DBGB Kitchen & Bar and Café Boulud.
We sit at a cozy booth in his office as Boulud talks about gadgets, kitchen mishaps and junk food.
Loot: Look at those gleaming copper pans.
Boulud: We bruise, we abuse, but definitely the copper pans have been here the longest. We had them at 76th Street. The good thing with a copper pan is you can keep cleaning it and it's not going to ruin it. We use Mauviel from France.
Loot: It sounds old-fashioned.
Boulud: The future is high precision in cooking -- the Vita-Prep, the thermometers, the probes, the timers. But with high precision, the cooks don't have to be a great cook, they just have to be a good cook.
Loot: What's been lost?
Boulud: In the old days, I was using the whisk all the time to make hollandaise. Now we see them less in the kitchen. Every chef should know how to make a sauce with a whisk, with their hands. These days I also refer to the pre-tweezer generation.
Loot: Tweezers in the kitchen?
Boulud: The way it came about, a lot of Asian chefs like to use chopsticks to put the food on the plate. You know, Americans, European chefs, they're not so good at chopsticks in the middle of service. So the tweezer, it's easier. The idea is to be precise and clean and simple and delicate, rather than putting your hand in stuff.
Loot: Is the most expensive knife the best?
Boulud: Not always, it's about the feel you have for the knife, the feel you build from the knife. You may lose part of the blade from sharpening, but once it's part of you -- I think you are more secure with your old knife than with a brand new knife.
Loot: What about mishaps in your kitchen?
Boulud: We had a chef who passed out the first night he did the grill. We were so busy, so we dragged him from his feet, pulled him into a private room, gave him cold towels, and tried to wake him up so he could finish the service. At the first Daniel, we had a girl who burned her legs with oil. We wanted her to go to the hospital, but she put her legs in a plastic bucket in ice and finished the service.
Loot: Are you sentimental about your silver and china, like the women who dine at Daniel?
Boulud: I have the silverware from the first Daniel 20 years ago, which I keep, because the patina is good. Even if it looks old, it's good to have a patina. It was made in France, in my hometown, Lyon. It has ribs and a fan, and a little engraving of my signature. It's made well, not with a spray of silver on it, it's a real dip. The coating lasts. We renew the silverware at Daniel, so this set is now at Café Boulud.
Loot: What ingredients are you excited about right now?
Boulud: Growing up, we had 30 goats, we were making goat cheese. From mid-March to mid-May, we'd eat baby goat twice a week, so I like baby goat at this time of year.
Loot: Do you ever eat junk food?
Boulud: Hot dogs, but not orange. The ones I make at Epicerie Boulud are natural and beefy pink. And black licorice and Gummy bears. I like the multicolored ones, with yellow, the lemony, and the green.
Amanda Gordon (@amandagordon) writes and photographs the "Scene Last Night" column for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.