Daniel Boulud may like the potential of doing business in Beijing, but that doesn’t mean he likes Beijing.
Speaking via Skype to a small audience in Singapore Tuesday night from his home in New York City, where he was just getting his day started, Boulud was surprisingly candid about his thoughts on Beijing for a man who’d recently opened a restaurant in China’s capital. (Maison Boulud à Pékin opened in July, 2008.)
Boulud, who was dialling in to kick off the premiere of a reality TV-style show he’d done for the Asian Food Channel, recalled how he had flown to Singapore from Beijing during his trip last year.
“Coming from Beijing, I tell you, Singapore felt good — Singapore was a little more civilized,” he said, noting that one of the first things he did after getting off the plane was get a haircut. “I didn’t trust anyone in Beijing to cut my hair.”
Boulud, dressed in his chef’s whites and flanked with a portrait of himself hoisting a glass, then breezed on to close with a nugget, noting that he hoped to open a restaurant in Singapore. (A public relations person for Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino was perched in the audience. Singapore’s first casinos, which are still under construction, have been courting high-end chefs to open in their establishments.)
Such frankness, unfortunately, was a little less apparent in the reality show, “One Night in Singapore — Daniel Boulud,” which chronicled the chef’s first trip to Singapore and his process of putting together a seven-course meal for a group of 50 diners.
The intention to showcase tension is there, of course — the show kicks off with a dramatic voiceover heavy with Discovery Channel gravitas that notes the obstacles Boulud has to overcome to make his dinner a success: “high humidity … a kitchen that is too far removed from the main dining area.” But Boulud is too skilled a chef for much of that to be believable.
Let’s face it, the man could probably toss together a seven-course meal with little problem if he were air-dropped into the middle of a desert and had one hand tied behind his back.
This is not to say the show wasn’t enjoyable. We see Boulud traipsing through Singapore’s markets, sniffing at fish heads and stroking lotus leaves. He samples bloody marys made with the flaming-hot Asian chili padi and on the night of his big dinner at the tony Fullerton Hotel, we see him organizing a plating production line with impressive Germanic precision.
The details of the dishes are largely glossed over. We witness the careful baking of a lotus leaf-wrapped salmon in clay and the slightly frenzied whipping together of a last-minute risotto. The rest of the courses merely whizz by.
During Boulud’s Skype appearance, someone in the audience asked what he’s making for dinner tonight. Noting that he’s preparing a special meal for a “famous GQ magazine journalist,” he said he’s planning a duck a la presse and proceeded to walk through the steps involved, from the intense squeezing of the duck to extract its blood and juices to the whisking of said blood into the sauce.
Now that — that would be great TV.