Last night, OpenTable hosted 100 dinners in 30 cities at some of the world’s top restaurants, all in one night. One of our most coveted tables was the Skybox — private chef’s table — at Daniel, the iconic Upper East Side restaurant helmed by Chef Daniel Boulud.
“Daniel is a magical place,” says Boulud. “To me, it has Old World, old Europe and the new world today in New York. Daniel has a bit of a theatrical feel once you’re in the dining room. First and foremost, Daniel is about dining, experiencing the food and wine.”
Since Chef Boulud is a master at creating memorable dining experiences for guests, we sat down with him to talk all about the Skybox, what makes it special, and his advice for aspiring restaurateurs.
What inspires me the most in this business — coming from France, where I had a bit of a classical training — is the constant evolution in cooking, in technology, in the guests’ tastes. Of course, every day I’m inspired by the market. Every day I’m inspired by my chefs, my team, who really are extraordinary and make me such a proud restaurateur today. What inspires me the most, at the end, is the guest experience.I think this is what helps us strive higher and give a better performance. There’s nothing better than when a customer gives a compliment about an individual working here.
What is your advice for aspiring restaurateurs?
Today, it’s a little bit different for chefs to think about growing in this business. Opening a restaurant is is one opportunity, or being with a group and growing that group is another opportunity. Being a partner in a restaurant, also.
My advice for a young chef who wants to open a restaurant is to be sure to be well financed, to be in a very good location, to have a very good understanding of your concept, your clientele and your city. And to really train your staff to be better than you. At the end, they’re all going to do the job. I have no intention to say I am better than anyone at Daniel. I think the combination of all of our talents make it happen.
Tell us about the Skybox. What would someone expect from an experience in the Skybox?
The Skybox is the secret table at Daniel. It’s overlooking the kitchen, where the chefs are preparing and finishing plates. What’s special about the Skybox is that you can watch the chefs cooking. It’s the central nerve of Restaurant Daniel.
The Skybox has many purposes. During the day, the Skybox is my office, where I conduct all my private meetings with the team of chefs. It’s also the place where I collect pictures of past guests who have been at Daniel, or occasions I have to share — moments with friends.
Why did you decide to put in the Skybox?
In New York City square footage is always expensive, so how do you maximize the square footage in your kitchen? In the corner of the kitchen, I could use the 14-foot ceiling and divide that into two spaces: one underneath for the pantry and the waiters, and above for my office and a table for four people. This table is a little bit like you are in a ship, in a cabin — something very intimate, where you feel the privacy and yet you are watching everyone cooking below.
What does it look like?
In the Skybox there are a lot of pictures around. It feels homey, clubbish. It has pictures of me as a chef in New York, often with celebrities, politicians, movie stars or singers. But also with a lot of chefs; for me, it means a lot to see them there. It’s very personal. There are also gifts I’ve received along the way for occasions, garnishing a beautiful little shelf on the side of the table. And there’s a television, because we have guests who come and watch games. When the Knicks are in town, they want to come to Daniel, have dinner, and watch the Knicks! [Laughs.]
Who are some of the photos of?
It goes from Obama to Woody Allen to the Dalai Lama to Lady Gaga. You have a mix.
What kinds of people dine in the Skybox?
First, the Skybox was strictly for charity. It was put up as a unique experience to raise money for City Meals on Wheels, one of the charities I support in New York. Then, people started to know about it and the Skybox was in demand. We had some celebrities who didn’t want to be seen in the restaurant but wanted to have a very private moment, so then we started to accept people in the Skybox. We decided the Skybox should be an experience at DANIEL like any other experience — except, because there’s one table in the Skybox, you cannot just multi-book the Skybox. Only once a day.
How many people can sit there?
Four. We have done more, but I don’t recommend it!