Q&A With Chef Jim Leiken of Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach
Jim Leiken: Working his ass off in Palm Beach.
After checking out Bill Citara's review of Palm Beach's Cafe Boulud --
our Dish coulmn this week -- Clean Plate Charlie followed up for a
debrief with executive chef Jim Leiken. We talked about his new gig,
settling in, and what's to come at Cafe Boulud by Daniel.
Clean Plate Charlie: Two-part question. First, how would you differentiate your cooking from Zach Bell's? Second, our critic this week describes your cooking as a display of "bolder seasoning and bigger flavors." Can you speak to that?
Bell and I are from the same school, so our styles are
very similar. But each chef has his own idiosyncratic style. I've been
with Boulud for over ten years, most recently at DBGB, which aims to attract a younger crowd with bigger flavors than you'd
typically find at a restaurant by Daniel Boulud. So my most recent
tenure at DBGB comes through in my cooking here.
At Boulud's announcement
of your taking the helm here, he mentioned Bell's bringing a "Florida
feel" to cuisine at the restaurant. How has geography influenced your
cooking here so far?
Though I've only been in Florida two months, what's exciting so
far is finding fish I couldn't get in New York: all sorts of flounder,
snapper, spiny lobster, wahoo. We get our fish from Gary's Seafood out
of Orlando as well as several other purveyors. Part of my job here is to
assess and reevaluate relationships with purveyors to find the freshest
local ingredients that are available.
What's your favorite dish on the menu right now?
An eggplant-wrapped swordfish with lentil stew and
house-made merguez sausage. This is an example of a dish where I can play with
ingredients that are out of reach for me in New York, pricewise.
Swordfish is something I could have served as a special, but the price
was too high to add it to the menu at DBGB. The spiced lentils are bold,
and the sausage -- having worked with meat and charcuterie for so long -- is
dear to my heart. It's a fun dish, but it's also very Daniel.
What can we expect in the future?
I've already changed more than three-quarters of the menu from what it
was when Zach was here. Going forward, we'll take the temperature of
what people respond to, what's successful and what's not. We intend to
move in the same direction. This is a very successful restaurant, an
institution in Palm Beach.
Has your wife moved down from New York yet?
She's back and forth, managing our relocation. We're still trying to nail down housing.
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