Q&A With Chef Jim Leiken of Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach
|Jim Leiken: Working his ass off in Palm Beach.|
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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