Ever since it opened in 2003, Daniel Boulud‘s Café Boulud Palm Beach has been delighting local residents and international visitors alike with its award-winning French-American menu and lush setting in the historic Brazilian Court Hotel. Two decades ago, Boulud was the first celebrity chef to set up shop in Palm Beach — though far from the last — and for PALMER, he shares his memories of regular clientele and evenings spent in his well-appointed dining spaces (including his favorite dish, which you can still find on the menu today).
Read on for Boulud’s reflections on 20 years in Palm Beach.
PALMER: What inspired you to open Café Boulud in Palm Beach 20 years ago?
Daniel Boulud: I have a longstanding relationship with Palm Beach. Café Boulud Palm Beach was my first restaurant location outside of New York. I absolutely fell in love with the Brazilian Court on my first visit to the area and was very happy to partner with hotel owner Richard Schlesinger to bring the Café Boulud concept to South Florida. For nearly two decades, our guests’ dedication to the restaurant has been steadfast — frequented by the movers and shakers on the island and celebrity clientele who are visiting the area.
How have you seen Palm Beach change over the last two decades, and how has Café Boulud changed alongside it?
We could tell 20 years ago that Palm Beach was in an evolution. There were trendy restaurants — some short and long lived, but Palm Beach has always been classic, and Café Boulud is part of the classic mode 20 years later. People need classics, just as they need newcomers. And Palm Beach has grown exponentially as West Palm Beach has grown.
We have made it a priority to really engrain ourselves in this community. I have done a lot of private parties in Palm Beach. We have done things with the local farmers, with local charities. We are proud to be active with the local community. We work very hard to find good local suppliers and support them well.
What have been some of your most memorable evenings at Café Boulud since you first opened your doors?
Opening night in Palm Beach was much anticipated as the entire time we were under construction, we were talking to our guests in New York City about what was happening there. At that time, I already had a big following in New York from guests coming into the city from around the world, so they were very excited. The local clientele, the local chefs, Palm Beach clients who were through different connections, media, industry, customers, socialites — they all embraced us right away. There have been many restaurant openings in Palm Beach over the years, but many didn’t last, and we have stood the test of time.
And speaking of memorable, which guests stand out in your mind over that time period?
What I love the most is seeing the families who have embraced us over the years. I started serving the grandparents on the Upper East Side 30 years ago at Restaurant Daniel, then the parents at Café Boulud New York and now I see the children raising their children in Palm Beach and dining with us — or reuniting all the generations here!
Which menu items have been your personal favorites?
The Sea Bass en Paupiette — this recipe is 35 years old. I created it as a young chef, and it has never gone out of style. It’s one of the great classics of the restaurant. There are not too many ingredients, but it’s showcased beautiful and combination that is soothing and healthy. It’s a classic like a burger or a great steak — it has never changed over the years.
What, for you, has made Café Boulud in Palm Beach special?
That no matter what, we have maintained our standard of food and service. Even during the slower summer months years ago, we have made sure that every touch point from the time someone walks in the door is considered to deliver the very best dining experience.
Aside from the fact that this was your first restaurant outside New York, what other sentiments about the restaurant do you have?
We have an incredible team. Some of our staff have been with us for five, 10 and even 20 years, and that makes a difference. Many guests call to make a reservation and ask for their favorite server by name!
What has been the most rewarding aspect of Café Boulud’s 20 years in Palm Beach?
I love that I see familiar faces every time I’m in town. We welcome guests from all over America and Canada, especially from the Northeast, and when I’m in Palm Beach, I see so many people who I also see at Daniel in the Upper East Side. Now, many are relocating to Florida. We have long-standing guests from New York City, including four generations of the same family, and they are also spending time together in Palm Beach. It’s wonderful to see them in both places.