The New Look of Classic

Interview by Jeffrey Steen |
Culinary Personalities

db Bistro

Opened in: 2011
Style/cuisine: Elegant French bistro
Sommelier: Christopher Lindemann
Design highlight: 16-foot ceilings and a mirror-bedazzled barback
Fun fact: Chef Daniel Boulud has eight restaurant concepts around the world, from NYC to Beijing. None of them, however, resides in his hometown of Lyon, France.


Chef Godard, you personally have worked both in Old-World French restaurants and in New-World concepts in New York and elsewhere. What do you think is the biggest difference between these culinary cultures?
I’m from France originally, but I traveled a lot growing up. The truth is, I came to the U.S. not expecting much in the way of cuisine. What I found out was, New York is a culinary hotspot—and I was very impressed with it. It led me into a wonderful seven years in the city and a great foundation for my career.

Almost a year ago, I made the move to Miami—the result of a promotion to executive chef that was a perfect personal and professional advancement. Miami is a different food city than New York, for sure, but I wanted to come here—for the local ingredients, the culinary possibilities, and, of course, the weather.

What separates the New from the Old? Tradition, I’d say. In France, we have a culinary foundation that you don’t find here in the U.S., simply because of the longevity and focus of the culture. It can be both liberating to work outside the box, and grounding to have a culinary tradition that anchors a menu.

 

The concept at db Bistro Moderne is clearly a mix of French bistro and American contemporary flavors. Can you give us some examples of how these two meld on the menu?
The best example is the db Burger—as created by Daniel. It’s your traditional American burger with high-quality beef and French touches like foie gras. It’s a good representation of the culinary fusion of both countries.


How does this fit into Daniel Boulud’s overarching culinary style?
Since Chef Boulud arrived in the U.S., he has brought together his French culinary roots with American culinary influences, making them both his own. It’s a great mix, because it allows him to use what’s native to a given city, focusing on local ingredients, while also sharing his culinary foundation. db Bistro, for example, has always had a French base, but brings the city into the menu. There are a lot of local features. For example, we recently had fresh red snapper on the menu in Miami, which is very popular here.

 

Local product is clearly prevalent on your menu. How much of what you create is in deference to the seasons and to ingredients available locally?
As much as possible, honestly. We’re using local farmers and purveyors whenever possible. In fact, we’re going to be focusing on tomatoes shortly. It’s crazy, but at the end of February, you can already get beautiful tomatoes in Miami. [Laughs] You can’t do that up north, so we take advantage of it here. For a lot of our produce, we use Paradise Farms. They not only give us great tomatoes, but lately have provided us with delicious red strawberries for our pastries. We’re always trying to find smaller, local farms to support in Miami. And, because I think it’s very important to see where the product is from, I’m planning a farm visit soon.

 

Tell us about the cocktail program at db. Is it intentionally designed to fit with the menu?
Oh, very much so. We crafted our cocktail program so that the drinks would be old-school, but with a touch of modern to them as well—just like the concept of the bistro. We’re trying to bring back old flavors, like in the signature Smoked Pigeon cocktail, which captures the feel of old American distilleries. To make it more interactive with the menu, I’ve created a dish that pairs particularly well with it: the Barbecued Chicken Wings with blue cheese dipping sauce. We’re really trying to promote the complements of food and cocktails, and people seem to be really into it.

 

You often talk about the sense of family you feel is present in the kitchen at db Bistro. What does that look like, day-to-day?
A restaurant kitchen is a crazy place. Honestly, you never have a day that’s boring—there’s always excitement. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you’re serious, but the kitchen team gets through it together. Anything can happen, and you always have a surprise waiting for you, so it’s important to have solid relationships in place. I’m very close to my sous chefs and line cooks. You have to be. If you don’t like the people you work with, you can’t make a restaurant work.

 

Given these regular surprises, what are some of the bigger challenges you face at db in Miami?
With my promotion to executive chef came an enormous amount of change. You are responsible and accountable to virtually everyone—those who work for you and those you work for. You have to learn that everyone responds differently to different situations, so you have to tailor your responses and approach. In one instance, I might be working with a 19-year-old, and in another, I’d be working with a seasoned professional. I can’t ask them both to do the same thing in the same way, so it makes things interesting. I’m still cooking, of course—I think it’s important to keep peeling potatoes and making stock—but I definitely spend more time managing. And it’s a challenge.

 

When you’re not busy in the kitchen, how do you spend your time off?
Naturally, I’m interested in the local dining scene, and have been able to stop by for a meal at various restaurants in the city. I think it’s very interesting to watch the scene grow and develop. When I have a bit more time, I’m looking forward to discovering the city as a whole with my wife. And there’s no denying we came south for the weather, so we’re going to spend some much-deserved time on the beach.