This cook's journey belongs to one of Chef Daniel
Boulud's protégés, Jean Francois Bruel, who is now Chef de Cuisine
at DB Bistro Moderne, which opened in midtown Manhattan June 2001.
Like his mentor, Bruel has a talent for combining the best of French
and American cooking. In dishes such as Nantucket Bay Scallops with
Celery Purée, Mandarin Glaze and Grapefruit Chicken Jus he combines
the palate and traditional techniques he learned in France with
the best American ingredients and the open-minded approach and spectrum
of tastes he has been cooking for in New York, since coming to work
for Daniel Boulud over five years ago.
The Bruel family farm was in the village of St. Héand, near St.
Etienne in the heart of the Rhône Alps, and close to the great culinary
capital of Lyon. (This also happens to be Boulud's native region.)
The food on Jean François Bruel's mother's table was harvested from
the kitchen garden or raised on the family farm. The young chef's
natural talent for cooking and great respect for food certainly
began with preparing what was grown and tended in his own backyard.
As a child Bruel made simple sweets such as clafoutis and sablés
alongside his mother. He fell in love with pastry making at a very
young age and even worked briefly in a cousin's pastry shop. His
mother continued to influence him in the kitchen-her ingredients
ranging from the rustic cow and goat's milk cheese she made from
the family dairy, to the rabbits, chickens, pigs and goats she raised
for family meals.
His first professional role model was Marc Lassablière, Chef at
the local restaurant where he worked after school and on weekends
from the age of fourteen. He fondly remembers the venison civet
served in winter and the perfectly crisp frog's legs persillade
on the menu each spring. Yet Chef Lassablière's most valuable lessons
were the efficiency, speed and work ethic it took to run a kitchen
smoothly; lessons which would eventually motivate Bruel to go on
to cooking school.
Other significant mentors included Chef André Barcet under whom
Bruel completed his first apprenticeship in St. Etienne, and later
Paul and Marc Haeberlin in Illhaeusern where the young cook was
inspired as much by the renowned three Michelin starred restaurant's
refined cooking as by the local Alsatian foods and wines. A later
stint in the kitchen of culinary legend, Michel Guérard, imbued
Bruel with an instinct to lighten dishes, substituting flavor for
richness, in the spirit of Guérard's "minceur" style.
Jean François Bruel joined Daniel Boulud in New York in 1996 and
spent his first two years here as a "chef de partie" (line cook)
at DANIEL followed by over three years as first Sous Chef at Café
Boulud, Daniel Boulud's three star French-American restaurant on
the Upper East Side. In Bruel's own words, these years spent alongside
one of the city's most exacting chefs taught him to think more "à
l'amércaine" while still preserving his French roots. He has followed
Boulud's lead in embracing the best of American ingredients combined
with respect for classic French technique. The DB Bistro Moderne
dishes closest to Bruel's heart may well be the Traditional Stuffed
Pigs Feet or the heart warming Braised Lamb Shank, but DB Bistro
signature dishes such as a bold Tomato Tart Tatin with Goat Cheese,
Boeuf en Gelée, Foie Gras and Horseradish Cream and the deliciously
irreverent DB Burger stuffed with red wine braised short ribs and
foie gras show that he is now equal parts daring New Yorker and
Rhône Valley culinary whiz-kid, not to mention, winner of the James
Beard Foundation's award for Rising Star Chef of 2002.