Raised on a farm in a small village outside of Lyon, trained under French master chefs including Georges Blanc, Paul Haeberlin, and Michel Guérard, named Chef at a noteworthy New York restaurant at age 28 .... If this sounds uncannily similar to the life of Chef Daniel Boulud the coincidence is greater than you think.
This cook's journey belongs to one of Chef Daniel Boulud's protégés, Jean Francois Bruel. 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 in the mid-90s.
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.
Bruel's first professional role model was Marc Lassablière, chef at the local restaurant where he worked after school and on weekends from the age of 14. He fondly remembers the venison civet served in winter and the perfectly crisp frog's legs persillade on the menu each spring. Yet 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.
Bruel joined Daniel Boulud in New York in 1996 and spent his first two years here as a chef de partie 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 followed Boulud's lead in embracing the best of American ingredients combined with respect for classic French technique. And as opening chef de cuisine at DB Bistro Moderne, Bruel won a 2002 StarChefs.com Rising Stars Award and the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef Award.
Now, Bruel serves as chef de cuisine at Boulud's restaurant crown jewel, Daniel, where he has earned the restaurant three stars from Michelin and The New York Times, a James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award, and the number eight spot on San Pellegrino's World's Top 50 Restaurants list.