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September 2, 2014

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Q+A: Chef Daniel Boulud is happy to be back — ‘we’re all lucky to have Las Vegas’

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Bryan Steffy / WireImage

Buddy Valastro and Daniel Boulud attend the grand opening of DB Brasserie by chef Boulud on Thursday, May 8, 2014, at the Venetian.

DB Brasserie Grand Opening at Venetian

Buddy Valastro and Daniel Boulud attend the grand opening of DB Brasserie by chef Boulud on Thursday, May 8, 2014, at the Venetian. Launch slideshow »

Robin Leach and Daniel Boulud at DB Brasserie

Buddy Valastro and Daniel Boulud at DB Brasserie

Born on a farm in the French countryside, Daniel Boulud, 59, has become one of the most successful and famous chefs in America, and now he’s returned to the Strip to open his showcase DB Brasserie at the Venetian.

The sleek, sophisticated and modern restaurant plucked from the platinum plazas of Paris was opened with an official red ribbon-cutting ceremony on Day 1 of the 2014 Vegas Uncork’d food-and-wine festival one week ago.

DB Brasserie joins his empire of outstanding outlets in New York, Palm Beach, Fla., Miami, London, Montreal, Toronto and Singapore. In Manhattan, he has six venues, including his prestigious Michelin three-star restaurant Daniel at the site of the first restaurant, Le Cirque, where he worked after he landed in America as a youngster in the mid 1980s.

It’s where I first got to know him, and I’ve called him un bon ami ever since. Daniel moved to Las Vegas for Steve Wynn in 2005, but his restaurant, Daniel, closed on July 4, 2010, when Steve decided that he wanted to have chef David Walzog’s Lakeside Grill seafood concept take its place.

Now the brasserie is back in Las Vegas four years later just across the street at rival Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian. Daniel and Sheldon became business partners when he opened his DB Bistro Moderne at Sheldon’s Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in 2011.

More than 200 Las Vegas VIPs gave a warm welcome to Daniel on his opening day, including fellow Venetian chefs Thomas Keller and “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro, who presented him with a special showgirl celebration cake. Thanks to Christopher Rauschnot of 24KMedia on Twitter for his two videos posted on YouTube.

At the end of opening-night partying, Daniel and I poured glasses of champagne and snuck away to talk in a quiet booth. Critics and food fanatics alike have raved back East about his 14 varieties of sausage and his three versions of burgers, one with foie gras. Order all three for $48.

What is your philosophy with this new DB Brasserie? This is different than what you did at the Wynn.

A little, yes. This is a different time and a different setting. This represents more of a French brasserie. This is more comfortable, where that one was a little more upscale formal. I wanted to make sure this really represented an authentic French brasserie and not like a house on the lake.

That one has more of a cultural feeling versus the urban feeling there. Since I left Las Vegas, I have opened a number of restaurants, and all have added ambiance to the menu. It’s a warmth; it’s a feeling of today.

Is this a correct observation: We have maintained fine dining, and fine dining has actually gotten finer, but the way that it is served and the ambiance it’s served in has become more casual?

Very much so. I want the opportunity to use the best ingredients and to be about making dishes that are complex in preparation, but at the same time to be able serve a DBGB burger. Where in the past the first generation of the brasserie, we only had the DB burger, and it was only open at night for dinner service. Here we’re going to be open all day basically. It’s what we call incredibly refined cuisine in a fun and vibrant atmosphere. The burger might be all-American, but we turn it into a mouthwatering gourmet French dish.

Click to enlarge photo

Thomas Keller, Larry Ruvo and Daniel Boulud attend the grand opening of DB Brasserie by chef Boulud on Thursday, May 8, 2014, at the Venetian.

Click to enlarge photo

Daniel Boulud and Robin Leach attend the grand opening of DB Brasserie by chef Boulud on Thursday, May 8, 2014, at the Venetian.

So the entire menu is more approachable and more casual on certain things. We’re on the casino floor here, there’s a little more walk-in business. We want to encourage that, as well. When you go to a brasserie in Paris, everybody can go. The successful businessman is rubbing shoulders with the working man, and they can have an amazing wine or a beer and a nice platter of meat.

That’s how I want to have it. I want to be able to strike a balance where it pleases many different styles of people, but they can all find the quality and service they’d want.

One hotel, two extraordinary chefs, one French and one American, both who love Parisian brasseries. Thomas Keller and you. Did you talk with him before you came here to make sure there was no conflict and to ensure that they would be different?

Thomas is my best friend; he’s my longest friend. I’m not trying to compete with Thomas or copy Thomas. Bouchon is certainly a very elegant restaurant. He has an outdoor feeling. My menu here is a little bit more French and eclectic with some Asian and Mediterranean dishes and some American dishes. I enjoy doing casual American dishes like the burgers.

His is definitely top Parisian cuisine. His is the best brasserie in Las Vegas, but then he’d probably say the same when he comes here. We have more people in this complex of the Venetian and the Palazzo than a small city in America, so we could have 12 or 15 restaurants without competing with one another. There’s room for both of us, and what I like is that it makes our French cuisine stronger, better and more appreciated. Maybe our steak frites are the same, but everything else is different.

So you’re not competitive in any sense of the word? You’re not doing the same thing, and you have different approaches to French food?

Very much. I’m from Lyon.

Where he goes to train the U.S. culinary team in the world Bocuse D’Or finals.

Yes. I take a lot of pride and have incredible admiration for Thomas. He is incredible. He has redefined excellence in America, and look how he’s grown here and developed his bakery and other restaurants. A very smart man. And the word Bouchon comes from Lyon, so that makes him extra smart!

Is it good to be back in Las Vegas?

I’m so excited. There’s not a chef who doesn’t want to be here. Frankly, the community of chefs here is amazing, and nobody is fighting or criticizing the other. I think there’s a very strong core of friendship, and everyone feels like we’re all lucky to have Las Vegas in America because it’s certainly the only city where we can bring so much talent together.

It’s changed since I first came here. It’s gotten even bigger and the talent keeps on coming and we have the top of the top here. It’s good to be back, and if I can create another restaurant, a second one, I will be even happier. But first we have to make this one work, and that’s the prime mission for now.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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