David Bouley's restaurant in the Tribeca district.

David Bouley's restaurant in the Tribeca district.
© Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

David Bouley: Legendary US star chef dies at the age of 70

"I don't follow recipes... You don't become a good cook by following recipes", David Bouley wrote on his homepage during his lifetime.

Not only was that his motto, he also didn't like printed menus in his restaurants. He often asked his guests to place themselves completely in his hands. "Enjoyment is a question of taste. Cooking with the intellect is wonderful. But what people want without thinking about it comes from the physical experience of taste," Bouley told Wine Spectator in 2012.

Bouley was not only one of the best, but also one of the most innovative chefs in America. He is best known for his New York flagship restaurant "Bouley". Now, at the age of 70, he has died of a heart attack at his home in Kent, Connecticut, his wife Nicole Bertelme confirmed. Chef Bouley was known for his meticulous standards and his tireless drive to break new creative ground in the kitchen. He transferred French nouvelle cuisine to American cuisine, shaped fine dining in New York, was one of the first chefs in the USA to create tasting menus, paved the way for the "farm to table" movement and was a mentor for generations of chefs. Together with Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Bouley was a pioneer of the New American style.

Great sympathy within the industry

New York's restaurant greats pay tribute to the late chef and restaurateur"He was the one who welcomed me to New York for the very first time, made me a fantastic brunch and convinced me to move to New York," wrote Chef Daniel Boulud on Instagram. "He was a genius and we are lucky to have him as part of New York's culinary heritage." And former Times critic Brian Miller: "I tested David and his brilliant team three times at different locations. His restaurants always exuded the fragrance of astonishing intelligence and infinite innovation. What a historic loss for our industry."

Celebritiy boss Charlie Palmer called him "a hero of our industry". Chef Jason Neroni said he admired Bouley as an artist and "innovative chef, a sauce wizard like there never has been and never will be again".

In 2020, the French government awarded him the title of Knight in the Order of Agricultural Merit (he had dual citizenship). For his mission to promote healthy food and teach healthy eating, Bouley received Lifetime Achievement Awards from Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center and the Rogosin Institute.

Born in Storrs, Connecticut, he spent his summers milking cows and making butter on his French grandparents' farm. After studying at the University of Connecticut, he worked in restaurants on Cape Cod and then went to France to study. There he discovered his interest in food and culture and soon found himself in one of the kitchen brigades. Among others, at the renowned Moulins de Mougins with Roger Verge near Cannes, with Paul Bocuse in Lyon and with Paul Haeberlin at the Auberge de L'Ill in Illhaeusern.

Exotic ingredients and French cooking techniques

After his return to New York he cooked in some of the best French restaurants in the city, including "Le Cirque" and "La Cote Basque". When restaurateur Drew Nieporent opened the restaurant "Montrachet" in the TriBeCa district in downtown Manhattan in 1985, Bouley (pronounced: boo-Lay) was part of the team. His simple but elegant cuisine quickly made the "Montrachet" a culinary hotspot. It was one of the first modern French restaurants and was soon awarded three stars by the New York Times. Innovative dishes such as smoked eggplants with roasted pine nuts, roast duck with wild mushrooms, leeks and pearl onions in a red wine sauce with cinnamon or smoked salmon in a mousse with Sevruga caviar were obviously also well received by the testers.

In his first own restaurant "Bouley", which he ran at various locations from 1987 to 2017, he made New Yorkers curious about Japanese menus, vegetable sauces and locally grown ingredients. The entrance on the corner of Hudson and Duane Street was constantly filled with ripening apples. In 2015, Bouley was named the best restaurant in the United States and 14th in the world in TripAdvisor's Taveler's Choice Awards. His focus on using the best, sometimes exotic ingredients combined with classic French cooking techniques became his trademark in the 1990s and beyond.

Early on, he banned butter and whipped cream from the kitchen and developed concentrated vegetable purees and other lighter ingredients. The guests were surprised not to find any heavy French cuisine. However, as David Bouley was a perfectionist, they sometimes waited a very long time for individual courses, the chef simply took his time. Anyone who didn't like it could leave. Bouley was already a celebrity at the time.

Over the years, the innovative chef has opened restaurants, changed them and invented new ones. He devoted himself to baking bread. He turned the Bouley into the "Bouley Bakery". After the attacks of September 11, 2001, he turned the bakery not far from Ground Zero into a base from which he supplied firefighters and police officers. However, allegations were later made that there had been inconsistencies in the financing by the Red Cross.

Hard work and a lot of passion

Fascinated byAustria's rich culinary tradition and diversity, he opened the Austrian-inspired "Restaurant Danube" in 1999. Bouley was known for pushing culinary boundaries and creating innovative restaurants. The New York Times wrote an article at the time entitled: "Bouley, in his Klimt period". Bouley is the Stanley Kubrick of New York chefs - difficult to assess, difficult to deal with according to most reports, but always pointing in a direction that seems to lead straight to the next big thing. At a time when the rest of the world was turning its attention to Asia, Bouley took the opposite route. To Vienna. "His Wiener schnitzel, with a flawlessly light and fat-free crust, makes no mistake about wanting to be original," wrote the Times. But alongside a handful of classics, there was also "Bouley Bakery". Tuna and prawns with marinated fennel in key lime dressing. Served in a fine sauce flavored with mustard seeds and ginger.

In 1999, the bakery finally received four stars from the New York Times and two Michelin stars, before changing its location in 2008 and being renamed "Bouley Restaurant". The Danube also received two Michelin stars. Tireless in his search for something new, he renamed "Danube" "Brushstroke" in 2011 and worked with the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka to spread Japanese food culture and products while integrating American ingredients. The restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars , but also closed in 2018. He then launched a series of lectures and dinners on healthy eating entitled "The Chef & the Doctor" (YouTube). He worked with dozens of experts to achieve this.

Then came the "Bouley Test Kitchen", a private venue and learning center for guest chefs. Bouley at home was closed when the pandemic broke out. Most recently, the brilliant chef no longer ran a restaurant in New York. He is the only US-born chef to have been reviewed by every restaurant critic in the New York Times since 1985. Pete Wells wrote: "Mr. Bouley breaks new ground that no one else does, and he goes further than anyone else. While other chefs opened restaurants all over the world, he remained "primarily loyal to Tribeca" throughout his life.

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Angelika Ahrens
Angelika Ahrens