Homemade Podcast Episode 58: Chef Daniel Boulud on Holiday Meal Prep and Entertaining at Home

You asked, Chef Daniel answered. Here's how to plan for the holidays like a pro.

Chef Daniel Boulud wearing chef coat sitting on a purple chair
Photo: Helge Kirchberger Photography

On this episode of Homemade, listeners ask James Beard Award winner Chef Daniel Boulud about holiday entertaining and the best ways to save time cooking an unforgettable Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Chef Daniel and Homemade host Sabrina Medora talk about accommodating dietary restrictions, how far in advance to prepare a holiday meal, judging much food to cook for your crowd, and honoring family members who have passed away through the meals they loved. And, for your turkey leftover inspiration, he shares how he makes chicken casserole at home.

About Daniel Boulud

Originally from Lyon, Chef Daniel Boulud is known for the contemporary appeal he brings to his French-inspired dishes. He is the chef-owner of 12 restaurants around the world, including in New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Dubai, Singapore, and the Bahamas, but he's best known for his flagship restaurant DANIEL in New York City, which was two Michelin stars. In addition to his restaurants, he has an online store, Daniel Boulud Kitchen, where he sells seasonal cuisine and offerings that are shipped across the U.S. Follow Daniel on Instagram.

Episode Transcript

SABRINA: Hey, food fans! I'm food writer and culinary entrepreneur, Sabrina Medora, and you're listening to Homemade by Allrecipes. Each week, we bring you talented home cooks, authors, chefs, and celebrities to discuss the memories and traditions behind their favorite foods along with discussions on what's happening in food culture today.

This week's episode is really special! We invited Allrecipes listeners to get advice from one of the world's most renowned chefs. He's a six-time James Beard award winner, has racked up multiple Michelin stars across the world at his restaurants, of which he owns seven in the United States and six internationally — but ever-expanding. His name is synonymous with fine dining and his smiling face is always recognizable. And, fun fact, he was my old boss (I promise I didn't get fired). It was actually under his guidance that I truly learned the art of cooking with joy and the pleasure of serving guests with just a little pomp and splendor no matter where you are or what the occasion may be.

Here to share his decades of wisdom about entertaining for the holidays, and to answer questions from our listeners, please welcome Chef Daniel Boulud!

How are you, Chef?

DANIEL: I'm very well. Thank you.

SABRINA: Good to see you.

DANIEL: Thank you very much for having me.

SABRINA: It's very exciting to have you. Last time I saw you, I was actually working for you in your marketing department. And now here we are on this interview.

DANIEL: How long have you been now working on this program?

SABRINA: Oh, gosh it's still pretty new. I'm very excited to be a part of the team. We've recorded a few episodes now and we'll see where it goes.

DANIEL: Very good. Congratulations.

SABRINA: Thank you. And congratulations on opening the new restaurant, finally.

DANIEL: Yes, thank you. That was something that we have been working on for four years. And of course, this last year and a half with the pandemic, that slowed down a little bit, but that was fine. And, actually, we decided to open May 19. Le Pavillon has been quite a success and quite exciting to bring back New York and to really also give more confidence to Midtown.

SABRINA: Yes, and throughout the pandemic, you and your whole team at Dinex was doing — was it Citymeals for New York?

DANIEL: Well, yeah. First, I mean, during the pandemic, right away I started a foundation called Hand in Hand with Daniel Boulud, and that was only to help our staff. The 750 people we furloughed, it was important to raise money for them and we almost raised three-quarters of a million through the generosity of our customers, through the generosity of sponsors we work with, and partners, but also through the generosity of our public. I mean, I did a lot of Zoom class, which I charge and raise money for Hand in Hand. We created a foundation called Food1st foundation with Marc Holliday, the CEO of SL Green, where is the owner of Le Pavillon. We are partners in that project. And today we have served more than almost 800,000 meals to New Yorkers all across the boroughs. And especially at the beginning with the first responders and nurses. But also all the food pantries, food shelters, hospitals, and houses in many boroughs that needed food. And so it has been good. And I also focused on Citymeals, myself, and more than 250,000 meals was distributed to Food1st and gifted to Citymeals via my kitchen. So that was nice.

SABRINA: That's so amazing that you were able to do so much good and feed so many people during this difficult time. Speaking of feeding so many people, I remember the first time I met you was actually at an intimate dinner. We were at RdV Vineyards in Virginia and we were doing...

DANIEL: Oh, my God.

SABRINA: Yeah, we were doing that little wine tasting and dinner. And you had put together such a beautiful, elegant table and everything was so simple but so delicious. And even though nobody knew anybody else at the table, we were all like best friends by the end of the meal. And it was just fabulous.

DANIEL: I mean, I remember still trying to do the fire pit...

SABRINA: Yes.

DANIEL: ...In order to cook our quail? I think that was quail with grapes or something because I know then in France we have always birds, quails and all that who come to the vineyard and pick into the resin, the grapes during the harvest. So it was a great connection to the local ingredient there and also Roger, the owner of the RdV Winery in Virginia, is making one of the finest wines in America. Mostly a Cabernet-based wine, but really in the style of Bordeaux. And I think it's very inspired by many of the great house of Bordeaux, and I think that's showing the accents of his wine, for sure.

SABRINA: Right. And so you've thrown many a fine meal and party in your lifetime. Tell me a little bit about how you like to approach entertaining in your own home.

DANIEL: For me, it all depends who I am entertaining. My family, my friends — I usually don't try to impress people with the fussiness of things or the fanciness. It's more about the soul, the flavor. I don't cook at home the way sometimes I cook in a restaurant and I'm always trying to think methodically that how many pots and pans I'm going to use. But it all depends when. Summertime? Wintertime? Outdoor? Indoor? Close friends and family versus guests, who — guests, it's a little bit more stressful because you want things to be just fine. Close friends and family, you know, they're in the kitchen. They're helping you. You put everybody to work. It's a little bit easier. But in any case, entertaining at home for me I want to make sure that I can spend time with my friends, my family, or my guests at the table, as well. So I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen all the time. So it's important to do something that can either stay warm or require a very quick last-minute cooking. So you don't go away too long or but everything else is ready. And I'm talking mostly for the main course. The appetizer should be either — I love soup, so it could be a beautiful composed soup, but the base is a warm soup or cold soup, and then there is a bowl with all kind of garnish. So let's say it's a soup base with tomato in the summer. I may have also a garnish of lobsters and tomatoes and other vegetables in the preparation. And then, in the summer, if I can grill things, I like to grill things. It's easier for me, even if it's a cut above and it takes longer time. But in the winter, I like to make braise or I like to make roast, but a big roast, whole leg of lamb or saddle of venison. You know, it's not very homey, but I love it. Or stew. A wonderful veal stew even, or chicken casserole. I love chicken casserole, as well. If I do something in a casserole, I try to have everything in one casserole. So it's topped by what takes the longest and will bring the most flavor to what takes the least to cook and needs to stay fresh and crisp.

SABRINA: I have to say, I never thought I would hear Chef Daniel Boulud say he likes chicken casserole at home.

DANIEL: Oh, yeah, and then I would do a wonderful rice or something that goes well with it. It has tomatoes. It has tarragon, vinegar, onion. It's very simple, the dish. It's very simple. It starts with a large pot, enough to contain all the chicken cut in pieces, eight pieces, and the casserole we put oil inside. We season the chicken well, and we start to roast the chicken on the skin and you can flour a little bit the chicken if you want, or you can just make sure that it is not too wet for sure. Otherwise, it's better to flour lightly the chicken or put any rice flours — we have gluten-free. And season well and roast it on all sides. Then you start to add the pearl onion while the skin is roasting. Then you have a vinegar made with tarragon. So that's very dense and flavorful.

And once the chicken is well roasted, we add tomato paste to it, a little bit, or tomato purée. A little bit of flour as well. Extra flour to layer sauce and then toss that very well and add the vinegar and make a good splash of vinegar over. Let it reduce and then put some chicken stock and fresh tomato and let it simmer gently for 20 minutes or so or 20 or 30 minutes oven. And then I do a rice pilaf on the side, which is basically a rice with sweated shallots or onion. And then add the chicken stock over — two-part chicken stock, one-part rice. And then the tarragon and let steam that rice gently or cook that rice gently. And by the time the chicken is cooked, the rice is cooked. You can be ready to sit down at the table. And it didn't take too many ingredients and it didn't take too much energy to do, and it's quite delicious.

SABRINA: No, that actually sounds really easy.

DANIEL: And it's a specialty from Lyon, actually, that one. But chicken casserole for me, it's all about giving flavor when you roast, then putting the element you need to give to keep cooking with it. And it could be with onion, mushroom, artichokes, potatoes, whatever you're going to put and evaluate the size of the cut of the vegetable and how long it's going to take to cook perfectly and stay whole and tender, and sweet and cooked and delicious.

SABRINA: Sounds amazing, I think I just got my new menu, maybe for Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll use turkey instead of chicken.

DANIEL: Exactly. Cook it just the time it needs.

SABRINA: And speaking of holidays, we do have some questions from our listeners on entertaining at home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So let's dive right in and take our first call.

CALLER: I'm calling from Mexico. My husband passed away and the first thing he put in his will is that he wanted a party to be given when he passed away. What kind of party should I do? What should I serve and how would I do it? Thank you!

DANIEL: Well. I think, you know, while you are grieving and it's maybe not the most joyful time to throw a party, it is important to gather around with your friends and your loved ones and your family and you want to eat and you want to celebrate that person. And so I'm sure, you know, if he had some good tequila he was keeping behind the bushes or some good wine in the cellar, like in a case in France or things like that, then we make sure we drink his tequila or his wine because it's important to celebrate him with the things he loved. And then if he had a dish in particular that that person loved, I think it's important to have it done. And so you can always ask your family members, your best friend — to me, I think for a funeral you should do a little bit of a potluck with people you trust that they're going to be something good and they know the taste of the person you lost and connecting with. You know? I think it's important.

SABRINA: I love that idea. I love the idea of doing a potluck and it takes the pressure off of you as the host.

DANIEL: Absolutely. But a potluck with a meaningful purpose. Which is to celebrate and honor the lost one.

SABRINA: Right. That's great. We have a question from Ann in Birmingham, Alabama.

CALLER: I would love to hear Chef Boulud's suggestions for great tasting hors d'oeuvres that can be made ahead of time. Something that's a little fancy, but not too difficult to make.

DANIEL: Of course. So for me, my ultimate hors d'oeuvre is what I call a cheese puff in English, Which is gougère. So what is a gougère? It's a puff. It's a choux, basically but it's a savory choux.

SABRINA: Oh a choux dough, so a pâte à choux. Like the type of dough that you find with an eclair or a beignet, or a pastry of that sort.

DANIEL: Pâte à choux. Yeah, exactly, and it's a savory one with cheese. And I always like to put a little bit of cayenne pepper or espelette pepper. And of course, gruyere for the most part. And what I like is then when you pipe those little pâte à choux in the tray or parchment paper, you pipe them in advance. You put the hot pepper and you put a little square of cheese on top besides the one you put inside. You put an extra square cheese on top and then you can either put them in the freezer. And then when they are hard, you put them in a Ziploc and you have them ready for your party. Or you can just do that the day ahead, refrigerate, and half an hour before the party or something, you just bake them. So it's always practical. You can also pre-bake them and just keep them lukewarm or flash them in the oven when you have the party. So you don't have to do anything when the guests arrive. But I mean, I'm French, so I think of baguette toast. Yeah, baguette toast with dips. And you can make dips with many different things. It could be a rillette, it could be a duck rillette that you can buy, store-bought, it could be baba ganoush then you can find maybe — a supermarket, or you could be just, you know, tomato that you chop finely and you drain the tomato or mix with cucumber and tomato together. And then you mix that with a little bit of yogurt or like a Greek yogurt and a little bit of chive and a little bit of vinegar and seasoning and then you have that little fresh tomato on the crispy toast — it's delicious. You can put a piece of olive with it. So it's almost like a Greek salad cut into little pieces that you can take a little spoon and put that on a crispy toast and eat like that. So for me, I'm all about dips. I have a restaurant called Boulud Sud and we do a lot of dips there. And it's very practical. Or gougère, which we serve that at Bar Boulud, as well.

SABRINA: So for the gougère, can listeners just pick up any pâte à choux recipe from online and then just add...

DANIEL: Yeah.

SABRINA: Cheese.

DANIEL: The advantage of today with the Internet is then you type gougère au Fromage with cheese, and you compare two or three recipes and you're going to see it's very easy. It has eggs. It has milk. It has flour. It has butter.

SABRINA: And then you can just freeze it.

DANIEL: And you can freeze it.

SABRINA: That's great.

DANIEL: That takes no room and it's very practical.

SABRINA: Stay tuned as Chef Daniel helps eliminate the stress of holiday cooking with suggestions on saving time, having enough food for all of your guests, and even respecting dietary restrictions without going crazy trying to plan a menu. Oh, and you're not going to want to miss this part because Chef Daniel opens up about his kitchen catastrophes and it's pretty funny. You'll hear about all that and more, after the break!

Welcome back to Homemade everyone. I'm Sabrina Medora and my guest this week is world-renowned chef, Daniel Boulud.

OK, next question. This one is a Thanksgiving-specific question.

CALLER: This is Jim. My wife died a year ago and I do all the cooking now for the family gatherings. I'm looking for suggestions to reduce the hectic situation of fixing the turkey and all the sides. What can be cooked ahead? Frozen? Or any tips for reducing the tension experienced during the preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Thank you very much.

DANIEL: Well, I mean, if he was living in New York I would tell him to buy the box, which has soup to nuts inside from my Daniel Boulud kitchen. But one thing, for example, macaroni and cheese. If you want to do macaroni and cheese, do that the day before. No sweat. You just have to bake it and serve it. I love sweet potato purée or pumpkin purée. And what I do is add also some orange juice inside and some spice and even banana inside a little bit and also a little bit of cream. So that is blend like that. Of course, you cook the sweet potatoes in a little bit of water and cream together until it is tender and with some grated orange peel inside and cinnamon and a little bit of allspice powder or clove and a banana — apple inside, apple and banana. And then you blend that, you make a purée, smooth purée with that. And that's quite delicious. What else? I will propose spinach or Swiss chard, or kale or braising greens. That can be blanched in salted water ahead, squeezed, seasoned. And maybe pre-sauté, a little bit with some mushrooms, and a little bit of onion — sliced onion that you sweat well, and then you add all your greens in it. You season and you just give a quick toss. You put it in a pan and you chill it right away. And then the next day you just warm that up in the oven. So basically try to do as much as possible, precook perfectly to be reheated only. Not even recooked, just reheated. That's very important. And I also like Brussel sprouts. You can blanch them again the day before and you can butter them the next day after. So all this task of preparing the vegetables and maybe par cooking the vegetables is very important because you save a lot of time. Cranberry sauce should be done in advance, of course.

SABRINA: How many days do you think people can start preparing for Thanksgiving in advance?

DANIEL: Two days. And what you do the days before is the first day you clean all the vegetables, you prepare yourself to cook the sides the next day, and prep the turkey also. That you can do two days ahead also. So by the time of the day of the party is effortless because everything is ready. To be cooked or baked.

SABRINA: So you can wash your vegetables, chop everything, get everything ready.

DANIEL: Yeah. And usually Thanksgiving nobody works so you have the whole day to prep and you don't need to eat before 2 o'clock in the afternoon or 3.

SABRINA: Right. We have another question about appetizers.

CALLER: I really love having friends over for parties and things like that, but I'm never quite sure how much food to make. I live in a small apartment, so how do I make sure there's enough food and a good rotation of food throughout the night.

DANIEL: Well, that's the thing is if you do a sit-down dinner and... A proper sit-down dinner there's not going to be much food left because you're going to be much more precise in how much food you want to give and serve it by sequence. You know, with the appetizer first, then the main course, then the cheese maybe, and dessert. If you do a buffet, you never know because some people starve all day so rule of thumb, you got to have at least a pound of food per person, which it goes very quickly between a steak, the garnish, the appetizers, you know, whatever you have. So if you have ten people, you want 10 to 12 pounds of food minimum. Minimum. And, a full plate of food? It's a pound. Easily.

SABRINA: Wow. I'll never forget at my wedding, I mean, we had a huge dinner that we had catered from restaurants all over Chicago and then we brought late-night snacks. We had honey butter fried chicken sandwiches for late-night snacks.

DANIEL: Wow.

SABRINA: And in minutes, we had people coming up saying, where are the sandwiches? The sandwiches are gone. I said, are you kidding me? We ordered extra. But I heard after my wedding that people were literally taking three, four sandwiches at a time and just chowing down.

DANIEL: But you know what happened? Is then also if people drink a lot, they start to starve.

SABRINA: Yeah.

DANIEL: And also there is the cycle of, you know, they had dinner, they drink, and there was a gap between that and the sandwiches. And now they are starving again because they drank too much.

SABRINA: Right. So I learned my lesson that day for sure.

DANIEL: Yeah.

CALLER: Bonjour Chef Boulud. My name is Taylor, I'm a 12-year line cook from Seattle and I just wanted to hear some of your entertaining stories about entertaining at home.

DANIEL: Oh the worst story I have about entertaining at a friend's home. It was Thanksgiving and I was invited as a friend. And he had a new house and his oven was broken. And, you know, I was not discouraged. I knew how to cook with anything. I looked outside and he had a big barbecue with gas. And that was the only source of heat I had. It was in the winter in New York. There was snow outside. So I light up the barbecue. I see it's working well. Now it didn't have any equipment to cook with. So I had an aluminum pan — one of those disposable aluminums you find in the supermarket, and I had my turkey down and butter and buttered turkey and beautiful. And I had the barbecue on. So I put the turkey inside. I closed the top and then I go into the house. And the barbecue was outside on a little bit of a terrasse he had where he had a little space for the barbecue. And we were all having cocktails and talking and I knew it and my turkey was cooking. I was not worried. And then at one point, I looked through the window and I see flames of like five, six tall flames coming out of the barbecue. And actually, the aluminum pan melted and all the butter went on fires and all that...

SABRINA: Oh, my God.

DANIEL: All the fat of the turkey. Basically, the turkey was on fire.

SABRINA: Oh, my God. How did — so the foil just completely melted?

DANIEL: Yeah, the whole thing. It ruined the whole turkey. We never had dinner.

SABRINA: Oh, my God. Well, I hope you had extra cocktails.

DANIEL: Oh, yeah, yeah. No, we had plenty of cocktails. And we ate the garnish and all that. So talk about sometimes you think you can improvise, but you have to be very careful when you improvise.

SABRINA: I'll say. Oh, that is hilarious. I know that this year people are going to be adjusting their menus for some dietary restrictions. You know, some people are lactose intolerant and gluten-free. Do you have any recommendations on how to reduce the stress of putting together a menu that has to please multiple people and preferences?

DANIEL: Of course. I think today we more and more have so many substitutes. I have a daughter who is lactose intolerant. I have a daughter who is gluten-free. I mean, for milk, you can use almond milk, you can use coconut milk, you can use goat milk, for that matter, because I think my daughter can take goat but cannot take cows' milk. Soy milk, as well.

For the gluten — even Thomas Keller created a blend of starch that can replace gluten, in a way or flour. And the recipes have been adapted around that as well. And I think more and more chefs are helping, coming up with recipes gluten-free. And that's great.

SABRINA: Would you say to just cook the whole menu with the idea of those restrictions...

DANIEL: Oh, yeah.

SABRINA: Or those adjustments instead of doing...

DANIEL: Yeah. No, at the restaurant we do the adjustment because it's maybe one table out of 20 that may have an issue. But at home, if you know that you have a guest with that. It's better to try to compose a meal avoiding those so you don't even make a case out of it.

SABRINA: Right. That makes sense.

DANIEL: It's important.

SABRINA: Well, thank you, Chef. We so appreciate your time. And we're so grateful that we got to spend time with you today.

DANIEL: Thank you very much and keep doing the good work.

SABRINA: Thank you. It was good to see you!

DANIEL: Good to see you.

SABRINA: I hope you guys enjoyed that episode as much as I did. I know that I learned a lot, and I will probably be implementing a lot of this information when I entertain at home for the holidays. But I'll try not to set my own grill on fire.

To keep up with everything that Chef Daniel is working on you can visit him at DanielBoulud.com or follow him @danielboulud on Instagram, I know he loves that. And if you'd like to order anything from sweets to smoked salmon from Chef Daniel, you can do so via Goldbelly.com.

And don't forget to tune in next week because not only do we have a culinary icon, she also happens to be a country music icon. That's right, we're going to be chatting with Trisha Yearwood!

TRISHA YEARWOOD: It's been a wonderful adventure to go from really following my mother's handwritten recipes word for word to becoming more confident as a cook and taking things to another level and the confidence that I've gained through doing the cooking show has been just wonderful. The chefs that I've met along the way have never made me feel like because I'm a home cook, I don't have something to offer.

SABRINA: You won't wanna miss it so be sure to follow Homemade on your favorite podcast app. We're always looking for feedback on the show so if you love us and have a second, please rate us on Apple Podcasts and leave us a review.

Don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to's from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com. And you can find me on Instagram, @SabrinaMedora, or at sabrinamedora.com.

This podcast was produced by AllRecipes with Digital Content Director Jason Burnett. Thanks to our production team of Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Jim Hanke, Maya Kroth, and Andy Bosnak at Pod People.

This is Homemade, I'm Sabrina Medora, and remember: Cook with love, eat with joy.

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