Daniel Boulud on His Love of Art

The chef's friendship with Brazilian artist Vik Muniz inspires him in and out of the kitchen.

A 1999 work by Vik Muniz titled "Double Mona Lisa, (Peanut Butter and Jelly)." (Photo: Courtesy Vik Muniz and Galerie Xippas, Paris.)

Growing up in the ’70s, every chef then had a relationship with an artist. Artists are bon vivants, and lovers of culture, food, and wine. I relate to their creative minds because, in a way, we have our own artistry in the kitchen—but it’s for the memories, not to keep but to consume.

An artist I have a great friendship with is Vik Muniz. I’m very much inspired by his work, but I get more inspired by him as a person. When we’re together, I always know it’s going be a joyful moment. He’s so full of life and always has a new story to tell me from his travels around the world. We both have passion for what we do and enjoy sharing our craft and creativity. Vik has always been surrounded by chefs: He’s friends with all the best ones in Brazil and France, so he understands the creative process of making a meal.

What’s extraordinary about Vik as an artist is that there’s always some renewal of himself, expressed in a way that’s surprising, but not different from his way of thinking. For example, when he designed plates for Bernardaud, he took the idea of microscopic cells in petri dishes and used them as patterns. They’re crazy beautiful. I also love that Vik will take a subject, choose a material, do a series, and then it goes away. He won’t go back to that series.

I remember going to his studio one time and his son was perforating magazines—a golf magazine for little green dots; sex magazines for skin colored ones; and fashion magazines for special colors. He was collecting thousands and thousands of these dots in little boxes. One by one Vik placed them next to each other in order to create a piece of art. It was mind-blowing. And I don’t think I’ve seen everything out of Vik.

When I proposed the idea of doing artwork at Bar Boulud in New York to him, I explained that wine would take a big role at the restaurant, especially Burgundy, pinot noir, and shiraz. He said we should start by drinking some and then decide what we’re going do. The wine made him think of a party and what’s left when it’s over—the stain on the table that reminds you of a good time. So we did three parties—two dinners and a brunch—to create Bar Boulud’s “Wine Stain” series from napkins. It was really personal, spontaneous, and fun.

I’m sure that life will bring us together to do other things. Vik is always motivated to do something new. His father was a bartender and our dream is to open a bar together. It would be a mix of the two of us: friends, flowers, porcelain, and ingredients with fruits. And coconuts.

Daniel Boulud is a French chef and restaurateur based in New York.

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