Edible Palm Beach and I were treated to an incredible lunch at Café Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. It was masterfully prepared by their new Executive Chef Rick Mace and Chef Patissier Eric Snow. After lunch, Chef Mace joined us for an engaging conversation.
INTERVIEWED BY MIKKI ROYCE
PHOTO BY PATRICIA DASH
The French-American cuisine of
Café Boulud is inspired by
Daniel’s Four Muses: La Tradition,
classic French cuisine; La Saison,
seasonal specialties of the market;
Le Potager, the French vegetable
garden and Le Voyage, exotic
flavors and cuisines of the world.
Edible Palm Beach: What in your life experience made you passionate about a culinary career?
Chef Mace: I lived on a farm in Ohio, a halfhour away from the nearest pizza place, so cooking every day was just how things were done. It was normal to wake up and smell breakfast every morning, it was normal to sit down at the table at night for dinner—so being around food was something that I was used to. The idea of me cooking came about when I was a teenager. I took an interest in it starting with little things like hunting and gardening with my grandfather. When I was a little bit older, I spent some time with my father who was single at the time; it was just the two of us fending for ourselves. I took to the kitchen from there and began my first restaurant job when I was 16.
Once I got into the professional kitchen, I realized that it was a dynamic that was a little different from most workplaces and something I felt very at home in. At that point it transformed into an interest, then formal education. It’s the only way of life I’ve known.
EPB: What are you excited about and looking forward to in this new role?
CM: Being an executive chef in restaurant of this caliber is obviously an exciting opportunity in and of itself. We’re at the top of the industry dealing with the top producers, the top purveyors, and the top clientele in terms of not only what they’re open to but also what their expectations are. This restaurant is 10 years old and Chef Bell was here for eight of those 10 years. He established the place as one with a very high reputation for both cuisine and service. Those are pretty big shoes to fill. Chef Liken as well; so to be here and take my turn is an exciting opportunity for me keep the quality and to express my take on the flavors and ingredients that are here in Southern Florida.
EPB: What aspects of growing up on a farm sparked your interest in cooking?
CM: My great-grandfather tended a large garden, and I don’t mean a patch. It was a garden. It fed the family. They canned, they had a root cellar—it was how they got by. For me as a kid to sit in the pea patch and eat his sweet peas off the vine was fun at the time; but now in retrospect, that’s why I feel so connected to it. French cooking is something that I’ve transitioned into, but the connection to home cooking and American cooking is what got the whole thing rolling. My mother’s side of the family were farmers, so to have local beef was just how things were. Now those are the types of things that people are really looking for in food and dining, which is nice because we’ve finally reached that level of enlightenment.
EPB: Are you going to grow some kind of an herb garden at the hotel?
CM: I think we should. Whatever they would be open to participating with, I’d be more than happy to lend a green thumb.
EPB: Edible readers are curious about your personal commitment to local farms and food.
CM: I think that it’s just part of it. You are only as good as what you surround yourself with in this business. To have the direct ties to not only quality ingredients, but also the quality people behind them is what contributes to the overall success of the cuisine.
You can’t create the finest cuisine with average ingredients. It’s really about the reverence for those ingredients, the sourcing and the relationships that need to be at play so that everyone, working in synergy, creates an end result that translates to the plate.
EPB: What challenges do you see for our agricultural communities and local farms in South Florida?
CM: Being new to the area I’m probably better at making a generalization, but farming is just like any other business—it’s a game of margins. It’s extremely difficult to provide a living for yourself as a farmer. It’s resource-intensive. It requires real estate, it requires the genetics for the plants themselves, the labor that goes into it, especially with the trend nowadays to be more biodynamic or doing things organically or as natural as possible. It’s something that requires more space and more time.
EPB: What are some of the native South Florida foods that you are excited about working with?
CM: When I landed here, cooks were bringing in grocery bags full of avocados because the trees were so laden with fruit that branches were breaking off. It’s really interesting to see all of the seafood here. The first weekend I was here was the Spiny Lobster Fest, so we went out to Singer Island and got to see and eat all of that. Just last week on my birthday they opened stone crab season. Being around all these things for the first time has just been amazing. I think that as more of the local agriculture kicks in there’ll be more to see and to cook with.
EPB: You’ve worked with Chef Daniel Boulud at his New York and Las Vegas establishments. What are some of the unique aspects of Café Boulud Palm Beach that differentiate it from other signature Boulud properties?
CM: Restaurant Daniel (in New York) is where everything starts and tiers down from in terms of the level of cuisine and service. Each restaurant takes its own tone, taking cues from its surroundings, from the talent they bring into the restaurant and from talent within the company too. Vegas was a little more theatrical because that’s the nature of Vegas. New York was a little bit more real because it’s New York. Palm Beach is an oldmoney town, and it has a certain nostalgia about it and a feeling of opulence. What I hope to do the most here is to showcase familiar ingredients in a new fashion.
EPB: South Florida’s high season attracts visitors from all over the globe. Do you have any special events planned during season?
CM: The restaurant does a monthly wine dinner. Our sommelier Mariya Kovacheva, who won the Top Somm award for 2013 from the Guild of Sommeliers, is so wonderful at putting all that together and just giving me a theme so we can collaborate and compose menus and wine pairings every month. We are open 365 days a year; but in the first quarter we recommend making reservations at least one week in advance as that is the height of the season.
“To have the direct ties to not only quality ingredients, but
also the quality people behind them is what contributes to
the overall success of the cuisine.”