New York

A spread of dishes from newly opened Le Gratin.
A spread of dishes from newly opened Le Gratin. All photos by Bill Milne, courtesy of Le Gratin

Dish By DishNew York

‘It’s in Our Genes’: How Daniel Boulud’s Le Gratin Updates Family-Style French Cooking, in Five Dishes

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For his latest restaurant opening, chef Daniel Boulud decided to look to home for inspiration.

At Le Gratin, located inside the Financial District’s Beekman hotel, Boulud pays homage to his hometown of Lyon, France. The restaurant, formerly home to Keith McNally’s French brasserie Augustine, has now been transformed — albeit slightly — and was named for one of Boulud’s favorite childhood dishes and a specialty of Lyon.

Fellow French native Guillaume Ginther is helping Boulud recreate his vision of a contemporary bouchon as Le Gratin’s executive chef. Ginther, the former executive chef of Le Coq Rico, previously worked for two years at Boulud’s namesake, Daniel, as a sous chef back in 2008. After that, he returned to France and later came back to New York, working at Le Coq Rico, Bagatelle, and most recently, Le Bilboquet.

While Ginther originally hails from the Alsace region (Strasbourg specifically), he says he’s very familiar with Lyonnaise cuisine and he relishes the opportunity to work once more with Boulud. “I was in love with his cooking and his way of running a kitchen,” Ginther says. “It’s like my old family.”

What Ginther is personally most excited about at Le Gratin is the opportunity to do Lyonnaise cooking, but with a decidedly Boulud-esque, contemporary bent. Whereas traditional cooking from Lyon is very rich, and heavy on the use of butter and cream, he says the cooking at Le Gratin is “a little bit lighter.”

Ginther has spent the last few months developing the opening menu for Le Gratin along with Boulud, and his corporate chef, Jean-François Bruel, and he’s excited to finally debut it. And most of all, now that the restaurant is open, he wants guests to feel like they’re in France — and to order accordingly. “We expect diners to have a table full of dishes where all the guests around the table can share; it’s a celebration.”

Here are five essential dishes to order at Le Gratin, in Ginther’s own words.

1. Quenelle de Brochet au Gratin

“This is one of the two most important dishes that everybody has to try here. It’s like a pike fish dumpling with cheese and mushroom bechamel. This fish is a fish you can find in the Rhone River, close by Lyon, and the dish has existed since the 15th century — with the same recipe for centuries. You cook the dumpling with this béchamel and mushroom sauce in a super-hot oven and it comes out almost like a soufflé, but it’s a quenelle soufflé that’s so light that you don’t need to eat it with a fork or a knife. The dumpling puffs up so it’s full of air like a soufflé and that makes it lighter. It’s not easy to find this dish in the city, and it can be shared or eaten by itself.

We make ours just as it was made back in the day, but we’ve lightened it up just a little bit, too. In France, we’d put more cream in the recipe, but we lighten our recipe up with milk instead, and we use Gruyère cheese as well.

We knew we had to put this dish on the menu, and so we did 20 different recipes to find just the right one, and make it the way that we want to sell it. Chef Boulud decided on this one. I’ve cooked this dish in other restaurants before, but I’d never had so many different recipes for it. I never did a recipe as perfect as this one that we have now.”

2. Gratin Dauphinois Comme Marie

“This is the second important dish that everyone must order when they come here. We’re serving this as a side dish, and I think every table should have one on the table to share with all of the guests. Growing up, we did this dish every Sunday or every second Sunday for family meal. It’s something that your mother or grandmother would cook at home; something we grow up with as French people. It’s in our genes.

This recipe is pretty close to the traditional recipe but the one we ended up with is made different by the quality of nutmeg we want to put in it, and the zest of garlic that we add. We pushed the process of this recipe to the closes gram of salt that we could measure to make sure that it’s always going to be the same. It’s made with cream and milk and this garlicky custard mixed with potatoes that are sliced thinly and layered; it’s cooked for one hour slowly. The flavor of the cream and garlic — it’s a gratin — is really smooth and super good.”

3. Coquille St. Jacques au Buerre d’Algues

“These are scallops with seaweed butter and fingerling potatoes and lemon zest, and this is one dish on the menu that can also be adapted for vegetarians (we’ll remove the scallops). The scallop is sliced, and it’s baked directly in the oven with the potatoes underneath it, and with the seaweed butter on top melting over the scallops, and it’s finished with a little bit of breadcrumbs to make it crispy. It’s really delicious. The hardest part about this dish was getting the timing right for the scallops to cook just perfectly in its shell.

The seaweed butter is something we make in house. We buy Dolce Red seaweed and mix it in with this terrific French butter that we use. Le Pavillon [Boulud’s other restaurant] has many dishes that specialize in seafood, and they use this seaweed butter which is why chef Daniel loved it and wanted to incorporate it here. It’s something where you can really taste the sea. While Lyon isn’t really close to the sea, the fingerling potatoes come from the Earth, so it’s kind of like a surf and turf that’s really amazing.”

Le Gratin's team of chefs (left to right): pastry chef Kristyn Onasch; chef Daniel Boulud; and executive chef Guillaume Ginther.
Le Gratin’s team of chefs (left to right): pastry chef Kristyn Onasch, chef Daniel Boulud, and executive chef Guillaume Ginther.
Le Gratin's team of chefs (left to right): pastry chef Kristyn Onasch; chef Daniel Boulud; and executive chef Guillaume Ginther.
Le Gratin’s team of chefs (left to right): pastry chef Kristyn Onasch, chef Daniel Boulud, and executive chef Guillaume Ginther.

4. Crabe Marie Rose

“We work with Gotham Seafood, one of the best suppliers in the city, to source the jumbo lump crab for this dish. It’s a big piece of crab with this grapefruit dressing and a little bit of tarragon and chervil. It’s something that’s really light and fresh.

We knew we wanted to have some seafood on the menu at Le Gratin because we have such a strong seafood and oyster culture in France. This dish is very appealing to guests because it is so fresh and is a great balance to the other dishes on the menu.”

5. Pâté-Croûte Gourmand

“I hope everybody tries our charcuterie. Charcuterie is something I hope everyone will have on the table with a cocktail or glass of wine or beer, or Champagne.

All of our charcuterie is housemade and we have a commissary that provides all the bread and where we do some of the charcuterie. Different suppliers, like D’Artagnan and various farmers from upstate provide the meat to us. We try to work with lots of farmers from upstate.

The process of making charcuterie and rillettes, it takes time. It’s all French recipes and they are dishes that have existed for centuries. [Note: Ginther won the World Championship of Pâté-Croûte in the U.S. back in 2016 and 2017 with his version of pâté-croûte.] I cannot do the same recipe I won with — it’s like a week of work to do that one. [The recipe we have at Le Gratin] is similar but simplified. It’s the same ingredients, but the recipe is a bit simplified.”

 

Deanna Ting is Resy’s New York Editor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.