Daniel Chavez-Bello is David Bouley’s Executive Research and Development Chef. I first met Daniel a few months ago while I was having lunch at Bouley at Home, Chef Bouley’s counter seating restaurant in New York. That day, he cooked in front of me and answered all my questions about the ingredients, their provenance and the techniques that he used. A few weeks ago, Daniel was kind enough to welcome me at Bouley at Home. We had a nice chat while he was prepping things for the lunch service.
Where were you born and when did you come to the US? I was born in Caracas as my parents worked in Venezuela for some time but I grew up in Barcelona, Spain. I studied and I worked in Spain for many years. I also worked in Paris, in Germany, and in London. I came to New York to work part time with David Bouley in 2011. At first, I worked between Barcelona and New York. I finally move to New York in 2013.
When did you know you wanted to make food your career and what was your path? When I was a kid I realized that food was an important part of my life. My grandmother had two restaurants and I grew up jumping in the kitchen, bothering the chefs who were working there… I knew at a young age that I wanted to become a chef. I attended Hofmann culinary school in Barcelona which is the best culinary school there. The school has its own restaurant run by the teachers and students. It was awarded one Michelin Star in 2004 and kept it since then. After graduating, I worked in Spain for a few years in different restaurants including El Bulli, Martín Berasategui, and Mugaritz. I worked in London at Le Caprice for 4 months and 6 months in Paris in Hélène Darroze restaurant. In Germany, I opened my own restaurant; a tapas counter seating restaurant. I also ran the El Bulli and Mugaritz products line. I was chef trainer in Germany and Austria showing the chefs how to use those products. I was elected Chef of the Year (Koch des Jahres) while I was there.
How did you meet David Bouley? We have a lot of common friends in Barcelona and one of them introduced me to David, who invited me to come to New York. I came several times to work in his kitchen to try out new techniques and recipes with him. Finally after two years working between New York and Barcelona I decided to move here. What did he teach you? First of all he taught me his way of working. I have a profound respect for him. He is a very hard worker. The first time I tasted his food, I was impressed by the balance between acidity, saltiness and sweetness. He taught me how to find that balance and how to link the flavors. He also taught me how to use Japanese ingredients and techniques in French cuisine. We regularly go to Japan together and we learn a lot there. How would you describe his cuisine? I would say David’s cuisine is healthy, powerful and full of energy. It is clean! We don’t mix too many things together because we want to stay true to the ingredients and their taste. We work with healthy, natural ingredients and don’t use any additives. David’s cuisine is not only beautiful and tasty, it also gives your body the energy it needs to function.
Can you explain the concept of Bouley at Home? Bouley at Home is a whole culinary experience. We want people to come here and have David Bouley’s food, while feeling comfortable and interacting with the chefs who cook before them. There are no barriers between the chefs and the people. We want the guests to be involved in the experience. We also offer cooking classes twice a week where we try to share David’s food philosophy and healthy way of cooking.
Can you tell me about your job? What are your responsibilities? I am Executive Research and Development Chef. This involves working on the menu development with David Bouley, looking for new ingredients, techniques and concepts. I’m also in charge of designing the cooking class program with David and travelling with him. I also promote that good food can make you happy and healthy. I develop new chefs. How do you source your ingredients? We have a person in the team dedicated to source the ingredients but we all participate in this task; it’s team work. Ingredients are the heart of what we do and we want to make sure to get the best we can find. We work a lot with local farmers and then for specific ingredients that are produced outside the US like for example Iberico ham or truffles, we try to find the right people who can provide us with the best products. What do you like best about your job? I love researching, trying and tasting new things. I also love teaching, cooking in front of the guests and interacting with them, getting their immediate feedback and getting close to their emotions. You recently travelled to Japan. What did you learn there? We go to Japan once a year and we always learn so much there. This time, we worked more particularly on fermentation. We worked with soy, fish, rice and we also visited a kudzu factory. Back here, we experiment a lot with these fermentation process, adapting them to our cuisine. What advice would you give to aspiring chefs? Be patient! Some students think they’re going to graduate from culinary school and start doing great things right away. It doesn’t work like that. You have to work hard. You have to be dedicated to the task and disciplined and most of all you have to be passionate because passion is what makes all the hard work worth it.