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Celebrity Talk

David Bouley


Brings the Japanese kitchen to New York

Japanese food has many health benefits. It is clean, pure, has uniqueness, is versatile, and connected to nature. The chefs use raw products and ingredients that compliment each other.

The following interview was conducted on location at the Bouley Test Kitchen/Upstairs, a culinary experience that you can learn more about at

Since when did you get interested in Japanese cuisine?

Since the 1980’s, after we would finish cooking service. We were working all day long and could not eat.

So you went to sushi restaurants after cooking all day?

We tried different cuisines but very often found ourselves in sushi restaurants. We would start to talk with the sushi chefs and tell them that we are chefs too, and start asking questions about cooking. The next thing you know, a chef is giving us special things to taste and then asking, “Do you want to come and I will show you how to make it?” Then what happened was, Bouley opened and I did not travel so I had time to cook a lot for Japanese chefs. They would come to my restaurant and I would make them special menus. I did not use any Japanese ingredients and did not know anything about Japanese food.

At that time?

Right, that was from 1987 to 1996. So then, they would invite me to eat at their restaurants and would make a special menu for me. After a while, I started to be attracted to certain techniques and things, and I was trying to understand how they were done. It started to influence my cooking. I already had an interest in the same products used in cooking, making my food fresh, and presenting it simple. I grew up on a farm and used to work on a fishing boat, so I was always a chef who tried not to complicate things too much. I realized that Japanese food is very similar. My real education started when I closed the old Bouley restaurant.

Did you visit Japan?

Yes. Mr. Tsuji* invited me to Japan and organized an intensive training. That was my first visit to Japan in 1996, and then I realized I did not know anything about Japanese food. In New York, the food is not really Japanese. So I went back and forth to Japan, eight or nine times, spending a few weeks each time at the test kitchen of the Tsuji School. About four years ago, Mr. Tsuji and I started to discuss the possibilities of opening a restaurant together. We do the same tasting here in NY and Japan. At Upstairs, we are importing many products from Japan, yuba skin, miso, kuzu starches, dried fish, and bonito….Over 100 kinds of ingredients. For the best cooking, we need artisan products. I am attracted to the idea of having the best products.

Do you cook Japanese food at home?

Sometimes I make everything Japanese at home. I have very good friends who come over and go crazy about my homemade tofu and the different kinds of dashi I use. I learned how to prepare sushi and sashimi and cut it. I am learning a lot.

What is Japanese Cooking for you?

At Upstairs, I do not like to do too much mixing because of what I like to call, “cultural integrity.” We like to use the best possible products that I can find. When you have studied products, you have a respect for that culture. We use one product for a long time – and have a good long relationship with it. I found this to be like Japanese cooking. Every culture evolves like that. Now, to cook it altogether makes it a storm. I call this “confusion cooking.”

Japanese cooking is so different in the level of refining simplicity. At the Tsuji School, there is one chef who has been cooking only Japanese omelets (dashimaki tamago) for 30 years, and he is still getting better. That is not an American approach. Also, Japanese ingredients have so many health benefits. There are four areas I concentrate on; 1. The constant search for nature, 2. Professional value, 3. Perfection, and 4, I am very attracted to the Kaiseki style. It is a very personal, unique, versatile, and beautiful art form. These four elements are the distinctive features of Japanese Cooking.

When I experience very tasty Japanese food I always ask, what is in this? I always, get the same answer, dashi, mirin, soy sauce, sake – maybe ginger – you have 10 million recipes for the same four ingredients. It is very interesting from a chef’s point of view. Japanese cooking is really compelling.

* Mr. Yoshiki Tsuji, the president of Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan

David Bouley

In 1987, David opened Bouley in Tribeca’s Duane Park. Bouley quickly became the most notable dining experience in New York and set a new standard for fine dining in America. Bouley achieved many accolades, including four stars in The New York Times and received James Beard Foundation awards for Best Restaurant and Best Chef. From 1991 through 1996, Bouley was rated the number one restaurant in food and popularity in the Zagat Survey. To this day, no restaurant has been able to achieve a 29 food rating in Zagat as Bouley did during its last three years. When the original Bouley closed in 1996, it was a monumental event, marking the end of a special era in New York dining. David decided to close his restaurant in June 1996 to focus on a greater culinary vision.
1997 Bouley Bakery opened
1998 Danube opened
2002 Bouley reopened
2005 Bouley Bakery Market, Upstairs opened
2006 Bouley Test Kitchen, David Bouley Evolution opened

130 West Broadway, at Duane Street, NYC
tel: 212-608-5829

David Bouley’s Choice

What is your favorite Japanese restaurant in Manhattan?
MASA. I used to go to Hatsuhana, Honmura-an and go to my Upstairs.

Where do you feel “Japan” in Manhattan?
Japan Society. Kai – tea store on Madison Avenue in NYC.
I like to go and check the new Wajima lacquer ware shop at La Guardia place Mitsuwa Super market. It is in NJ, though. I visit maybe twice a month.

Interviewer Shigeko Fuke
She is an experienced freelance journalist for over 25 years. In 1994, she began writing about New York restaurant business news. With her extensive background, experience, and reputation in covering the latest news within the New York area, she heads the planning and development of projects at La Fuente Restaurant Service. She founded the Not-For-Profit Corporation Japanese Culinary and Cultural Association of America, Inc. (JCCA) in 2005. She is a member of the committee to promote Japanese Food Arts organized by JETRO (Japanese External Trade organization). Her recent book is “Eat in NY/50 Best selection (NY Kodawari Restaurant Guide)” published by Shueisha.