Grilled In a Minute: Daniel Rose
Julie Mautner / April 3rd, 2013
American chef Daniel Rose, age 36, is the owner of Spring in Paris, a 40 seat modern French restaurant that blends classic French cuisine with fresh market ingredients. Spring has been at the forefront of the Parisian dining scene since it opened in its first location in 2006.
Originally from Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Rose moved to France to pursue undergrad studies at the American University of Paris. He spent a year at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon and apprenticed at Bruneau Restaurant in Brussels, which had three stars at the time (they now have one).
In 2003, Rose spent “a life-changing year” in Panajachel, Guatemala, his first experience as a head chef, running a kitchen and managing a team. He moved back to Paris in 2004, joining the hotel Le Meurice, working under three-star chef Yannick Alléno. He also did stints at Auberge des Abers in Brittany and Le Pré du Moulin in Sérignan du Comtat, near Avignon.
In 2006, Rose opened the first Spring, with 16 seats, in the 9th Arrondissement. Glowing reviews came quickly, from the Michelin Guide, Le Figaro, and others. When the wait for dinner tables reached five months, he knew he needed a bigger place, and so in the summer of 2010, he moved to the current location, near the Louvre in the lively Les Halles neighborhood. With 2,100 square feet and a vast open kitchen, the current Spring restaurant is almost 10 times as large as the original.
Spring has been called one of “10 of the Best Restaurants in Paris” (by the Guardian) and “The Trophy Reservation” (Forbes). Rose and Spring have been profiled in the Chicago Sun Times, Elle, L’Express, GQ, International Herald Tribune, New York Times, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.
Daniel is married to Marie-Aude Mery, a chef; the couple met when she worked for him in 2007–8. They live in Paris with their daughter Wilhelmina, age 1.
Who or what was your earliest culinary influence?
The first real chef whom I ever worked for: Jean-Luc L’Hourre, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France 2000, at the Auberge des Abers in Lannilis, in Brittany. He was a real French chef, a model for discipline and formal training. He made me realize that it’s a difficult job to be a chef, that it would take a lot of work, a lot of training, and that it would be a long road, but that I could enjoy the process even if that process was never-ending.
You’ve worked with a number of top Michelin chefs, including Paul Bocuse, Jean-Pierre Bruneau, and Yannick Alleno. Tell us the one most important thing you learned in each of those kitchens.
From Bocuse, I learned that generosity is a key ingredient to success—from the way you run your kitchen to the way you treat your customers. I also learned that running a tight ship enables you to be generous. From Alleno, I learned that the essential ingredient in cooking is joy. Everything else is style. From Bruneau, I learned that it’s better to have excellent technique and good products than be a creative genius.
And how about your year in Guatemala? You’ve said that year was life-changing. How so?
In most of the world today, we talk about farm-to-table. The reality is that once your restaurant is a certain size, you need to buy from distributors. My experience in Guatemala was a true opportunity to be pure, to be in touch with local ingredients. It was actually more French than France. It was an environment in which I needed to learn the art of patience in order to communicate with other cooks (my staff didn’t speak French or English). I was inspired every day by my team (my sous chef had 14 children to support) and the ingredients around me (I woke up every day to a buffet of fresh ingredients, fresh papaya, and fruits at the hotel where I lived).
Your restaurant is notoriously difficult to get into—how long is the wait these days anyway?—and you’re certainly courted constantly by would-be investors. So why not open a second spot?
As of mid-February, we were booked through June. That said, things are always shifting and changing. We do our best to accommodate those who want to dine with us and with a little patience and flexibility, we end up accommodating most requests. Trick of the trade: send us an email, and a lunch reservation is often easier than dinner (we’ll even make you the full dinner menu if we know that you’d like it in advance). As for a second location, I already have a full-time job.
OK, so what’s the very best thing about that job?
The very best thing about my job is the people I get to work with, our customers, and our suppliers. I also love the unknown adventure of what each day will bring. Watching the success of others is the most rewarding.
And the very worst thing, the aspect you like the least?
The worst thing is the time it takes away from my family.
What’s one thing that’s absolutely forbidden in your kitchen?
Not knowing what everything tastes like before you put it on the plate is forbidden in my kitchen.
How is an ambitious Paris kitchen like yours different than, say, a Chicago restaurant kitchen? Or a top American restaurant kitchen?
I suspect they’re probably the same. We’re all trying to make delicious food, deliver excellent hospitality. Perhaps there are stylistic differences in the way we cook or run our restaurants, but the goal is ultimately the same.
Do your French cooks or other staffers have issues taking orders from an American chef? Has this ever been a problem?
No. We all have the same mission. Someone has to be in charge. It is less about me being American and more about me being their boss.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you couldn’t live without?
My staff and salt.
Three adjectives to honestly describe the kind of boss you think you are?
Generous, Joyful, Empowering.
And three adjectives that your staff would use to describe you as a boss?
Generous, Joyful, Distracted.
How has being married to a chef impacted you personally or professionally?
My wife, Marie-Aude, entered my life at the right time in my personal life but also at a time when my career needed help. She’s helped me understand many things about the process of cooking, and she’s made many things much less complicated. I had a very accelerated apprenticeship and, in my opinion, perhaps missed out on some of the fundamentals. Marie helped me find them and find pleasure with them. She also helped me find joy in working as a team. She reminded me that you don’t always need to do fancy food, that you don’t always need to show off, and that making the basics exceptional can be rewarding for me and for the customer.
What recent culinary discovery (new flavor, new ingredient, new dish, etc.) really intrigued you and why?
I’m really enjoying working with fish from Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), such as fera. Quality river fish is very French, and understanding French lake fish opens new avenues, new tastes, and associations.
Best recent meal in a restaurant not your own?
Le Griffonnier in Paris. The french fries were delicious. The wines by the glass are fantastic. The food is simple but excellent. I had the andouillette with sauce sancerre; my wife, Marie, had the filet de boeuf, and the baby had the rillettes. The company was perfect!
Next restaurant you’re excited to try?
Le Bernardin in New York City…I’ve never been. Or perhaps Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, NY.
Where would/will your next foodie trip be, and why?
I always love going to Thailand. It’s one of the most delicious places to eat and drink without going to restaurants. Food is everywhere–it’s yummy.
What was the best day of your culinary career so far?
The best day of my career so far was the day that I asked Marie to stop being my cook and start being my girlfriend. She was cutting carrots at the time…
Were you ever fired? Where and why?
Who is or was your mentor?
Jean-Luc L’Hourre: Is, was, and always will be.
Who is or was your idol (culinary or otherwise)?
The idealization of chef Alain Chapel. I don’t know what the real one was like, but what I imagine he was like, he was my idol.
If you could work with one chef, dead or alive, who would it be?
Alain Chapel, Louis Outhier, Jacques Maximin
What’s one thing your customers do that makes you nuts?
When they ask me how many Michelin stars I have.
So how many Michelin stars do you have?
None…but thanks for asking!
Professional goal/fantasy not yet attained?
I would love a real à la carte restaurant serving the freshest and best products in existence (and having that work as a business, of course!).
Very best advice for a young chef who would like a career like yours?
Spend as much time learning from as many different people as possible. Ask lots of questions. Do what you feel is right for you. No one can tell you the best path to take. And get a good night’s sleep every night.
For an American chef visiting Paris right now, please suggest four restaurants he shouldn’t miss.
• L’Arpège (and if you can get chef/owner Alain Passard to show you what he’s doing at his potagers (kitchen gardens), even better)
• Le Griffonnier (or another real classic bistro)
• L’Ambroisie (a traditional Michelin three-star)
• Yam’Tcha (fusion)
What’s the news? What are you working on? What do you have up your sleeve? What’s your next project or the next one after that?
Funny you should ask. My new project is keeping my mouth shut. I’m working on making my restaurant the best it can be. That said, I do have a book slated for release in English and French, in spring/summer 2013. And I also just began working with Promenades Gourmandes in Paris to offer monthly hands-on master cooking classes, market tours, and lunches. I will be participating in the New York Culinary Experience May 4–5, an event hosted by New York magazine and The International Culinary Center, where guests have the chance to cook alongside incredible chefs, including David Bouley, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jacques Torres, Dan Barber, and Paul Liebrandt. I am excited myself.
What do you miss most about the U.S.A.? It can be a person, place, food, activity, anything.
I miss Alan Richman! He’s one of my favorite people and biggest supporters in the U.S. He’s almost like my chocolate chip cookies. Also, Americans have a lot of optimism about opportunity, but that’s a rare thing in France. I wish it were easier for entrepreneurs in France, easier to keep things moving.
And if not this, then what? Meaning what would you be doing if not cooking and restauranting?
I would be a full-time dad.