David Bouley, a Chef of Many Ideas, Brought Them to Delicious Life

Whenever I talked to David Bouley, the exacting, pioneering American chef who died on Monday at age 70, out would pour a torrent of ideas, beliefs, theories, nutritional research, probiotic preservation methods, ethnographic histories and plans for harnessing all this knowledge to improve health and save lives through restaurants.

There may exist people who could keep up with him as he hurtled along breathlessly in ever-widening circles of references and allusions. I wasn’t one of them. Whenever I called him, usually to check facts in a restaurant review, I would ask what I thought was a simple question. And then I would hang on tight for 10 minutes or more until I heard the answer to my question, or something close to it. He could sound as if he were trying to say 100 things at once.

But if his words were hard to follow, his cooking almost never was. Mr. Bouley could set a dozen flavors spinning at once and never lose control of a dish. I eventually came to think that his ideas weren’t jumbled at all; only the words were. When Mr. Bouley expressed himself through food, I had no doubt that he was on to something.

Mr. Bouley in 1991 at Bouley, the flagship restaurant where he introduced New Yorkers to new ideas like vegetable-based sauces.Credit…Osamu Honda/Associated Press

What was it he was on to? Early on at Montrachet and later at the first Bouley, on Duane Street in TriBeCa, it was often the idea that fruits, herbs and vegetables could do a lot more than most chefs were asking them to do. First, though, you had to pay attention to where and how and when they were grown.

Other chefs were starting to wake up to this around the same time, but Mr. Bouley, raised on a farm in Connecticut, had a head start. Carrying the innovations of French nouvelle cuisine into American food, he made sauces out of vegetables and herbs instead of butter and cream.

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