Twenty Questions – Todd Boule, Chef Extraordinaire

As one of the only vegans at Harvard Business School, I am constantly checking the Dining Services website to determine whether I should venture forth to the cafeteria or heat up a burrito in the microwave. On a recent jaunt through the website, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to click on the link, “Meet Our Executive Sous Chef Todd Boule.” My jaw dropped as I read Todd’s bio. His accomplishments include:
-Graduating magna cum laude from Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute
-Winning multiple food competitions
-Working in kitchens around the world for almost twenty years
-Cooking a meal for President Clinton during the 2000 Democratic National Convention
-Managing over 40,000 meals as the Executive Chef of Culinary Operations for the 2004 Olympics in Athens

I knew immediately that I wanted to interview Todd for The Harbus, not only because it would make a great story, but on another level, to atone for the guilt I suddenly felt for being ungrateful for the food prepared by Restaurant Associates. Todd and I met one morning in the Faculty Lounge for an hour where I asked him twenty questions ranging from “What do you do for fun?” to “What keeps you up at night?” And of course, I also asked him a bunch of questions about food. My admiration for Todd only grew throughout the interview, as his articulate, intelligent responses indicated that he is a Renaissance man: artist, carpenter, mountain climber, and father-to name but a few. I came to think of him as a philosopher-chef.

I mentioned my experience interviewing Todd to two of my friends. The first said, “You know, people will complain about food no matter what. Everyone’s tastes are different, and people love to complain.” The second one said, “Haha! Of course he’s a great cook! His name rhymes with creme brulee!” I am not sure who was more profound, but it does highlight another great truth about food: it always tastes better when you’re with friends. Ever since I met Todd, even though I might be eating alone and I know he works in a different kitchen, the food in Spangler seems to taste just a little bit better because it feels like it was cooked by a friend.

Secret Tips from the Chef

1. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Leominster, MA, which is by my driving time an hour northwest in Massachusetts.

2. Did you eat your veggies?
Broccoli, green beans is about the only thing I ate as far as veggies. I grew up in an Italian household so we ate pasta six times a week and usually a meat product at least once a week. Veggies came out of the garden: green beans, carrots, broccoli. I remember the occasional salad, but I can’t say I ate too many veggies.

3. When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Oh boy. I had always been around food my entire life with my grandmothers and great aunts; there was always something on the stove so that added to my interest with food. I worked in a few small restaurants in junior high at a pretty young age. That was back in an age where work permits didn’t matter. I think I learned I wanted to be a chef at one of the first real restaurants. The fast pace and all the action happening in the kitchen environment fit my interest with food and kind of fit my personality, so it was probably in the late 80’s I really realized, ‘Wow, this could be a fun career!’

4. Do you have a favorite wine?
Yes! It’s a meritage, Quintessa from Rutherford vineyards. It’s a ’95. I still have some at home. Either that or I like Far Niente. It’s a Napa. Amazing vineyard-has quite an elaborate car collection, if you ever want to take a tour of a nice vineyard. So yeah, I like reds.

5. How do you get your inspiration?
My children give me a lot of inspiration, but when we’re referring to food, I do a lot of reading. A lot of magazines, photos, getting a sense of what’s happening out there. Inspiration really comes from researching market trends and looking at a lot of pictures, getting inspiration as far as colors and textures and in-season items. Kind of a combination of everything.

6. Where is your favorite place in the world?
I’ve been to quite a few locations in the Mediterranean. I mean Greece was wonderful during the Olympics. But I’d have to say Yosemite. I’m a mountain fan and the valley of Yosemite and being at the top of Half Dome, having made the vigorous hike up there…I just take the beauty of Yosemite over standing at the top of the Acropolis any day.

7. Can you describe a prize-winning dish?
What was the last big one? It’s one that really sticks out. I think that the dessert was judged most critically. One of the certified master chefs that was doing the judging said that there are certain components to making an award-winning dessert: crispy/crunchy, smooth/silky, and meaty/texture. I made an espresso cup out of dark and white chocolate where I marbled the cup, made a filigree handle out of chocolate that looked identical to an espresso cup and I filled that with a Kahlua mousse, a poached meringue for the foam on top of it and I made a little decoration of chocolate steam, a tuile cookie spoon handle coming out of the cup, and some macerated fresh berries on the side next to a chocolate-dipped biscotti. Difficult to create in an hour.

8. Who do you most admire?
Let’s keep it about food. There are actually two people I think I admire most. One I’m going to say, his name is Paul Lee. He was the Executive Sous Chef when I worked at Harrah’s Resort & Casino in Lake Tahoe. He noticed some raw talent in me when I worked there, and he was the only one in my career to push education, to add that portion of professionalism into the work description-taking it not only from a hobby that pays pretty well, that keeps you around food, but that turns it into more of a passion to get the education to really refine your knowledge about food. And then it’s Auguste Escoffier. He was one of the forefathers of culinary. He did many things for the industry; he really outlined the present-day kitchen and documented recipes, which had never really been done before. So he gave the culinary industry a new meaning, took it from the depths of being a servantry type position to a more glorified position.

9. What keeps you up at night?
Many things. I’d probably say if I lump everything together it usually brings one thing around a common denominator, which is to provide my children with a better life than I had. Whether my experiences were good or bad, I just want to give them a better chance, a better start, a better upbringing. I’m a low stress person, but if there’s anything that does keep me up at night, it’s that, the children.

10. What did you cook for President Clinton?
Creamed spinach. Put that in bold letters. That was the side dish to the entree. The entree was a dry aged sirloin. It was with the Patina Group in Los Angeles who I worked for. A few months prior we opened Nick and Stef’s Steak House. One of their signatures is a dry age room. So one of the entrees was a dry aged sirloin. And what I remember most about it was creamed spinach. The president wanted creamed spinach. As there were guards with guns watching us prepare the meal, I was thinking, “I’m in one of the biggest homes in Beverly Hills, and I’m cooking creamed spinach.”

11. What was it like cooking at the Olympics?
Insanity. Let me put that. Really, and for these reasons…You know you have many factors that make up a great kitchen: personalities, cooking backgrounds from different individuals. But to arrive on location (meaning by the time we got into the Olympic Village, it was only two weeks prior to the athletes arriving), taking a staff the majority of which doesn’t speak English, the sheer volume of food being consumed, it was quite…what word am I looking for…it was quite insane. Although harmonious if that makes any sense because regardless of the language
barrier (there were chefs that flew in from Korea, Japan, China, the Greek staff), everyone spoke the language of the kitchen, which I found most amazing. Just the volume of food products, it still haunts me. Maybe that’s what keeps me up at night!

12. Are there any foods you just don’t like?
Goat cheese. And caviar. I’ll cook them for other people and taste it for quality, but I absolutely hate it. I shouldn’t use the word hate, but I just can’t stand goat cheese.

13. What do you think is the hardest dish to cook?
Oh boy. Wow, there’s so many difficult dishes to cook. I don’t think I have just one that I can pick out. You know, making the perfect souffle is difficult. I usually stem back from classic French cooking with any question like this because it’s technical. There’s more preparation involved in some of the minute details: your sauce, your stock, may simmer overnight, may reduce the following day, so there may be days of preparation to finish one item or one component to the dish. So I wouldn’t say a dish, but a cuisine: classic French.

14. What made you want to come cook at HBS?
The diverse environment. There are so many opportunities for a variety of ethnic cuisine and variety of the level of event: there’s a BBQ, meals for CEO’s, I manage dinners for the Dean’s House. Just the aspect of diversity attracted me… and the good winter break!

15. What is your favorite memory?
There’s so many things that come to mind, really. I think my daughter saying “daddy” for the first time. That was the first thing she said.

16. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Retired on an island in the Caribbean. I don’t know! Ten years? Still cooking, though.

17. What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
Society as a whole is growing more towards the ever popularity of convenience. It’s takeout, delivered, entrees to go. Your nuclear family has changed. You know we’re not sitting down to dinner when dad gets home from work. I think the industry may change as far as providing more convenience to us. How? If I had the idea I’d keep it to myself so I could market it! I don’t know, but I do believe some of the next big things will take the direction of convenience, making it easier for us to obtain higher quality foods faster, whether it be at home or on the go. You’ll always have your fine restaurants and the restaurants you go to, but even look ten years ago, where you could get good fast food was still limited. Now with your takeout options and convenience foods the variety has multiplied, the quality has increased.

18. What do you do for fun?
I ride my four-wheeler (my ATV) and I garden. Listen to music, more of a relaxing kind. Carpentry. I’m a carpenter by vocational school (through high school). There’s really nothing I can’t build, which I find fun to pass the time.

19. What do you most love about your job?
The rewarding feeling when something that has been planned and developed is executed and it’s enjoyed by everybody that you’ve created it for…it’s so gratifying. You can’t lose sight of what’s important.

20. If you had just one wish, what would it be?
World peace. I don’t want to say that, it’s so cliche but it’s so true. For most of humanity to understand that each and every one of us is different and accept someone’s differences, which would probably lend itself to world peace.


President Clinton’s Menu

Endive salad with caramelized pecans, Roquefort, champagne & roasted shallot vinaigrette

Dry aged sirloin, celery root and mushroom tart, CREAMED SPINACH

Apple tarte Tatin with cinnamon sauce