Alan Champney, one of my oldest and dearest friends, moved to the Berkshires this past December, having taken the position of food and beverage manager/sommelier at Blantyre. He and his wife, Gretchen, immediately began looking for a new home, found what they were looking for and had their closing in early March, just before Massachusetts began to lock down in response to the pandemic beginning to sweep the Northeast. This meant Blantyre would be unable to accept guests or provide dining services during the lockdown’s first phase. We kept in touch through text over the ensuing months and he assured me he and Gretchen were safe and secure, aided by the additional unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act.
On June 18, Alan sent me a link without comment to a news release from Blantyre announcing the partnership of their legendary Gilded Age Berkshire County estate with the equally legendary Café Boulud New York as a pop up restaurant from early July through mid-October 2020. This was exciting news without need of comment, especially for my dear friends and indeed this former chef!
Chef Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred Café Boulud New York and Blantyre are both Relais & Châteaux members, an exclusive membership requiring a rigorous application and review process granted to unique properties exhibiting authenticity and excellence in their experience. Their partnership is a brilliant solution in how to begin operating within Massachusetts’ phased regulations as businesses begin to slowly and cautiously reopen under CDC guidelines. Never has a world-renowned culinary innovator, celebrity chef and restaurateur of Chef Boulud’s international stature with his three Michelin stars operated a restaurant in Berkshire County. He found a perfect Berkshire County partner in Blantyre, the first United States hotel to become a member of Relais & Châteaux, a Forbes Five-Star recipient and Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Award, among many accolades.
I first heard of Chef Boulud when I was a restaurant chef in the 1980s and he was the critically acclaimed executive chef at Le Cirque in New York from 1986 through 1992. In the culinary world, it was a revolutionary time when the philosophies and techniques of la nouvelle cuisine were being introduced to the United States along with an explosion in the availability of ingredients. Chef Boulud, with his background working for lions of the French culinary revolution such as Roger Vergé, Georges Blanc and Michel Guérard, was at the forefront of that revolution in the United States, reimagining classic French dishes and creating entirely new ones, incorporating international culinary approaches into the kitchen with a new and fresh French perspective.
In 1992, while executive chef at Le Cirque, he received his first James Beard Award as Best Chef of New York City. In 1993 he founded the Dinex Group with his restaurant eponymously named DANIEL, where he has won many internationally prestigious awards including being rated one of the top ten restaurants of the world by The International Herald Tribune, a highly prestigious two stars by the Michelin Guide, a four-star rating from the New York Times, top ratings for cuisine, service and décor in the Zagat Survey as well as subsequent James Beard Awards as Outstanding Chef of the Year in 1994 and Outstanding Restaurateur in 2006.
What drives Chef Boulud and Jerrod Zifchak, his executive chef at Café Boulud, are Chef Boulud’s four culinary muses. Those muses are best summed up on the Café Boulud’s website, “La Tradition for classic French cuisine; La Saison for seasonal highlights; Le Potager for vegetarian specialties; and Le Voyage for an array of international flavors.”
Chef Boulud and his Dinex Group currently have nine fully owned and seven licensed properties nationally and internationally, five of which are presently open in some capacity. In response to his restaurants’ temporary closures, he launched Daniel Boulud Kitchen in New York City as a meal delivery service, of which 5% of sales benefit Hand in Hand, a nonprofit foundation he created in March to benefit Dinex staff who have not been able to work and are experiencing extraordinary hardship.
Chef Boulud has never been just about preparing gourmet meals in elite settings, as he has a long history of giving back. In 2007 he received the Culinary Humanitarian Award at the United Nations from the Adopt-a-Minefield Foundation. One of the nonprofit foundations he’s been involved with for over 20 years and now serves as co-president of the board is Citymeals on Wheels. Citymeals was founded by Gael Greene and James Beard in 1981 and hand-delivers over 1 million meals a year to homebound elderly New Yorkers.
In 2014, he partnered with fellow Citymeals board member Chef Charlie Palmer to launch Chefs Deliver for Citymeals, an arm of the foundation which monthly gives world-class restaurant chefs the ability to give back by preparing and hand-delivering gourmet meals to Citymeals on Wheels clients. In the wake of the pandemic, he partnered with developer Marc Holliday, SL Green Realty CEO, and created the nonprofit Food1st, which delivers thousands of meals to frontline workers fighting the pandemic, along with food-insecure New Yorkers. As Chef Boulud has said, “When the world suffers, we suffer.” If only some of our politicians would adopt the same attitude, we would be in a much better place than we are now.
In the wake of the pandemic here in our service industry-dominated economy in Berkshire County, with so many of our service industry businesses and employees suffering economic hardship, I wondered how and why the partnership between Blantyre and Café Boulud came together. In response to my emailed question asking how it happened, Chef Boulud answered: “Café Boulud at Blantyre came at a time when we were waiting to reopen our businesses in New York City. Blantyre approached us with the idea of creating a summer pop-up of Café Boulud in the Berkshires. We loved the idea as it helped to bring some of our team back together, initiating a first step toward post-COVID life. Both Blantyre and Café Boulud are members of Relais & Châteaux. We’ve known each other a long time, and trust that our brands are aligned to work together. Many of our loyal customers live in the region and are very happy to have us here.”
Meanwhile, these year-round Berkshire residents, my partner, the lovely Lois, and I are very happy to have them here, too! We were invited by Alan to join his wife Gretchen and enjoy dinner at Café Boulud at Blantyre on the evening of July 4. It was the first time Lois and I had dined at a restaurant since March just before the pandemic forced the closure of Massachusetts restaurants. We were treated to their three-course prix fixe dinner menu flawlessly prepared by Chef Zifchak and his crew. I felt so incredibly lucky enjoying an absolutely wonderful dining experience on Blantyre’s graveled outdoor patio on a perfect Berkshire evening in the company of two beautiful and exceptional women overlooking the lush lawn and gardens in the shadow of Blantyre’s Gilded Age Tudor-style manor house, which serves as the centerpiece of the 110-acre estate. The experience certainly lived up to their promotion of offering “the finesse of seasonal French Cuisine with the warm hospitality of a neighborhood café.” As a former restaurateur, I found it especially impressive that they were able to provide such an exceptional experience with only weeks of planning and only a few days after opening.
Beyond serving weekend brunch and dinner service, specialty dining experiences will also be offered. “From delicious picnics, complete with silver and fine china service, amidst the colorful gardens and lush lawns”, Chef Boulud’s team has plans to create “inspired culinary moments throughout the 110-acre estate.”
Being as new to the area as they are and as busy as they’ve been getting the operation up and running in a very short time, Chef Boulud and Chef Zifchak have only just begun to tap into the bounty offered by Berkshire farms. The day after our dinner, a team was meeting with their neighbors at High Lawn Farm, from whom they plan to begin sourcing yogurt and cheese.
While Café Boulud at Blantyre is operating, Alan’s primary duties have shifted entirely to sommelier in charge of the more-than-9,000-bottle world-class wine cellar at Blantyre with its famous Dom Pérignon champagne salon and private tasting room. Alan took us on a tour of the cellars where decades old rare and extraordinary bottles with labels such as La Tache and Le Montrachet are stored. This wine cellar was one of the reasons Chef Boulud was especially attracted to Blantyre.
All in all, everyone seems to be very happy with the present arrangement, which led to my question of whether the partnership may continue. Stephen Benson, general manager at Blantyre, answered, “This is certainly a possibility, and we will revisit this at the end of the summer.” To my mind, it will be most interesting to see how the partnership evolves; as for right now, it seems to be working extremely well.
Especially given the high level of professionalism exhibited by the staffs of Blantyre and Café Boulud, meal service throughout the property can be counted on to be in complete compliance with state and CDC guidelines. For more information including hours of service, reservations and menus, please visit blantyre.com/dining/restaurants.