The fine dining world mourns the death of legendary chef David Bouley

By Tori Latham 19 February, 2024
David bouley

The chef brought local ingredients and Japanese-style tasting menus to New York City restaurants

One of the greats of American fine dining has died.

David Bouley, whose New York City restaurant empire inspired a whole generation of chefs, died Monday from a heart attack, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The chef, who died at home in Kent, Connecticut, was 70.

“He got modern three-star Michelin dining to make sense to Americans,” Dan Barber, the chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, told the Times. “He had an otherworldly ability to create and capture flavor, and he did it without menus or recipes, night after night.” (Barber worked under Bouley for two years earlier in his career.)

At his restaurants—including Montrachet, Bouley, Danube, and Brushstroke—Bouley changed the way Americans ate. He emphasized vegetable-based sauces, local ingredients, and Japanese-style tasting menus before all of those components became ubiquitous in U.S. kitchens. Often serving meals without a menu, as Barber noted, he wanted diners to trust him and his cooking implicitly.

And that they did: Several of his establishments received Michelin stars, and Bouley is the only American-born chef to have received a review from every New York Times restaurant critic since 1985, including a four-star rating for Bouley in 1990. Those in the industry saw and acknowledged his genius in the kitchen, which he passed down to chefs who have become some of the most acclaimed names in their profession, including James Kent, Anita Lo, and Christina Tosi.

“David Bouley was such a huge part of my story,” Kent wrote on Instagram. “He is one of the main reasons why I wanted to be a chef.”

“Will miss my first boss, the original farm to table chef David Bouley,” Lo similarly wrote in an Instagram tribute. “Thank you for all you taught me.”

His contemporaries have shared their remembrances as well, with Thomas Keller offering effusive praise for what Bouley meant to the world of restaurants. “He was a great chef who did great things for our community, including helping elevate cooking from a mere job to a passion pursued by professionals,” Keller wrote on Instagram. “His reverence for fresh ingredients, good food, and good health knew no bounds. We benefited from how he extolled Greenmarket’s produce and freely shared his culinary knowledge. He had a voracious appetite for learning. And he was generous, too—spending time mentoring young chefs.”

In more recent years, Bouley established the Bouley Test Kitchen and Bouley Botanical, where he ran test kitchens and gave lectures and classes. After Bouley closed in 2017, though, he didn’t open another restaurant in N.Y.C. Still, his imprint can be found at dozens of restaurants in the city, and his legacy will live on there as well.

Bouley is survived by several family members, including his wife, Nicole, who wrote a touching message about her late husband on Instagram: “David was a man who holistically experienced discovery. Relentless curiosity and questioning was his driving force—to be informed, to share and celebrate,” she said. “He embraced the MOF spirit—his commitment to share the gifts of mother nature and the purity offered through technique, ingredients—to meet his clients where they were and instill new experiences embodies his passion. Together let’s spill some wine for him tonight.”

This story was first published on Robb Report USA