An expat of gloomy Brittany like so many classic French waiters, Bernard Vrod has been working under fellow farm boy Daniel Boulud for sixteen years, first as a waiter at Le Cirque and, these days, as a maître d' at Daniel. We asked him to take us into the latter's hallowed halls and got tales of Secret Service shakedowns, fowl on the floor, and marriage proposals nearly gone awry.
What was the vibe when you fell short of three Michelin stars?
Of course they talk in the kitchen. Daniel makes a speech, and we go from there. We think we're doing our best, but now we're going to try harder to get the three stars.
Is Daniel still as big a presence in the restaurant?
He's in the kitchen 335 days a year, maybe more. His name is at the door; this is where he belongs.
If you call in to make a special request, does he cook it himself? Ever get a peculiar one?
Daniel will cook anything you ask him to cook. Not long ago, we had a customer who wanted his bird cooked the same way he had it in London; we made him grouse wrapped in bacon for three or four weeks.
What other off-the-menu requests would you recommend to someone booking a table?
Stuffed cabbage with pig's feet. Now with truffle season, anything with truffles. Daniel used to make black truffle en croute, Salvador Dali's favorite dish. He can make baked potato with white truffle. Or brandade of codfish.
What's the secret of serving a six-course tasting menu?
A waiter and a captain has six tables. When you see the customer is almost finished, you fire the table meaning we call the kitchen and the cook starts to cook the next dish. You have to feel the customer. If he wants to come in with a girlfriend, he doesn't want to hurry too much.
What was your most memorable marriage proposal?
A customer gave me the ring in an envelope and asked me, "Put the ring on my girlfriend's dessert." I go to the kitchen and I open the envelope and no more ring! My heart is going 300 miles an hour. I go to the front desk and look all over the place. I look on the floor and there it is on the floor between the runners and waiters and everything. It was a big ring, too.
What would you teach a younger waiter starting work at Daniel?
When we walk into the restaurant, we're onstage. They cannot be afraid. You cannot be mumbling; be very straightforward. But be very nice at the same time, don't be arrogant.
Can the average diner get a tour of the kitchen?
We'd never refuse. Daniel loves to show his kitchen because everything is immaculate.
What are the keys to tableside carving?
You have to be very confident. You can't go and start to carve a chicken and miss the joint You have to have a good knife I use Daniel's. Once, not at Daniel, the pheasant fell on the floor. Not funny.
You've served six presidents how does the restaurant prepare for them?
There's a lot of cleaning. Everything is checked out by the Secret Service. The background of all the employees is checked out maybe a week before. They check the food. They empty the restaurant a few hours before and come in with dogs.
Does the president pick up the check?
We don't give free food because they're the president.
So celebrities never get free meals?
Free meals? My wife gets free meals.
How do you soften the blow when the bill comes?
We smile. We smile.