A Philosopher in the Kitchen

Chef Daniel Rose ’00 is asking big questions

You would think that American chef Daniel Rose would have all the answers when it comes to French cuisine. Rose is internationally acclaimed for his mastery of traditional French cooking and recognized as an ambassador of French culture and gastronomy by the French government. His restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic have earned Michelin stars and rave reviews.

Yet Rose’s ventures are all driven by his appetite for posing questions. Using cuisine as a vehicle, versus a destination, Rose has created unforgettable dining experiences by probing the nature of dining and tradition and distilling culinary excellence to its essential nature.

Rose’s approach to cooking and all pursuits is deeply rooted in cultural immersion –a perspective aided by his time at AUP. “There I learned about depth of culture, which requires a lifetime to learn.” Originally from Illinois, he studied Greek mathematics at a small college in Santa Fe before transferring to AUP, where he traveled with faculty everywhere from Amsterdam to Naples to Prague and earned a degree in philosophy and European cultural studies. “I was lucky to be at AUP and realize how much more there was to explore,” he says.

Rose realized that this included understanding French culture beyond Paris. He’d developed a passion for food and restaurants –which is not to say cooking experience– and decided to further it by moving to Lyon and enrolling at the culinary school Institut Bocuse. There, Rose was steeped in the French language and mindset and a distinct style of cooking grounded in the surrounding land and terroir– the unique environmental conditions that influence the characteristics of food.

You have all these resources–the city, the culture, and the faculty from all over the world. And being in France accentuates the essential nature and distinct quality of an American liberal arts education.

Daniel Rose '00

The French emphasis on culinary heritage and tradition resonated with him. “I'm obsessed with things that are classic,” Rose says. “The question of what makes something classic is something that I spend my day trying to figure out. In the arc of a career, work, or study, you need to understand why cultures have adhered to things. You delve into this rich historical and shared understanding of the world.”

After culinary school, Rose pursued a formative apprenticeship in Brittany for the next two years and then spent another six years cooking across France with some of the world’s most renowned chefs. After a stint as a head chef in Guatemala, he returned to Paris and cooked at the three-star restaurant Le Meurice.

Then Rose decided to open his own. “I had a little bit of experience and not very much money, and decided to make what I could in Paris.” In 2006, he launched Spring. The tiny restaurant had an open kitchen and no menu: each night, its maximum of 16 guests were all served the same dishes. Rose was a one-man show, from cooking to serving to answering the phone.

To the French, all this was radical. To this green American chef serving French cuisine to the French, it was a natural question: “I was trying to figure out what the essential nature of a restaurant was, and it was not that you order à la carte. It's that you sit down and eat, and they try to serve you the most delicious food with the means that you have.”

The experiment worked. Spring earned the distinction as The Guardian’s “One of 10 of the Best Restaurants in Paris” and with bookings six months out, Forbes designated it “The Trophy Reservation.” Success followed in his subsequent ventures, including the bistro La Bourse et La Vie and Chez La Vieille in Paris.

Le Coucou, opened in 2016, was Rose’s first restaurant stateside and is recognized among the most prestigious in New York City. The elegant, cosmopolitan establishment celebrates fine Parisian gastronomy and draws on the relationship between the two cities. Le Coucou earned Rose his first Michelin star and was recognized with a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant.

The decision to open a new restaurant, Rose says, is “a very personal nagging sensation that something needs to be explored. I have to be careful that the question can create years of stimulation.” He appreciates the role AUP played in developing this outlook and the advantages of studying in Paris. “You have all these resources –the city, the culture, and the faculty from all over the world. And being in France accentuates the essential nature and distinct quality of an American liberal arts education.” He contrasts its broad, exploratory approach with the more formal French system. “At AUP they encourage you to take your time and make mistakes.”

Having built many superlative dining establishments, Rose’s burning question is now: how great can a restaurant be? He entertains the idea of a new business model: “At a certain point, I can't cook any better. The only way I could make it better would be to give it to you for free. My dream would be to have a restaurant where you wouldn't pay anything.” He acknowledges the scale of the pursuit. “Whether or not you end up with a free restaurant, the process would yield something that's absolutely wildly excellent. It's a philosopher's journey. I don't have an answer, but I can tell you that the question is essential.”