Classically trained chef David Danielson has replaced JoJo Doyle as executive chef at Churchill Downs. Danielson, who studied at the Dumas Pere school of French cooking and the hotel school Ecole Hotelier Tain l’ Hermitage in France, worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants before joining Churchill Downs as executive sous chef in 2011.
“My background is fine dining and four-star hotels,” says Danielson, who’s from Chicago. “And I got involved in special events … I did the PGA, the Olympics in Beijing, and got into doing the larger events. The one event I was always was mesmerized by was the Kentucky Derby. I had the opportunity to come down here so I picked up my family and moved here, and we love it.”
Danielson will focus on Southern flavors and local sourcing, noting that the cuisine here is “not as far off as you might imagine” from his training in France. “I lived a year in the South of France,” he says. “When I came back ... people always asked me if I learned how to cook in France. I’d already been to culinary school, worked at Four Seasons, spent some time at Charlie Trotter’s, so I had grasp of the fundamentals.
“What I learned in France was how to enjoy food … the importance of sitting down and having a meal. When I think about Southern tradition it’s important to look at what you’re eating, who you’re eating with. That training in France plays back to that.
“You go to France, you sit down and there’s something magical … you break into an unbelievable bread and the cheese cart comes around; that’s the romance of France,” Danielson says. “That all comes back to emotion … What I try to do in my cooking is bring that emotion and experience to people.”
Danielson plans a focus on “modern Southern cuisine.” As far as the food at Churchill Downs, change is under way. “I’m playing with things from top to bottom,” he says.
More information: http://www.churchilldowns.com/.
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