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Daniel Boulud, After Hours in Los Angeles

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Daniel Boulud is one star-studded chef: he's got a small pile of Michelin stars and James Beard awards, and his New York restaurants are consistently ranked as the country's best. His TV show "After Hours" is equally star-studded: celebs and famous chefs show up to join Boulud on an intimate tour of kitchens and homes. The new season, which premieres tonight at 9:30 tonight on the HD channel MOJO (if you don't have HD, you can watch the first episode online here), finds Boulud exploring one of the world's capitals of adventurous, robust, modern cuisine: Los Angeles.

There's a simple but likable premise: in the great tradition of late-night chef soirees, Daniel visits a top restaurant after hours (on the menu this season: Hatfield's, Father's Office, Sona, Ford's Filling Station, Providence, Grace, Simon LA and Campanile), talks to the staff, prepares a dish in their kitchen, and then meets up with famous friends, who sit down with the chef for dinner and wine-enthused conversation.

The first episode is set at Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's pizza outpost, Mozza Pizzeria. Boulud says that if Wolfgang Puck is the king of Los Angeles fine dining, then Nancy Silverton is the "queen of LA". It's not hard to see why: she takes Boulud into Mozza's kitchen to show off fresh peppers gathered in San Diego and a special olive oil from Silverton's co-operative farm in Italy that Daniel sips straight from a giant spoon. She also shows off Mozza's unique mozzarella bar, the first of its kind in the States, which Silverton modestly admits was inspired by similar bars in Rome. Don't forget that she is also the founder of the La Brea Bakery, a now-legendary artisan bakery whose freshly-baked loaves and baguettes you can find in just about any market in Los Angeles.

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Later, Boulud prepares a dish of pork shoulder studded with garlic and oregano, just like Julia used to do, serene in a quiet restaurant kitchen, talking about a simple dish to the camera. This is when "After Hours" really excels -- it's so nice to watch a chef carefully explain each step of his preparation, and it does make me miss the good old days of PBS and the Frugal Gourmet.

But then the famous people show up and the fine wines start flowing: a whole host of famous LA chefs and personalities like Alain Giraud, Joachim Splichal, Ludovic Lefebvre, and Suzanne Goin, not to mention the occasional TV star like Ray Romano, Harry Shearer, or Melora Hardin. Even journalists like Joel Stein and Russ Parsons of the LA Times get to join the party. Each restaurant's resident mixologist also demonstrates how to make a signature cocktail, a fun, sophisticated touch.

A good segment of the show is devoted to the chefs and their guests just shooting the shit about food, life, media, etc -- although at one point, I triumphed to notice that a few of the guests were taking pictures of the food -- gasp! -- with their cell phones! The word "blog" might have even floated about. I'm not terribly interested in hearing how writing for a network sitcom is similar to the arts of cuisine, but at least the show doesn't seem to be talking down to its audience.

But I am excited to see Boulud visit Providence, Ford's Filling Station, and Campanile; I'm also excited to see him shooting the shit with great chefs like Suzanne Goin who are committed to the Los Angeles scene and know how easy it is to spin culinary magic out of the rich raw materials of our sunny native soil. I'll bet you even the great Daniel Boulud comes away changed.

Photo of Daniel Boulud and Nancy Silverton courtesy of Alex Solomons for MOJO