Behind every high-powered chef with a bold-faced name is a really talented executive chef— the one who runs the kitchen night after night after night. At the four-star restaurant Daniel, in Manhattan, the executive chef is Alex Lee, and he has made chef-owner Daniel Boulud look good for 9 years. But what does that mean, exactly? In a typical, 14-hour day, Lee manages a kitchen staff of 45, oversees the purchasing of meat, fish and produce, creates daily specials, develops menus for parties and events andduring lunch and dinner servicepitches in to slice, dice, stir and sauté wherever he's needed. "I like getting in there," he says.
On Lee's days off, preparing a meal at home might seem like it would be at the very bottom of his wish list. But, luckily for his wife and son, he adores it. "Cooking is a labor of love," he explains. "But at home I keep it quick and unfussy." That means eliminating the meticulous chopping and time-consuming sauces that are fundamental to haute cuisine. Instead, Lee's recipes, which often reflect his Chinese heritage, are simple and streamlined; consider his crab and egg drop soup with garlic and crushed red pepper, his broiled striped bass with ginger-scallion sauce, and his stir-fried fresh asparagus with lemon zest and sesame oil. You won't find any of these dishes at Daniel. But even the executive chef of a four-star restaurant knows that you don't need a staff of 45 to create a fabulous meal.