IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION. Alain Ducasse is one of the world’s most decorated chefs. Known for his incomparable French cuisine, Alain Ducasse has created innovative dining concepts reflecting international influences, and consequently has earned a phenomenal global reputation.
Where are you from?
I was born in South West France, between Bordeaux and San Sebastian, near Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz.
Why did you want to be a cook?
When I was 12, I decided to be a cook, to my parents’ despair. All my friends wanted to become pilots or engineers. My mum said: “And you want to become a cook?”
How many years did you study?
7 years, and I studied hard.
Now you are a business man with restaurants all over the world, publish books, and run training schools?
I am a cook, not a business man. I have a large team helping me to manage my business and more than 2000 collaborators worldwide.
“We have to be in search of perfection without ever reaching it.”
In the evening, Ducasse at the Palace of Versailles offers an exceptional dining experience.
Is French cuisine the most important cuisine in the world?
Yes, for the techniques and codification of the rules, like ‘solfège’ in music. There is the rule and then, after, there is the creation. But the basis of French cuisine is the rule, written and ancient, that can be used in many other cuisines. This is the base of what I learnt when I started working. My teacher chefs were Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Alain Chapel and Roger Vergé.
Is good taste something that can be learnt?
One has to be open. Time is needed to take everything in.
When did you get your first star?
I got my first Michelin star when I was chef at ‘L’Amandier’ in Mougins in 1980.
How many Michelin stars do you have now?
Around 20 in my different restaurants. But I don’t only have restaurants with Michelin stars. Lots of them don’t have any.
How many restaurants do you have?
Around 25. I have a large team to help me manage them, and long-term collaborators; my closest collaborators have been with me for over 25 years. They are chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers. Many have been with me from the start of their career; 80% of my collaborators arrived at junior positions. We like to promote and help people grow within the company. For example, my Executive Chef Jean-Philippe Blondet at my restaurant in The Dorchester in London has been with me for 14 years, and he is 35! He was in Monaco, in Paris, in Hong Kong and now in London.
Are your restaurants very expensive?
My restaurants range from bistros at 30 euros to Haute-gastronomy restaurants at 1000 euros. For 15 pounds, US dollars or euros, I always have a proposal. We try to be the best in each category.
What is the secret of the success of Alain Ducasse?
The DNA of French cuisine is the base, the attention given to sourcing, to the provenance and selection of the produce, their preparation, to the right seasoning, the right cooking. Also, it is about the harmony between the content and the container: all the elements that come into play out of the dish itself; all the elements which contribute to serve it – silverware, china, glasses. It is about the environment created to support the cuisine. Finally, there is also always a strong interest in offering the right wines for a dish. Wine is an important component of the idea of gastronomy. In French gastronomy, there is always an order between the beginning and the end of a meal and all the details are important.
“I don’t want to have signature dishes as they create habits.”
Was Haute-gastronomy created by Louis XIV?
The king’s cuisine was very sophisticated, varied and diverse, using produce coming from French regions. There was a specific order in the menu, very much staged, and including tableware, silverware, china, crystal ware. I do Haute-gastronomy in the Palace of Versailles with dinners inspired by the royal feasts served 300 years ago at the Court. There were 10 to 25 dishes, but the guests would choose what they ate and not eat all of them. The vegetable soup was followed by vegetables, fish and shellfish, poultry, game, stews. Today, in my restaurant in the Palace of Versailles, I serve 10 courses.
Can you give an example of an Haute-gastronomy menu?
There would be too many options for one example. There is a beginning and there is an end. At the Court they would always start with a vegetable soup, followed by lots of dishes, always very seasonal as there were not as many conservation techniques. For example, in spring there would be young vegetables: asparagus, green peas, new potatoes. A few years ago I decided to restart the Queen’s Garden on the estate of the Palace of Versailles, and we have about 50 vegetables available. The Queen’s Garden was historically better than the King’s Garden as she was more demanding.
What kind of desserts do you serve?
We currently serve red fruits and berries with a sort of fresh cheese called Fontainebleau. It is a delicate preparation made with cream cheese and whipped cream. We always have a beautiful chocolate cake on the menu of my restaurants. We make chocolate in Paris at La Manufacture de chocolat, a unique destination. We have over 45 different types of chocolates with origins from over 20 countries. I just opened another atelier in Tokyo, in Nihonbashi, with great success. I also opened one shop in Roppongi. Next stop will be London, with a shop opening in Coal Drops Yard, near Kings Cross, in October.
What are your best-sellers?
There are no bestsellers. I don’t want to have signature dishes as they create habits. I don’t want my teams to continually prepare the same things over and over. Cooking is not about repetition and it is not educational; I want to make sure my teams are trained to work with fish and shellfish, meat, game, vegetables…
Do you still cook?
Yes, I cook for my friends, at home. But I taste everything served in my restaurants. I decide everything and taste everything, every day and every night. That’s my job.
Jean-Philippe Blondet and Alain Ducasse at London’s Dorchester Hotel.
Dorset crab, celeriac and caviar.
The Queen’s vegetable garden at Versailles
The main dining room of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
Chocolate from the Alain Ducasse manufacture in Paris
Ducasse sur Seine
“We like to promote and help people grow within the company.”
Are you still a good chef?
Yes, because I taste every day. I carry the vision for my restaurants. I act as an artistic director. I am the designer of my cuisine, the one who thinks about the details of what is served in my restaurants and most importantly of their evolution. Once a restaurant is open, we must continue to create. The key of success is innovation and to continue to evolve and improve. We have to be in search of perfection without ever reaching it. The director Gilles de Maistre documented this very well with the movie The Quest of Alain Ducasse.
Are your chefs all French?
No, for example, my two chefs in Japan are Japanese. I cook with the basis of French tradition but in Japan, 85% of my clients are Japanese. In London, 85% of my clients are British. Everywhere in the world, our clients are locals. Today’s French cuisine seduces a large audience as it managed to adapt to the society it is in. My clients in Japan are Japanese, so we have to seduce them.
How do you seduce them?
With the most perfect contemporary French cuisine. Guests are curious, demanding, well informed and well-travelled, and there is a lot of competition. In 25 years, the evolution of the culinary landscape of London or New York is a revolution. We have no other choice than to be innovative and to be the best, never ceasing to work to achieve perfection without ever reaching it.
How are the new chefs?
Passionate and in competition, as the market is so saturated. Each time I travel, I discover new talents. Recently ‘La Mercerie’ in New York was just magnificent, and simply magnificent is not easy. I always say that it is 95% of work and 5% of talent.
You prepared dinner for President Putin and President Trump?
I received President Putin in the Palace of Versailles, and President Trump at ‘Le Jules Verne’ on the Eiffel Tower. The menus were very different, 8 courses for President Trump and 12 courses for President Putin. There has always been a tradition of Haute-gastronomy with a French basis at the Russian Court. President Trump really enjoyed everything that was served to him: sole, spinach, meat pie, vegetables from the garden of the Palace of Versailles, beef with Rossini sauce and ‘pommes soufflées’. And to finish a soufflé made with chocolate from my Parisian atelier along with a red berries ice cream. It was simple, but good and efficient. I also gave a dinner for President Xi Jing Ping, and for him I did 20 courses.
Did they drink wine?
Apart from French cuisine, what cuisines do you prefer?
I really enjoy Italian cuisines. The one from Umbria is different from what is found in Piedmont, Sicily, Puglia or Tuscany. I love Italy. I am very much influenced by the Mediterranean, and Italy in particular. In September I will open an Italian restaurant in Paris that will be called ‘Cucina’, with mainly influences from Tuscany and the rusticity of the land and sea.
You have a restaurant in Las Vegas, right?
My restaurant ‘Rivea Las Vegas’ is at the top of the Delano Hotel on the Strip. The most beautiful shows in the world are in Vegas.
And in Macau?
We opened two restaurants in Macau in June. Macau is an interesting place with gamblers and tourists, a bit like Las Vegas. Today, Macau has become a destination.
Will you soon launch a restaurant cruise boat in Paris?
It is an extraordinary boat that will cruise on the Seine river. It arrives in Paris in August and will officially welcome guests in September. It is the largest electric boat in the world, equipped with a fully fitted kitchen. It will be a restaurant and will be called ‘Ducasse sur Seine’. The boat will be docked in the 16th, and will go down past Saint-Louis island, to Bercy, and come back in an hour and a half.
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