Alain Ducasse is not just a chef. He is a brand, an icon in international gastronomy, and the man with the most Michelin stars in the world. In his 45-year-career — as a cook, chef, and entrepreneur — he has built a global food and lifestyle empire, including a restaurant inside Château de Versailles, a very exacting cookery school, a consultancy service, two country retreats in Provence, a food service under the brand Musiam (across all of Paris’ major museums), a publishing house, and an event and catering service.
Prolific and inventive, he is ever open to a challenge. He recently lost the tender for his restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower (made famous by the Trump-Macron dinner hosted there last year) to chefs Frederic Anton and Thierry Marx. He has since launched Ducasse sur Seine, an €11 million, 100-seater, electric barge (moored ironically in the shadow of the Eiffel tower), serving contemporary French cuisine.
For Ducasse, nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. “It dictates the rhythm of the kitchen, of the farmers, breeders and fishermen,” he says. Conscious of his responsibility, he works only with seasonal produce — grown naturally and fished durably. Like zucchini flowers from the Queen of Versailles’ garden or red mullet from the Île d’Yeu.
His latest passion is chocolate. He has been pursuing it for the last five years, and everything from procuring the bean to roasting and selling is done in-house. Mais oui. Creamy ganaches, pralinés with caramelised almonds and hazelnuts, and the most velvety, unctuous chocolate spreads (which will make you never go near a jar of Nutella again) are sold from several signature ‘post office brown’ boutiques in Paris’ most chic addresses. I visit the one on Rue Marché Saint Honoré, where the charming Reiko Murakami, who runs the store, takes me on a journey — from the manufacture at Rue de la Roquette to the tasting of single origin ganaches. I discover almonds coated with dark chocolate dust after many years, my absolute favourite. I am won over. The man is definitely more than “an artisan of living and eating well”. He is a perfectionist who obsessively controls all aspects of his cuisine, from the ingredients to the packaging design. An excerpt of my encounter with Ducasse.
With 28 restaurants and 19 Michelin stars, where is haute cuisine going in this age of pop-ups and instant gratification?
Haute cuisine is constantly reinventing itself. Let me give you the example of Ducasse sur Seine, which I opened a few days ago. This is a French haute cuisine restaurant on a fully electric boat cruising on the river. In other words, this venue offers a completely new and unique experience: savouring delicious recipes while admiring the beauty of the city, with an exceptional degree of comfort — silence, no vibrations or unpleasant odours. Haute cuisine does have a future if it becomes accessible and contemporary without compromising its quality.
Five luxurious ingredients you work with.
Yes, I use Chinese caviar and vegetables from the Château de Versailles. However, I’d like to elaborate about the concept of “luxurious”. For me, a tomato can be a luxurious ingredient. Carefully cultivated in the kitchen garden, picked at the end of a sunny day, perfectly ripe, you just add a few grains of fleur de sel from Guérande and drops of pure, extra virgin olive oil. This is a marvellous and genuine luxury. In other words, any ingredient can be luxurious if it is cultivated in harmony with nature. At Le Louis XV (in Monte Carlo, Monaco) all the produce is stunning. Peas in their pods are blended to achieve a juice that cooks the vegetables. Thinly sliced artichokes are made into a delicate broth. Pintadon offal (baby guinea fowl) is used as stuffing for the fondant potatoes that accompany the poultry.
How do you source ingredients when you open in foreign countries?
Opening a new venue necessitates one to two years of work beforehand. Sourcing is obviously key. We use our contacts, we meet a lot of people. And we taste a lot of produce!
Do you think India is ready for Alain Ducasse?
I already welcome many Indian clients at my restaurants. But I must confess I don’t know India very well, and look forward to visiting it.
You have now entered the world of ‘manufacture’.
Yes, chocolate. Chocolate is a promise of bliss, to which we voluptuously relinquish ourselves. It bewitches me to the extreme. It opens doors to the imagination. Fruit of an exceptional labour of which only the chocolatier can predict the resources needed. It demands a high level of method, precision and proficiency.
What is the most important recognition of your work?
The only recognition which counts is clients’ satisfaction.
What do you eat on your nights off?
Very little, indeed — since I spend most of my time tasting products and recipes.