Since he won his first three Michelin-star accolade at the age of 33, Alain Ducasse has dominated not only French classical and modern cuisine but the Michelin Guide and the global restaurant scene. With his energetic and precise approach, he has influenced a generation of chefs. The Staff Canteen meets the man at his two-starred Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse in Paris.
Legendary chef. Michelin star master. Entrepreneur. Visionary. Truth teller. Influencer. Pioneer. Space cuisine creator.
There are many superlatives to describe acclaimed Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse – and most are insufficient to represent the first person to receive three Michelin stars for two different restaurants in the same year.
When we meet at his two-starred restaurant in le Meurice Hotel in Paris, a stunning place overlooking the Jardins des Tuileries on the Rue de Rivoli, he says: “I am the one who carries the vision for my establishments, and particularly for the restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse.”
Alain made history by being the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin stars in three cities. He has 25 restaurants across seven countries and is set to expand his empire further, with two restaurants in Macau, on the south coast of China. He so far holds 19 Michelin stars, three of which are held at The Dorchester in London.
But how do you create such a successful empire, where do you start? Alain says ‘you have to be sure you want to become a chef’ and even though the trade can bring a lot of pleasure it’s one of ‘hard work, discipline and rigour’.
“Success,” he says, “is to master one’s passion, what one wants to do. Awards and accolades don’t interest me. What interests me is what I will do tomorrow, it’s the pleasure I will have discovering a new city, making a new restaurant and continuing to give energy to the restaurants which already exist. My success is to please myself every day. It may be a selfish answer but that’s what it is.”
Born in the town of Castelsarrasin in South-west France, Alain started his culinary career at Pavillon Landais restaurant in Soustons. This was followed by Michel Guérard’s restaurant in Eugénie-lesBains while also working for Gaston Lenôtre during the winter months. He went on to work at Moulin de Mougins under legendary chef Roger Vergé, creator of Cuisine du Soleil, and learned the Provençal cooking methods for which he was later known.
The legendary chef reflects on his early influences, saying: “I was 12 when I decided I wanted to cook and it’s my grandmother’s cooking which inspired me.”
But it is Alain Chapel who he cites as his biggest influence, it may be 40 years ago when he trained with him in Mionnay, a three Michelin-star restaurant to the north of Lyon, in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, but it was that first experience which has stayed with him.
“He had such a strong requirement in the selection of produce,” he explained. “Then after good produce, the right seasoning, the right cooking time, the perfect preparation, the right side dish, the right sauce, the perfect harmony of wines, and served at the right temperature.”
Speaking of his culinary journey, he says: “It’s actually a simple story, but one of extreme requirements and rigour, it’s [our approach] still what we do today everywhere in our restaurants, but particularly at le Meurice.”
Since September 2013, Alain Ducasse and his team at le Meurice restaurant have created a cuisine which aims to preserve the authentic taste of exceptional produce, until it reaches the plate. Alain believes that ‘before cooking, there is nature and the product is the only truth’.
Sat at the magnificent Chef’s Table in the heart of le Meurice Hotel, Paris, Mr Ducasse reflects that ‘le Meurice Alain Ducasse is one of the most beautiful and radiant rooms in Paris’.
He says: “The venue is in harmony with the culinary story we are telling. We work with great consistency and in the end quality always pays off.”
This certainly rings true with regards to Alain’s culinary approach. Each dish articulates the truth of the product around which it is built and executed by a cleverly orchestrated technique. This quest for genuine flavour is carried out by the cook and farmer together with respect for the product.
Excellence, elegance and experience personify his menu and since 2016 it has been under the watchful eye of executive chef Jocelyn Herland, who spent eight years at the helm of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. Alain’s cuisine philosophy is demonstrated in every dish across all of his restaurants, such as his turbot, bitter chicory, tuber melanosporum (black truffle) and his signature dish: the cookpot, where vegetables are roasted and caramelised. The cookpot is a common theme among Alain’s restaurants around the world – the use of local, seasonal vegetables for balanced, respectful and environmentally-friendly cuisine.
Seasonality remains a strong focus for le Meurice and Alain says: “Inspiration is the season. I ask myself: What do I have? What can I do? What will I do with them?”
There has been a conscious effort to curtail the amount of animal protein consumed across all his restaurants, and where meat and fish do appear on the menu, it is sustainably sourced.
“Proteins will be less important,” says Alain. “There will be more vegetables, more grains, less fat, less salt, less sugar. A cuisine of excellence – that is what we do at le Meurice.”
Not content with conquering seven countries, Alain set his sights even higher … space. And since 2004, astronauts are able to eat food that’s out of this world after he has sent roast quail, lemon confit and tuna casseroles to those based on the International Space Station.
Despite this futuristic approach, Alain’s philosophy is very much focused on the here and now. He says: “We must be today’s cuisine, not yesterday’s and certainly not tomorrow’s, because we do not know it yet.”
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