One of the daily papers here in Paris did a spread on Ducasse in Saturday’s Style & Leisure section. The past two weekends in France have been a little news heavy on the political side, given the legislative elections – round one last weekend, round two yesterday. It was a pleasant change to see a little slice of French culture and pleasure and positivity stretching from one end of the page to the other in this article on Ducasse.
Alain Ducasse is the unchallenged champion, the world heavyweight if you will, of French cuisine. With 25 restaurants worldwide, he deems himself, and not without reason, the defender and supporter of French cooking. His restaurants are international French treasures. From Paris to Saint Petersburg, from Tokyo to Tuscany and NYC to Washington to Las Vegas, his name is synonymous with quality French cooking.
Born in 1956 in Orthez, France – the very town where I unknowingly filmed the Foie Gras trilogy last year – Ducasse is the most successful French chef of all time. From humble beginnings, his story reads like a tale of the American Dream. Raised on a farm, he began making foie gras and butter and picking beans and artichokes as a child. At the age of 16, he undertook an apprenticeship and then studied at a cooking school in southwestern France before working in the kitchens of a string of Three Star chefs. Today his name and his international achievement are bigger than any of those for whom he once worked. But the challenge and the fame of his success doesn’t seem to have replaced his modest sense of self. Although, I must admit, I have never met him in person.
The closest I’ve ever come to Ducasse is as one of his patrons at two of his Parisian restaurants: once at Jules Verne, a fancy upscale (a little pricey too) restaurant in the doughnut of the Eiffel Tower and then again at Chez Benoît, a wonderfully traditional brasserie in the Marais. Both were gastronomic experiences to remember.
His most famous restaurants are probably Plaza Athenée in Paris’ hotel by the same name at Alma Marceau and the Louis XV in Monte Carlo. They are both outrageously expensive, both three Michelin Star rated and opulent in both décor and setting. You pay for what you get and then you pay some more for the name. But for a very special occasion, or if your purse strings will allow for it, the experience is something from another time, another era, another world.
On the heels of a round-the-world trip to check up on his restaurants and to launch his newest cookbook – he is the author of 10 books to date – a reporter for this weekend’s Style & Leisure section sat down with the chef in a special room in the belly of the Plaza Athenée kitchen called the aquarium to discuss his newest projects. He said when asked about his successes:
“We’re not going to talk about me. We’re going to discuss French cuisine, all its savoir-faire that we do not defend enough, and of which I am the supporter.”
“Ducasse considers himself a creator, an artistic director” and in his realm, “he decides it all.”
“There are places,” he says to the reporter, “where time stops. I recently went into a restaurant where a business traveler ordered the daily special. He loosened his tie and began to eat. It was sublime. We could feel the pleasure.” This is the real goal of any chef and of any good restaurant, according to Ducasse.
In the US, where he has restaurants in NYC (3), D.C. and Las Vegas, Ducasse suggests another restaurant in the Williamsburg neighborhood that doesn’t port his name: “The guy prepares a fantastic soup for six bucks and grills sausages on the counter,” explains Ducasse, “and makes his own coca cola. It’s exceptional!”
Ducasse’s next project is to open a cooking school at the hotel de la Marine (not a hotel, just the name of the building) at Place de Concorde. And we can believe it. His star, Michelin or otherwise, is long from burning out and his particular slice of the American Dream is yet to comfort its horizon.
For more info on Ducasse and his restaurants, visit his site (here’s the site in English).
All this talk of food has made me hungry, bon appétit!