Located close to the former playgrounds of the French Monarchy, the Hotel Le Meurice in Paris first opened its doors some 200 plus years ago to receive the visiting British Royals. Within the hotel is Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse. Pleasant, refined and deliciously decadent, lunch was fit for a queen and, as it turns out, my non-royal palette as well.
I heard it said that Monsieur Ducasse feels that gastronomic restaurants are one of the last places to be spoiled and so it is his job to make sure that people feel welcomed by the food and the atmosphere. The majestic décor is elegant, but minimalist. Marrying Old World and contemporary elements, the eclectic table holds only the essential dining pieces needed for each course. Belgian goblets, ruby-red Puiforcat plates and a simple lacquer bowl come and go from the table effortlessly as each course is presented.
I was welcomed with a rosé Champagne by Bruno Paillard and served an amuse- bouche, Sorrel — a light crunchy purse folded over a green leaf container of an egg and shallot purée. A hint of vinegar mixed with the sweet outer edge awakened my taste buds for the appetizer of fruits and root vegetables served fondue style, complete with fondue fork and a dipping sauce of carrot and celery dressing.
Following along on the regal gastronomic journey, next came a pastry tower of treats filled with generous layers of hot pâté with mushrooms, cabbage, and truffles. It was the best presentation of pâté I have ever seen and tasted. I almost hated to move on to the entrée it was so delicious. Gorgeous poached lobster claws plated over a citrus bonito vinegar juice and hearts of palm dotting the plate was as pleasing to the eye as it was to my palette. A wonderful Montrachet Grand Cur Domaine Thénard 2009 accompanied this dish and rounded out the taste with its big flavor.
Dessert comes many ways at Alain Ducasse: light, bold, beautiful, or all three together. I sampled the roasted pear with almond cream and pear sorbet for the light while the bold came from Brittany in the form of a coffee ice cream-based dish with crispy bits, pecans, and pine nuts dressed in a delectable chocolate sauce. The house specialty, the St. Honoré, came all three ways. It had folds (resembling an Elizabethan collar) of light or “air cream” as they call it atop the spectacular and flaky choux pastry. Regal, beautiful and yet not overwhelming, it ended my fairytale lunch on a perfect note.
Moscow's legendary Cafe Pushkin opens new flagship restaurant in Paris
The owner of Moscow&rsquos Cafe Pushkin &ndash Andrei Dellos &ndash has taken his famous restaurant West, setting up shop in the French capital. Cafe Pouchkine is now open in Paris&rsquo Madeleine Square with stunning views of the Madeleine church.
The main hall of the restaurant
Just 10 minutes walk from the Champs Elysees and Louvre, it&rsquos now possible to enjoy Russian cuisine based on 19th century recipes. Some of the dishes have a French twist though, such as the Olivier salad and bliny.
What&rsquos more, Cafe Pouchkine is not only a restaurant but also a patisserie, so Parisians and tourists will be able to sample treats by France&rsquos Nina Metayer, 2016&rsquos best pastry chef according to Le Chef and Gault et Millau magazines. Her matryoshka and Pavlova desserts will make you weak at the knees.
If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.
Cookery masterclass: Alain Ducasse
T he plush beige carpet in Alain Ducasse's Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo is marked with a succession of tiny indentations, like bird footprints in wet sand. For a few minutes, while I sit at my table taking in the surroundings – crystal chandeliers, oil paintings of pink-cheeked shepherdesses, a small footstool placed underneath my handbag by an attentive waiter – I struggle to work out what these marks might signify. It's only when a three-storey bread trolley materialises at my side without a sound that I realise: everything around me is on wheels.
The wheeled trolleys are pushed to and fro by a discreet army of black-suited men, who themselves seem to slide elegantly across the floor as if on skates. One moment, an ice bucket containing three vintage champagnes appears at my elbow. Later, an eye-popping smorgasbord of cheese. Everything is swift, smooth and silent. Only the traces of castors on the carpet hint at the care to ensure that everything appears effortless.
It is this attention to detail that has made Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris one of the finest restaurants in the world for more than 20 years. The man behind it all is Alain Ducasse. At 55, he has amassed 19 Michelin stars, a restaurant empire that stretches from Tokyo to Las Vegas and a formidable public persona, despite his disdain for television. "I detest it," he says, as if spitting out a piece of gristle. "TV is a deformed vision, an excessive caricature. A chef has to stay an artisan, not become a star."
Ducasse is a star whether he likes it or not. He has cooked for French president Nicolas Sarkozy ("He is very health conscious. His wife is greedier than he is.") and counts Prince Albert of Monaco as a friend. When the prince got married earlier this year, Ducasse prepared the wedding banquet.
For the ordinary mortal, a slice of such stardom is expensive. The cheapest dish at Le Louis XV is a salad costing €68. The grilled pigeon breast served in a seven-times reduced offal sauce is one of the best things I've ever tasted, but then it costs the best part of £90.
This being Monte Carlo, there are plenty of people for whom this kind of money is spare change. Russian oligarchs and Japanese billionaires are falling over themselves to nab a sought-after seat on the terrace of Le Louis XV, which overlooks the casino where Daniel Craig gambled his chips in Casino Royale. Even here, amid the bling and the Bentleys, Ducasse is greeted like royalty.
On the night that I dine there, he is cornered by excitable admirers, including an American and his two sons, all in matching blazers and chinos. They all insist on shaking Ducasse's hand. He is clearly uncomfortable. Eventually, after a lot of nodding, Ducasse extracts himself, clambers into his aubergine Mercedes jeep and drives off without a second glance.
The next morning we meet at a farmers' market in Nice, half an hour's drive away, where he is shopping for produce for that evening's service. He is wearing a blue polo shirt, silver-grey hair swept back from his forehead, trademark tortoiseshell glasses always on.
As we walk through the market, none of the stallholders seems fussed to have such a gastronomic giant in their midst. If they recognise Ducasse, it is only as a regular customer who drives a hard bargain. When I mention the contrast to the fawning customers from last night, he rolls his eyes. "I don't like that," he says. "I don't like being a celebrity." He seems happier here, picking out big bunches of herbs and making me smell them, exclaiming in ecstatic tones about the "stunning" courgettes and "incredible" peaches. We are meant to be buying ingredients for the recipe he is going to teach me – red mullet with courgettes and an olive tapenade – but he keeps getting distracted by the produce on offer.
"Look at this," he says, lifting up a juicy beef tomato. "It's like a steak!" He shoves it up to my face. "Put your nose there!"
Ducasse's passion for fresh produce, simply but attentively cooked, has informed both his new cookbook, Nature, and his menus for Le Louis XV which now place more emphasis on vegetables and salad than on duck or chicken – traditional staples of French cooking.
"My wife is a vegetarian," he says (Ducasse's second wife, Gwénaëlle, is a Breton-born architect whom he met on a flight from Paris to New York. They married in 2007). "My son, Arzhel, is two and he eats vegetables twice a day. We have a vegetable garden on our farm in the south-west and he gets two baskets, one over each arm, and says 'Garden, Papa!' and then he eats what he picks."
After two hours, we have all we need. He drives me back to Monaco and parks directly in front of the Hotel de Paris, which is the kind of thing you can do if you're Alain Ducasse. On the way into the kitchen he shakes the hand of everyone he sees – from the florist to the kitchen porter to his head chef, Frank Cerutti.
I am a little terrified of having to display my culinary skills in front of such a perfectionist. Even a wobbly restaurant chair causes him to frown. And I have never cooked red mullet before. Still, no matter. As soon as he is in the kitchen, Ducasse seems to make things happen without actually doing anything. Partly, this is because his movements are so graceful, so quick, you could miss them in a blink. More obviously, it's because he delegates mundane tasks such as slicing the courgettes lengthways in thin, pasta-like strips to two sous-chefs while we concentrate on the sauce.
He puts a couple of teaspoons of olive tapenade into a vast marble mortar, adds a dash of olive oil and grinds it. He is clearly anxious I will ruin his recipe and it takes him several minutes to agree that I can, if I am very careful, pick a few leaves of thyme and put them into the mixture. "That's enough!" he barks, when I have thrown in about three-and-a-half leaves. Even in this relatively relaxed environment he is too much of a perfectionist to let me loose in his kitchen. It would be like Van Gogh handing over the paintbrush to an over-excited toddler.
As he continues to work the herbs in to the olives, adding the cooked red mullet livers and a splash of vinegar, he delivers a series of philosophical pronouncements about his approach to food, including "My food is not an expression of cooking. It's an expression of discovering the essence of taste." And the more mystifying: "With cooking, there's always the tangible and the intangible, that which is in the domain of sentiment, of the individual."
His tastes are shaped by the food of his childhood: Ducasse grew up on his parents' farm in Castelsarrasin in south-west France. His bedroom was above the kitchen and when his grandmother cooked blanquette de veau for Sunday lunch, the aromas would waft upstairs. At 16, he became a waiter at the local restaurant. "But it was so hard! I had to be chef because being a waiter was too much work."
Later, he was trained by Alain Chapel, one of the originators of nouvelle cuisine, before becoming head chef at the Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins where, in 1985, he was awarded two Michelin stars. Two years later, aged 30, he was asked to take over Le Louis XV. In an act of almost insane bravura, Ducasse agreed to a contract which stated that if he did not win three Michelin stars in four years, he would be fired. In the end, he got them in three, one of the youngest ever to do so.
Did he ever entertain a moment's self-doubt? "No," he says matter of factly. "I just decided. It was: 'Can I do this? Yes.' And then it was: 'Can I do it better?'" He concedes that his strength of mind is, in part, the legacy of a near-fatal accident in 1984 when a light aircraft in which he was travelling with friends to Courchevel in the Alps crashed into a mountain, killing everyone else on board. Ducasse was thrown from the cockpit and survived. He endured 15 operations to repair injuries to his back, legs and eye to this day, he still has a slight squint. "When I was recovering in hospital, I had a lot of time to think of dishes in my head," he says. "I began to understand how I could do it."
The tapenade is now ready. I have done little more than hold down the mortar and pretend to look busy. Putting it to one side, Ducasse cooks the red mullet skin-side down for two to three minutes in a splash of olive oil until it glistens on the plate. I nod, knowingly. The courgettes are put in a frying pan, tossed nonchalantly for little more than a minute. The dish is ready.
Then, just as I am about to tuck in, he takes my knife and fork and prepares a mouthful for me, with exactly the right amount of each ingredient. It is, predictably, delicious: fresh, delicate but with the olives providing the necessary punch.
For pudding, Ducasse heats up a spoonful of chestnut honey in a pan, then adds peach and plum halves, strawberries, blackcurrants, a vanilla pod and a sprig of thyme. After 10 minutes or so on the hob, he puts it in an oven, covered with foil for a further 20 before serving. I am astonished that something cooked with such ease can be this satisfyingly sweet and flavoursome. Ducasse claims it's all about the produce. I suspect it's a bit about the chef, too.
But I'm also aware that, had I been eating these dishes in the restaurant next door, it would have cost me around £200. "I've had criticisms of my prices for years," he admits. "Haute gastronomy is like haute couture: the materials are so expensive, it requires so much rigour. It's expensive, but it's the right price. And I have bistros that are not expensive."
This is true: the Ducasse empire now incorporates 25 restaurants, including two bistros in Paris. Unlike Gordon Ramsay, Ducasse seems to have a knack for expansion without over-stretching. He has authored numerous books, as well as setting up two cookery schools and a social enterprise foundation that offers training programmes for would-be chefs from deprived backgrounds. Ducasse Inc is a global business worth tens of millions of pounds. Which is a lot of trolleys.
As he stands in his kitchen, a glass of dessert wine in his hand, surveying the fruits of his labour, I ask what his grandmother would say to him now. He smiles, sips his wine, then replies: "She'd say: 'He's done all right, the little one.'"
How Much Does it Cost to Dine at L'Arpege in Paris?
New York Times critic Pete Wells, in lieu of a formal review this week, wrote about his recent meal at the vegetable-heavy L'Arpege in Paris. Briefly: He liked it. And he's not the only one who does. Alain Passard's famed restaurant holds three-Michelin stars and ranks high on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list (#25). It also charges a lot of money. This is Paris, after all.
"My employer paid $375 for my dinner," Wells writes of his 12-course meal. "While I can't call it a bargain, I can say without pausing to think that I would skip espresso for two months until I had enough money to try Alain Passard's vegetable tasting menu at L'Arpège again."
But what are the original prices in euros? What other menus does L'Arpege offer? How spendy is it compared with the world's other spendiest restaurants? Let's find out!
L'Arpege's entry-level dinner offering, which Wells sampled, is the vegetable tasting. It costs €270, or $376 at today's exchange rates. There's also a Spring tasting of about the same length for €340, which translates to $474. Yep, that's a lot of money. Bring a date and you're at $946 before wine. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the eleven-course lunch menu is the steal of the century (sort of) at €140 ($194). And the better news is that prices in France are reflective of tax and tip, so what you see on the menu is what you pay.
So as scary as L'Arpege's €340 menu looks, it's still less than you'd spend, after tax at tip, for the omakase service at Masa in Manhattan or Urasawa in Beverly Hills, or for the longest tastings at Saison in San Francisco or Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas.
L'Arpege is even cheaper than Per Se in New York if you order the $100 Wagyu and $40 foie gras supplements the L'Arpege website doesn't currently list any pricey add-ons to the set menus.
Check out our interactive charts to see what kind of damage you'd do at these fine venues! Do take note of the €380 tasting menu at Alain Ducasse's Parisian hangout, which practically makes L'Arpege seem like a bargain! (Mobile Users: Click here for the exciting graph action).
Top 7 Michelin Star Restaurants In France
In total, there are 27 Michelin 3-Star restaurants in France. While Michelin wanted to rate restaurants to encourage people to travel on their tires, the Michelin star has become the holy grail of food. If you are a chef, you can retire happily if you receive just one Michelin star. A 3-star restaurant is considered the cream of the crop, and a few of the 27 in France are listed here. They all have their own focus, and they dot this magnificent country from the coast to the capital and everywhere in between.
Pic was founded by Andre Pic in 1935 in Valence, and it ascended to 3-star status quickly. The restaurant went through many ups and downs over the years until Pic’s daughter Anne-Sophie took over with no training. She uses her emotions to make food that is filled with love.
You can see her feminine touches in the dining room, and you will notice that she is making food that she wants you to enjoy. The restaurant features traditional French cuisine that does not focus on technique. The plates are not crisp, but they feel like they came from your grandmother who is also a world-famous chef.
2.La Bouitte, Saint Martin
La Bouitte is a 3-star restaurant that is located inside a 5-star tavern. This small hotel has the rustic log cabin design you would expect to find in a fantasy novel or movie. When you arrive at La Bouitte you feel as though an old man at the counter will show you to a room that Napoleon Bonaparte once commandeered during his conquest of Europe.
The father-son duo, Rene and Maxime that runs the restaurants prefers to pay homage to the Savoie region where the hotel sits. This means that you get the food of the countryside that would be combined with local wines. You could try raclette or crozet pasta that is influenced by Italian immigrants. Plus, you could try the goat’s milk cheese that has been produced in this area for centuries.
3.La Vague d’Or, Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez is an amazing vacation destination, and this tropical location is home to many celebrities, racing drivers, and athletes. Because of the high profile of the city, it needs a 3-star restaurant. Arnaud Doncklele apprenticed under Alain Ducasse before coming to Saint-Tropez to open La Vague d’Or.
Three tasting menus cover a wide range of tastes. You might want to try the vegetarian menu that has five courses. This is a retreat from much of European cuisine where meat is often the centerpiece of every meal. You can try the menu for adventurous eaters known as the Ballade Epicurienne, and you can pick from two different a la carte menus. One features the land, and another invokes the flavors of the sea.
4. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris
Alain Ducasse may be the most famous chef in the history of modern France. He has more than one 3-star restaurant, but this particular location caters to its guests more than any other. When you check into the Plaza Athenee, you can get a reservation for Alain Ducasse’s restaurant. When your food is made, it is picked just before your meal. Local game and proteins are brought in every day, and you will eat the freshest food of your life.
If you have found castles for rent in France , you can live like royalty during your stay. Since you are living like royalty, you should eat in a restaurant that would be frequented by royalty. The glittering white linen dining room alone aligns with a luxury vacation.
5. Epicure, Paris
Epicure is a part of the new Parisian crowd because it features modern takes on French food. You can get a whole roast chicken that is cooked in a pig’s bladder, but you will find that the chef has added black truffle and artichokes. You could try the foie gras stuffed macaroni, and you will find the menu accessible because the menu uses simple lists of ingredients.
In fact, foodies might want to try to replicate dishes from this restaurant when they get home.
6. Georges Blanc, Vonnas
Georges Blanc has gotten the 3-star rating from Michelin for 38 years in a row. This alone makes him one of the most accomplished chefs in the world. His mother once ran the restaurant that now bears his name. He took over in 1968, and he was able to turn the restaurant into the backbone of a luxury hotel. You can stay with Georges Leblanc and enjoy his food every day during your vacation.
7. Le Petit Nice, Marseille
Gerald Passedat started this restaurant that overlooks the ocean because he has a love for seafood that he wants to share with his guests. He figures that over 60 styles of Mediterranean seafood are served during the year, and he quickly rose to 3-star status because he uses unique treatments on all his dishes.
You can get anemone fritters, seafood carpaccio, and even bouillabaisse during your visit. You will discover that you are not eating traditional French seafood. You are eating food by a chef that has liberated himself from the traditional French seafood that you typically find during your travel.
You can choose any of the 3-star restaurants during your travels, but you should choose the restaurant that you believe will be the most enjoyable. Some people love haute cuisine, but others want to try a restaurant that will give them what they want without being too adventurous. You can use this list to start a culinary adventure around France, or you can travel to a singular location like Saint-Tropex, Marseille, Valence, or Saint Martin to try its best eatery.
Expect Opulence At Versailles’s New Ultra Luxe Hotel Le Grand Contrôle
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It is indeed a rare occasion when humble citizens such as ourselves get an opportunity to live like royalty and wake up to views that would accommodate the lavish tastes of Louis XIV, King of France.
France’s Palace of Versailles, the definition and benchmark for European 18th-century splendour, is set to witness the opening of Le Grand Contrôle – an ultra-luxe boutique property with 14 rooms & suites, Haute-gastronomy restaurant, Valmont spa and 49-foot indoor swimming pool within the famous grounds very soon.
Le Grand Contrôle will take up three buildings of the Palace section designed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart, a French Baroque architect and builder whose monumental work was intended to glorify the reign of Louis XIV of France.
Le Grand Contrôle Versailles
The opportunity here is for us to explore the soul of France and the illustrious home of Louis XIV, while staying at the only hotel to operate from the Palace of Versailles. It is as if France’s royal family has invited us to stay in one of the most prestigious monuments ever created.
This extraordinary establishment invites us to step into another world and immerse ourselves in the life of the court of the French royal family during the Enlightenment. The historically accurate, restored decor allows us to fall into Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s reign, when the glamour of Versailles was renowned around Europe, and the royal court was a glittering, unparalleled centre of brilliance and beauty.
The ultra-exclusive Grand Contrôle will have direct access to the Orangerie and the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses. This new ”old” hotel is a stone’s throw from the world-famous Hall of Mirrors and the French gardens steeped in French history.
To ensure that 18th-century ambience is true to the spirit, all modern technology is hidden away from view. For instance, telephones etc. have been kept out of sight, in case the spirit of Louis XIV comes floating by for inspection! The suites come with an absence of television however are amply decorated with antiques, art and artefacts from the 1700s.
The Uniqueness Of Airelles Hotels
Under LOV Hotel Collection’s umbrella, Airelles has created a handful of one-of-a-kind properties that whisks visitors away to another era. With cookie-cutter hotels operating globally, Airelles is all about exceptional, wonderfully unconventional properties.
The four properties in the portfolio include the magic of an Austro-Hungarian palace in Les Airelles in Courchevel, the irresistible charm of a stately French home in the 18th century at La Bastide in Gordes, the splendour of castle life in Ramatuelle at the Chateau de La Messardière St. Tropez and the grandeur of a medieval citadel on the slopes for Mademoiselle in Val d’Isere.
The ultra-luxe boutique hotel is exclusive with just five guest rooms, nine suites, Spa Valmont, an indoor pool and an Alain Ducasse restaurant. Private guided tours through the castle and the Petit Trianon offer unparalleled historical immersion. The experience of staying in the footsteps of royalty comes with a tiny price tag of €1,300 a night.
Suite Necker, image by Christophe Tollemer, Airelles
Haute Gastronomy at Versailles
Versailles is home to Alain Ducasse’s fine dining restaurant and café. Alain Ducasse enjoys legendary status in the world of gastronomy, being only one of two chefs to hold 21 Michelin stars throughout his career.
During the day ‘ore’ is an elegant French-style café, open to all visitors in a prestigious setting. By night, Ducasse au château de Versailles opens on private hire only to become the stage for grand dinners and exclusive events inspired by the Royal court.
At the table, French haute cuisine, inspired by recipes from the past, is interpreted here with boldness and modernity. “In this unique setting, I wanted guests to dine as in the time of the King. French cuisine with a contemporary touch, but whose inspiration draws from the food served at the time. More than a meal, this is an experience,” Alain Ducasse said.
Places to Stay when at Versailles
As of date, within the grounds of the Palace, only the Airelles Le Grand Contrôle is slated to open soon. Within the city of Versailles, stay at the Waldorf Astoria’s Trianon Palace, open since 2009. The luxury hotel built in 1907 boasts Palace views is tucked between the Palace of Versailles and the Grand Trianon, amid centuries-old trees and rolling gardens.
Things To See & Do At Versailles
The key landmark in the city is the Palace of Versailles. Opulence, grandeur and elegance are the Palace’s definition, adorned with gold, crystal, precious gems and beautiful fabrics. The Gardens of Versailles accompany the beautiful Palace covering 800 hectares of land with sculptures, manicured lawns and grand fountains. The Gardens gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1979.
Fountains at Palace of Versailles, Photo by Jo Kassis, Pexels
Other landmarks to visit are the Grand Trianon, Royal Opera of Versailles, Versailles Cathedral, Hall of Mirrors, Royal Chapel, Notre-Dame de Versailles and Petit Trianon.
Palace of Versailles, Photo by Leah Kelley, Pexels
The city of Versailles, beyond the Palace, is a beautiful city with a charming centre and grand, royal planted avenues. The city has five food markets, including the covered Halles Notre-Dame. The National Equestrian Academy is a unique school and performs shows by horsemen and is famous throughout the country.
The city is becoming a magnet for food lovers as it’s eateries gain attention. Gordon Ramsay’s au Trianon at the Waldorf Astoria is a two Michelin stars holder, offering exquisite French cuisine. At the Waldorf, La Veranda provides a diverse menu, including a detox menu and a good option of healthy foods. ◼
© This article was first published online in Feb 2021 – World Travel Magazine.
Life and miracles of Alain Ducasse
Alain Ducasse, 62. At Identità Milano on Sunday 24th March we&rsquoll pay a tribute to him (photo ducasse-paris.com)
On Sunday 24th March, at 1 pm, we&rsquoll celebrate an important moment at Identità Milano: ex pupils Andrea Berton, Massimo Bottura, Carlo Cracco, Gennaro Esposito and Davide Oldani will get on stage to pay a tribute to the French chef, Alain Ducasse. «It&rsquos the first time in 15 years that we homage a non-Italian chef», says Paolo Marchi, «We do so because, together with Ferran Adrià, Ducasse is the chef that has left the most important mark on the global restaurant scene in the past 30 years. Plus he&rsquos a great admirer of Italy, of our cuisine, and products: an excellent reason to thank him».
It&rsquos hard to describe the value of the most iconic cook of our times in just one article. The Generation Ducasse does not just include the cooks who have worked in his kitchen, but also those who admire him indirectly, from a distance. Like Niko Romito, perhaps the Italian who has best interpreted the entrepreneurial model of the chef from Aquitaine, based on training and diversification. Or Rene Redzepi, who has always admitted he grew up sighing in front of his cookbooks.
Much should be added about his many imitators, in Italy and abroad. For now we&rsquoll illustrate the merits of the chef from Aquitaine, linking the essential moments of his incredible biography, listing all the restaurant he currently guides and selecting a series of famous quotes.
1956 The son of farmers, Alain Ducasse was born on the 13th of September 1956 in Castel-Sarrazin, a village with 1,000 inhabitants in the New Aquitaine, 100 km from the Spanish border.
1972 Ignoring his parents&rsquo negative opinion, at 16 he started his cooking career. His first job was as an apprentice at Pavillon Landais in Souston, on the Atlantic Ocean, a few km from his hometown.
1975 After reaching adulthood, he trained with Michel Guérard, now 85, a giant of French cuisine and Nouvelle Cuisine, at the time holding 2 Michelin stars in the spa town of Eugénie-les-Bains (he received the third star two years later, in 1977). From his first master, he learnt the theory and practice of the cuisine minceur, the philosophy that aims to lighten-up the French fine dining classics of the post-Escoffier era. In the winter of those same years, his ambition led him to Normandy, where he spied the technique of the legendary pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre (1920-2009), the founder of the empire named after him and the creator of the gâteau opéra, an iconic dessert with chocolate, coffee and almond.
With Massimo Bottura in an archive photo
1977 He falls in love with Provencal cuisine while working next to another monument of French cuisine: Roger Vergé (1930-2015), in the kitchens of Le Moulin de Mougins, 3 stars in the inland of Cannes. The ambassador of the cuisine du soleil reinforced in Ducasse the desire to make traditional food lighter, making use of extra virgin olive oil, vegetables and fruit.
1978 The journey of young Alain in the shade of the authors of the manifesto of the Nouvelle Cuisine is completed with Alain Chapel (1937-1990), another 3-starred restaurant in Mionnay, just north of Lyon. Next to Chapel, the pupil&rsquos attention to products grows. He tirelessly cooks Bresse chicken, Rabbit in cocotte, Blue lobster salads, pigeon and truffle, the emblems of an era.
1980 At 24 he becomes a chef for the first time. This happens at L&rsquoAmandier in Mougins, where Vergé calls him. Here he conquers his first Michelin star.
1983 He moves to La Terrasse, the restaurant inside Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins, on the French Riviera. In 1984, he already has two Michelin stars. «It&rsquos here,» he later said, «that my parents finally accepted my vocation as chef».
1984 In August a tragic accident hinders his rise. His Piper-Aztec airplane, flying from Courchevel to Saint-Tropez, crashed against a mountain. He luckily bounced from the cabin and was the only one to survive the other 4 passengers lost their lives. Lost for 6 hours in the woods, he spent one whole year in hospital, and was operated 13 times. «That episode», he explained, «taught me to tell what&rsquos important and what isn&rsquot. I decided to take one step away from the kitchen, and opened my eyes to all the world had to offer».
1987 He&rsquos given the direction of Louis XV in Monte Carlo, which received 3 Michelin stars 33 months later, a lucky number: it was also Ducasse&rsquos age at the time. In the kitchen there was one of his most important pupils, Franck Cerutti.
1995 He opens his first hotel, La Bastide des Moustiers, a countryside inn in his beloved Provence. One year later he opened a second one Abbaye de la Celle. They&rsquore both still active.
1995 That same year he debuts in Paris too: he takes over the restaurant of a tired Joël Robuchon inside hotel du Parc in Rue Poincarè. «Since I have nothing to do in the middle of the week because the restaurant in Monaco is closed», he joked, «I decided to open in the Ville Lumière as well». After winning the general scepticism, 8 months later he receives 3 Michelin stars directly. In the kitchen there&rsquos his enfant prodige Jean-François Piège. However, he also loses the third star in Monaco.
TITANS. With his colleague Joël Robuchon, who passed away on August 6th. "I loved his mix of freedom and rigour", Ducasse said (photo lechef.com)
VIVE LA FRANCE. With Paul Bocuse and Jean-Pierre Troisgros (photo Gérard Collomb)
1998 The third star shines once again in Monaco. At Michelin they finally agree that the same chef can run two establishments with the maximum award at the same time. Ducasse is the second chef ever to do a 3+3. Before him, Eugénie Brazier, the legendary cook from Lyon. And after them, Joel Robuchon, Marc Veyrat, Thomas Keller and Yannick Allenò will also enter the lucky club.
1999 He publishes the first volume in the &ldquoGrand Livre de Cuisine&rdquo series. These books are pillars in the bibliography of the chef from Aquitaine, now totalling over 100 titles.
2000 He opens Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York, his first restaurant in the United States. That same year he moves his flagship Parisian restaurant to hotel Plaza Athénee, its current location.
2002 He takes the helm of the historic Aux Lyonnais, serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine in Paris.
2004 Ducasseis nominated Knight of the Legion d&rsquoHonour by president Jacques Chirac. He opens his first restaurant in Asia, Beige in Tokyo, serving contemporary French cuisine with Japanese influences.
2006 He takes the helm at Jules Verne, the restaurant on the second floor of the Tour Eiffel.
2007 He enters the world of training and takes the helm at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Patisserie d&rsquoYssingeaux. In 2009 he opens the Ecole de cuisine Alain Ducasse in Paris and then the Centre de Formation d'Alain Ducasse in Argenteuil, in the Parisian outskirts. That same year he prepares the menu for the astronauts of the ISS (International Space Station).
2008 On June 23rd prince Albert grants Alain Ducasse citizenship in Monaco. He loses his French passport.
2010 He conquers his first 3 Michelin stars abroad, at restaurant Alain Ducasse inside the Dorchester hotel in London. He&rsquos the first chef to run 3 restaurants with 3 Michelin stars at the same time.
With Carlo Cracco and Massimo Bottura, on the 11th December for the dinner at Identità Golose Milano to raise funds for Food for Soul (photo OnStage Studio)
I&rsquoM LOOKING AT YOU. In the kitchen in Via Romagnosi (photo OnStage Studio)
2012 He celebrates the 25th anniversary at Louis XV, inviting 240 chefs from 25 countries and 5 continents. It&rsquos an unprecedented celebration, with 300 Michelin stars under the same roof.
2013 Together with craftsman Nicolas Berger he opens the first Le Chocolat de Alain Ducassein Paris. Today there are 12 manufactures in France, United Kingdom and Japan, totalling 200 tons of cocoa beans toasted each year. On top of this, there are 3 Cafés named after him and some 15 more places enriching the culinary offer of museums, galleries and historic residences.
2013 The World&rsquos 50 Best gives him the "Lifetime Achievement Award", before him, the award went to other chefs who made the history of the last 50 years: Joël Robuchon, Gualtiero Marchesi, Paul Bocuse, Albert and Michel Roux, Eckart Witzigmann.
2018 The restaurant at Plaza Athénée gets to number 21 in the World&rsquos 50 Best Restaurants. The real result is that for the 17th time out of 17, one of Ducasse&rsquos restaurants gets into the 50Best: no other has managed so far. In 2002, the first edition of the 50Best, it was the turn of his Spoon des Iles, Mauritius.
2019 The Alain Ducasse Group has now some 2,000 employees, at work in 7 countries and 3 continents.
TODAY&rsquoS 29 RESTAURANTS
All the restaurants of Alain Ducasse divided per location, category and Michelin stars (20 in total).
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, Paris, France (fine dining, 3*)
Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse à l'Hôtel de Paris, Monaco (fine dining, 3*)
Alain Ducasse all&rsquohotel Dorchester, London, United Kingdom (fine dining, 3*)
Le Meurice Alain Ducasse, Paris, France (fine dining, 2*)
Beige Alain Ducasse, Tokyo, Japan (fine dining, 2*)
Alain Ducasse at Morpheus al City of Dreams, Macao, China (fine dining, 2*)
Benoit, Paris, France (bistro, 1*)
Benoit, Tokyo, Japan (seafood restaurant, 1*)
Rech by Alain Ducasse, Hong Kong, China (seafood restaurant, 1*)
La Cour Jardin al Plaza Athénée, Paris, France (bistro)
Le Relais Plaza, Paris, France (classic brasserie)
Le Dalí at hotel Le Meurice, Paris, France (brasserie)
Allard, Paris, France (bistro)
Aux Lyonnais, Paris, France (classic bistro)
Ducasse sur Seine, Paris, France (bateau on the Seine)
Rech, Paris, France (seafood restaurant)
Champeaux, Paris, France (brasserie)
Cucina Mutualité, Paris, France (Italian cuisine)
Spoon al Palais Brongniart, Paris, France (oriental cuisine)
Bib & Guss, Paris, France (restaurant and bar)
Ducasse au château de Versailles, Versailles, France (fine dining)
Ore, Versailles, France (cafè)
Rivea at Byblos, Saint-Tropez, France (Provencal cuisine)
Ômer, Monaco (Mediterranean cuisine)
Idam, Doha, Qatar (Mediterranean/oriental cuisine)
MiX by Alain Ducasse at Kempinski hotel, Dubai, The Arab Emirates (Mediterranean/oriental cuisine)
Voyages by Alain Ducasse, Macao, China
Benoit, New York, United States (contemporary bistro)
Rivea al Delano, Las Vegas, United States (Mediterranean cuisine)
Scallops from the Chausey islands, cauliflower in brioche, kimchi of vegetal leaves, the dish prepared by Alain Ducasse and Romain Meder at Identità Milano in December (photo OnStage Studio)
Cookpot, the dish that represents the new vegetal direction taken by Ducasse (photo ducasse-paris.com)
«Rumble without genius is always better than genius without rumble».
«I have no interest in awards and acknowledgements. Success is about taming your passions».
«Every chef has a territory where he can express his emotions, different from others. It is this individual character that makes the total richer».
«I love Italian cuisine. But I won&rsquot open a gourmet restaurant in Italy until you find an agreement on the cooking of pasta».
«Perfection is something we must always seek, knowing we will never reach it».
«Where politics don&rsquot arrive, food can».
«My regret is that days only last 24 hours».
«A cook must make current cuisine, not old cuisine. And for sure not tomorrow&rsquos cuisine because we still don&rsquot know what it looks like».
Prestige Gourmet: The Iconic Arrival of Blue by Alain Ducasse
Walking into the main dining room, I am rightly impressed. Set in flowing wooden supports, a massive chandelier of pleated cream textures adds sparkle and warmth to the space with its palette of cream, luxurious royal blue, and natural wood. At the opposite end, the floor-to-ceiling windows frame glorious views along the river and across the city. A moment earlier, a smiling receptionist had led us through the secluded lounge that is open all day for drinks and snacks or a sumptuous high tea. It is inspired by the intimate gardens – bosquets – of the Château de Versailles and lit by long suspended walnut and brass lamps that create the light of fireflies.
This is the space where culinary legend Alain Ducasse has put a pin in the city’s dining scene after a five-year will-he-won’t-he guessing game. Blue by Alain Ducasse at IconSiam, the tony lifestyle destination on the banks of the Chao Phraya, is a magnificent showcase that befits his legend.
For someone who learned to cook on his family farm at age 12, Ducasse has done pretty well for himself. At 33 he became the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars. He also became the first chef in the world to be awarded three stars for a hotel restaurant – Le Louis XV in Hôtel de Paris Monte- Carlo. In another first, he became the first chef ever to run three, three- starred restaurants simultaneously in 2006.
Today, with plenty of Michelin stars (21) to form his own constellation, he is true blue culinary royalty, spoken of in the same breath as Escoffier and Bocuse for his contribution to French cuisine. His empire stretches from Las Vegas to Tokyo with 31 restaurants, two charming country inns in Provence, a cooking school, industry training centres, chocolate and coffee stores, and a publishing house.
As with each one of his restaurants, Blue by Alain Ducasse at IconSiam is unique to its destination. It was designed by Jouin Manku, the Parisian spatial design studio who have designed all of his three- starrers. “Blue,” he says, “is unique to Bangkok and with its own particular identity. It has a contemporary French menu that I personally conceived, using carefully selected ingredients, and to be enjoyed in a magnificent setting with inspiring views over the Chao Phraya River that, together, deliver an unforgettable experience. It’s a place to celebrate and to get excited about food.”
With a reputation for personal attention to even the smallest of detail, Ducasse is obsessed with creating the total dining experience. I am told he approves everything from tableware to the fixtures, and even managing the talent to organising the kitchen. Executive chef Wilfrid Hocquet, a 20-year veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens, including the prestigious Louis XV by Alain Ducasse at the Hôtel de Paris Monte- Carlo, has been tasked to deliver the icon’s culinary vision in Bangkok.
Combining classic French know-how and cooking techniques with seasonal local produce, Hocquet says he likes to offer classical fine dining flavours in modern style that is easy to understand. “The menu is crafted up around the availability of the seasonal best harvest. We source ingredients from small suppliers and artisans in Thailand, and whenever the raw materials are not satisfactory, we import them,” he tells me.
On offer is an à la carte menu, a six-course tasting menu, and a three-course lunch set. To start off, Alex Cufley, the restaurant’s affable general manager, brings out a trio of canapes. There is a vegetable crudité stick of a roll of daikon radish topped with asparagus mousse and tempered with the slight sourness of a sorrel condiment, a sumptuous crostini with a terrine of foie gras topped with fresh black truffle, and a crunchy tapioca and quinoa croustillant with lemon condiment and marinated sea bream. It’s a sign of things to come.
Alongside, a glass of “Selection Alain Ducasse” is offered to us. An exquisite blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier, it’s a private-label Champagne bottled by the Lanson House just for his restaurants. It’s just another example of his attention to detail.
Hocquet then sends out an amuse-bouche a pumpkin royale with sautéed pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds in a beautiful crystal bowl. It is accompanied by housemade, sourdough and salted brioche rolls with lightly salted butter from Beillevaire, an artisanal producer of cheeses, yoghurts, and butters.
There’s so much to try here, so little time. For starters, you can’t go wrong with the blue crab sourced from Phuket. The meat from the crustacean is lightly poached and served on a bed of fragrant tomato gelée flavoured with cardamom and chillies. Exquisite golden caviar from Kaviari crowns the top complementing each bite with tangy pops. A cracker with confit tomatoes adds texture to the dish.
Then lightly grilled octopus comes with a salad of pomelo and cauliflower florets sliced as fine as paper. The piquillo pepper and grapefruit sauce lend a bit of heat to the succulent meat. This is followed by sea scallops from Hokkaido, seared. The sweetness of the shellfish is balanced by leeks gratinated with the creamy nuttiness of Comte cheese and a Comte-White Port jus.
For mains, we first had the grilled lobster, curly kale and gala apple. It’s a contemporary take on a traditional French recipe. Boston lobster is first poached then lightly roasted to give it a supple texture. It is served with a delicate homardine sauce with apple jus for freshness, and a Savoy cabbage gateau topped with gala apple.
Another highlight is the Wagyu beef fillet from Rangers Valley in New South Wales, done Rossini style. It’s a hunk of perfectly cooked decadence, composed of earthy mushroom purée, a slice of golden- brown foie gras, a heavy hand of freshly grated Perigord black truffle on top, and a glistening heady Madeira sauce.
Hocquet doesn’t hold back in dessert section either. There’s the delightful Instagrammable one with strawberries. An elegant fromage blanc shell is balanced on strawberries marinated in lemon and a jam of the fruit. Then a warm jus of fruit is poured into the shell. This one will make it to the timeline of many an Instagram account. My favourite though was the caramelised hazelnut soufflé, perfectly risen. Light and airy, it comes with a delicious sourdough ice-cream.
Our meal was paired to great selection of French wines including: a 2018 Bordeaux inspired by Haut-Brion, Clarendelle a 2018 Chablis Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Testut a 2018 Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, Les Argileuses and a Château Le Rey NV, Bugey Cerdon, La Dentelle.
With its stunning location, top-notch menus and wine list, and attentive yet discreet service, will the culinary legend add another star to his constellation? I think so but only time will tell.
Is duca$e worth the price?
"The mildly treacly mushroom-infused lobster velouté (plus a wafer-thin chip of seared halibut), by our reckoning, cost exactly $20 per bite." Ouch.
Ducasse does not respond to the criticism that his meals are beyond the reach of even the rich, except to declare "quality has a price." His restaurants in New York, Paris and Monte Carlo serve one party per table each night. Therefore, the argument is that you pay for the table for the entire night, not just the food. In addition, the ratio of staff to table at the Essex House is almost 1 to 1, which even for an haute cuisine establishment is remarkable. And despite the critical outcry of the prices, the restaurant did get a rare four-star review from William Grimes of The New York Times , as well as a "Best New Restaurant" honor from the prestigious James Beard Foundation in 2001. But controversy will abound as long as Alain Ducasse New York is the most expensive restaurant by a frog leg, in a city known for expensive restaurants.
Dine Michelin with Mannequins
Social distancing rules are forcing restaurants around the world to think in new and creative ways to manage the health and welfare of their staff. But this latest idea is definitely the wackiest we've seen yet.
Diners at three-Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington can expect to spend their evening seated amongst a host of well-dressed mannequins in the restaurant's opulent dining room when it reopens on May 29.
The idea was dreamed up to satisfy the social distancing mandate and fill otherwise empty seats further to the coronavirus health and safety measures.
Asked about the expected reaction from guests, spokesperson Danielle Pagano McGunagle told Fine Dining Lovers: "We feel this would allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops. The Inn at Little Washington has always celebrated the 'living theatre' of a restaurant. "
Chef Patrick O'Connell, who has an background in drama, has been working with a theatre company to perfect the 1940s look for his resident guests. He has also created custom-made masks bearing Marilyn Monroe smiles and George Washington chins. The theatre will also be brought to life by servers interacting with the mannequins, pouring them wine and asking them about their evening.
"I've always had a thing for mannequins — they never complain about anything, and you can have lots of fun dressing them up," chef O'Connell told Departures.
So far, early reactions on social media have been polarised, from those loving the novel idea to others generally being "freaked out" or fearing a chef fetish. Let's see what happens when the living theatre opens for business.
Alain Ducasse's New York Branch Of Paris' Benoit Is Much Improved By Its New Chef
A new decor of white accented by lipstick red banquettes at Benoit is bright but cheery.
Over the past decade Benoit has become not only a bonafide New York bistro with a faithful West Side and Theater clientele, but over the past year it has gotten better after a period of coasting. Never meant to be an adventurous place to dine, Benoit maintains a menu of French classics you’ll find at scores of others in New York or Paris, but Executive Chef Laëtitia Rouabah, herself a Parisian who previously worked at the esteemed Allard, has re-affirmed the kitchen’s strengths and freshened what had become a bit stale.
Since coming to Benoit a year ago Laetitia Rouabah has freshened the bistro menu and added her own . [+] ideas.
The restaurant falls under the umbrella of Ducasse Paris, which bases Benoit NY on the Paris original, opened in 1912 at 20 Rue Saint-Martin, and now with a branch in Tokyo. Though it never looked like its Parisian predecessor, Benoit NY used to be done in a cheery, wood-paneled bistro décor, complete with trompe l’oeil ceiling clouds, but two-and-a-half years ago underwent a radical shift to an all-white paint job, save for the red banquettes and brass accents. The clouds have vanished. Most tables have white tablecloths, some have white-and-gray marble tops, still others shiny metal. Fortunately, the brightness of the room has now been moderated to provide a warmer ambience. Up front the wine bar and lounge has become quite glamorous.
Classic onion soup gratin has been on Benoit's menu from Day One.
Service, by a largely French staff, is swift and very accommodating. There is a sturdy, short wine list appended to the menu, and the full list has more than 700 selections.
Rouabah has kept the classics on Benoit’s menu, like the perfect onion soup gratinée ($17) and Alsatian tarte flambée($15), and she’s brought back the quenelles of pike with sauce Nantua ($28). Hot, puffy gougères arrive the moment you sit down, and excellent breads and butter follow.
The best approach to the hors d’oeuvres is to go with an assortment of three ($16) or five ($22) , which include impeccably rendered pork rillettes, crispy pig’s trotter with tartar sauce, rabbit porchetta with mustard and tarragon, roasted smoked eggplant with peanuts and basil dressing, squid with chickpeas and more. An order of five can easily be shared by two or three people.
Tarte flambée is a flatbread that is an Alsatian version of pizza.
Among first courses that include the onion soup and tarte flambéeis an excellent duck foie gras terrine with rhubarb and strawberry with slices of toasted buttery brioche ($29). There is also a flakey pâté en croûte ($20) from a recipe that dates back to 1892 by Master Chef Lucien Tendret.
At the moment, white asparagus ($29) are on the seasonal menu with an orange-tinged maltaise sauce and Kaluga caviar (produced in China), which adds nothing but a fishy taste to the asparagus. The night I had them the asparagus had little of the sweetness they have at their best.
Roast chicken may be ordered for one or two people and the portion is generous, as are the French . [+] fries.
The roast chicken, always a bistro classic, is now offered for one ($31) or two ($56), and the single portion is an enormous platter of juicy, full-flavored chicken that receives a benediction of buttery pan juices. Along with it, and some other dishes, come what may well be New York’s perfect frites, tasting richly of good potatoes, perfectly crisp and nice and hot.
Steak frites is not only a good buy at $37 but, made with skirt steak, has even more flavor than the usual onglet. Sweetbreads with vegetable jus is another generously proportioned dish, though a tad pricey at $49.
Cheeses at Benoit are kept at the proper condition and temperature. Currently, the selection of three ($20) are the rarely seen mothais sur feuille goat’s cheese, Comté, and Fourme d’Ambert, which may be paired with wines at $18.
The profiteroles of puff pastry are served like a fondue dish in which they are dipped into hot . [+] melted chocolate.
Desserts have always been a good draw at Benoit—not a bad idea for after theater or a movie—including a rummy baba ($12), homey crème caramel ($8), marvelously composed tarte Tatin to share ($24), and hot, ice cream-stuffed profiteroles ($22) that you spike on a fork and dip into a fondue-like hot chocolate sauce. And you get a big pile of them.
Alain Ducasse’s New York City ventures have come and gone over the years, but Benoit endures for all the right reasons, and now, under Chef Rouabah, the cooking is better than ever, very consistent and full of largess. Benoit draws all types, from West Siders, theatergoers, shoppers and nightly solo diners who set themselves behind a well-set table, ask for their favorite waiter, nurse a cocktail and order dishes that they may well take home half of. I do miss the former woodwork, but Benoit is a very cheery place deserving of its longevity.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
60 West 55th Street (near Sixth Avenue)
John Mariani is an author and journalist of 40 years standing, and an author of 15 books. He has been called by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the most influential food-wine
John Mariani is an author and journalist of 40 years standing, and an author of 15 books. He has been called by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the most influential food-wine critic in the popular press” and is a three-time nominee for the James Beard Journalism Award. For 35 years he was Esquire Magazine’s food & travel correspondent and wine columnist for Bloomberg News for ten. His Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink was hailed as the "American Larousse Gastronomique” His next book, "America Eats Out" won the International Association of Cooking Professionals Award for Best Food Reference Book. His "How Italian Food Conquered the World" won the Gourmand World Cookbooks Award for the USA 2011, and the Italian Cuisine Worldwide Award 2012. He co-authored "Menu Design in America: 1850-1985" and wrote the food sections for the Encyclopedia of New York City. In 1994 the City of New Orleans conferred on him the title of Honorary Citizen and in 2003 he was given the Philadelphia Toque Award “for exceptional achievements in culinary writing and accomplishments.”