Alain Ducasse was born in Orthez in 1956 and educated on his parents’ farm in Castel-Sarrazin, two hours south of Bordeaux, in France. By the age of 12, he decided he wanted to be a cook, inspired by his grandmother’s skill.
He began an apprenticeship at the Pavillon Landais restaurant in Soustons, near Biarritz, four years later and also trained at the Bordeaux hotel school. Mr Ducasse also built up experience at Michel Guérard’s restaurant in Eugénie-les-Bains, Aquitaine, while also working for Gaston Lenôtre during the summer months.
Relocating to the Côte d’Azur, Mr Ducasse became chef of the restaurant at the Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins where he was awarded two Michelin stars in 1985. Two years later, he was approached by the Hotel de Paris with an offer to take over the gloriously ornate Louis XV restaurant. In an act of seemingly foolish bravado, Mr Ducasse agreed to a clause in the contract by which he agreed to win three Michelin stars in four years – an almost impossible task.
When Mr Ducasse moved his Parisian restaurant into the sumptuous Hôtel Plaza Athénée in 2000, the Michelin Guide graced it with its highest accolade after it had been open less than five months.
But at the same time, Michelin removed a star from Le Louis XV, in spite of the fact that the chef, the menu remained unchanged. In 2006, he was awarded three stars for his restaurant at the Essex House, making him the first chef ever to simultaneously run three three-starred establishments.
He is now head of more than twenty restaurants worldwide, including three with three Michelin stars that bear his name. In 2013 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List. Forbes estimated his current wealth at around £7.4million. While at the Dorchester in 2012, Ducasse was honoured with three Michelin stars.
Alain Ducasse spent in the kitchen most of his 58 years. 21 Michelin stars, 26 restaurants, books,websites, schools, projects with the European Space Agency, and he still feels the drive to do more. The French Chef has had a great influence on international gastronomy.
You own brasseries and restaurants, pastry shops and cooking schools. What’s behind this success?
I wouldn’t talk about success: maybe that’s still in the future. You need a good staff. Each place tells a different story: the vision is global, the expression local. They are glocal. Keywords are local and seasonal, territory and what it can offer.
Are there other type of places you would like to work on?
Rather than a new restaurant, I am more interested in the art of sharing. I would like to convey my knowledge, savoir faire, things that are the fundaments of my cooking. There are new young talented chefs all over the world: if you are an expert, you should share your knowledge with them. This can be applied to anything. Like in music, theory is the same, it’s the other stuff that changes. This would be a big project I would aspire to.
Who according to you is someone talented people should know?
Dan Barber. He will get more and more successful. He goes beyond the concept of “local”: his restaurant Blue Hill is an hour forty drive from New York and produces 85% of what’s in the kitchen. He is starting to get acknowledged, he doesn’t try to though, it’s not like he goes to parties to be seen. He should be a star already: he is able to tell a story, convey a message.
What do you think of the rise of veganism and vegetarianism?
On the 27th of May, 1987, I’ve prepared a vegetarian menu at the Louis XV, in Monaco, Menu du Jardin de Provence. 27 years later people think it’s new. The keyword in my kitchen was and is: vegetables, seasonal, and local. Lots of vegetables, both cooked and raw, sustainable fish, less animal proteins and fat, less salt, less sugar. I was in New York a few days ago, and during an interview they’ve asked me if Nordic countries had influenced France when it came to its interest for vegetables. I smiled and didn’t even answer. There is no merit: in Monaco, like anywhere in the Mediterranean, we can easily find fantastic resources. It’s completely different than Northern Europe!
What are your future projects?
I will be opening the Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée: poissons, légumes et céréales, in two months, in Paris. There will be many vegetables, but not only. I would like to go to new cities such as Peking and Mumbai. At least start there.
Do you have any plans to expand your empire in Latin America? There was a rumor about you and Alex Atala maybe opening a place together.
We were supposed to do it before the World Cup, in Sao Paolo, but we didn’t have enough time. I met with him and then went to Mistura, in Peru, to understand better the region: it’s very different from the rest of Latin America. There is a new generation, including chef Virgilio Martinez, led by the charismatic Acurio: great products, vast culinary knowledge, a real story behind it, it’s a very advanced country culinary speaking compared to the rest of Latin America. It’s rich in its biodiversity, shortly followed by Brazil with its seafood and land products. Nature is generous. The most interesting products are fish and vegetables from the Amazon: Atala realized that and worked on it. I foresee a great future for them.
If you were in charge of the culinary culture development in Europe what would you work on first?
Respect differences and nurture them. The EU should let us free to grow things the way we want to, keep doing buffalo mozzarella and cheese with raw milk. Freedom for each country, even a small country, to preserve their culture: opposite of what’s happening now. They want cheese to be the same everywhere, everything regulated, homogenous. A global vision shouldn’t cancel the local identity of a place. Slow Food should exist everywhere.