For my talk with world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse, I was seated in a certain room upstairs in Benoit-Chef Ducasse’s restaurant in New York, that is actually a 19th century apothecary. The elegance of the space was only outdone by the man himself, who has a presence that for some reason makes those around him feel they should be taking up the craft he is famous for. In this case, it’s traditional cuisine, and at his entrance I felt almost a sudden pang of guilt for not following some sort of culinary calling.
Alain Ducasse is a man of many shades. He’s the chef who at his first restaurant in Monte Carlo (Le Louis XV) insisted his contract read that he’d be fired if he didn’t receive 3 Michelin Stars within 4 years of being head chef. He’s also an avid collector of antiques; he explains his battle over keeping the room we sat in to himself, but finally deciding to bring the room – which was then broken down into ten parts – to his restaurant in New York. But mainly Chef Ducasse took me through what many of us don’t know: that he now thinks of himself as more of a creative director than a chef, and that even with twenty global restaurants under his belt, he’s never attempted to compete with the local cuisine that is the “DNA” of the people who live there…
We are The New Potato, a website celebrating the lifestyles derived from the world of food. You began your career as a master chef. Today you’re a lifestyle brand. What was the aha moment where you realized you could take that road to becoming a Worldwide lifestyle brand?
It’s not a decision it’s a progression. We are now starting to really build out the brand, and it’s something that’s happened progressively over time. We are still striving to further it as more of an international brand. And that’s something that we do over time, and reinforce, and strengthen, so it still has some legs to grow.
So what is the Alain Ducasse lifestyle? If you could sum it up…
From one restaurant to another, or a country hotel, or a cooking school, it’s bringing a certain level of feeling and sensibility to that restaurant or hotel. I’m not looking to replicate things from Tokyo to New York, or from Italy to Provence where I have hotels. I’m looking to bring a global vision, with a local expression. What ties all of my activities together is a basis of twelve values, but beyond that are the men and women who animate the restaurants on a daily basis, who are typically from that region. It’s about having that local sensibility.
So if you open a restaurant in St. Petersburg, or Tokyo, your restaurant is not necessarily influenced by the cuisine in St. Petersburg or Tokyo?
I’m not looking to try and take away from people who know how to do the local cuisine in St. Petersburg or in Tokyo, because that’s their culture, that’s their DNA. I come with a knowledge and an understanding of where I come from which is Mediterranean, so that’s my source, that’s my inspiration. From there, the idea is within each restaurant I look around and I’m aware of supporting the local agro economy. It’s also supporting the human resources locally, with the exception of managers who have been schooled in my restaurants in France. But the idea is to source excellence locally. I summarize it by saying, we have a global vision, with a local sensibility.
So when chefs go to a location and create fusion restaurants, what do you think of that?
In fusion there can sometimes be confusion. I like to still be able to identify the harmony between two styles. But if you bring in five influencing styles of cuisines or cultures, that’s where, just as in music it becomes noise. There’s no harmony anymore.