Alain Ducasse: Pearls of Wisdom

By William Drew

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cook, Chef

Alain Ducasse, whose career spans 30 years, was awarded the Diner's Club World's 50 Best Restaurants 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award
Alain Ducasse, whose career spans 30 years, was awarded the Diner's Club World's 50 Best Restaurants 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award
The French chef, 56, operates restaurants all around the world, including a trio of three-Michelin-starred establishments. He has just received the Lifetime Achievement Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

My first thought goes to Paul Bocuse,​ this (Lifetime Achievement) award’s very first recipient. Through him, I also think of the generations of chefs who have preceded me and to whom I feel the heir and successor. At the same time, I still feel like a young man, starting out. And I remain much more interested by the work to be done than by that already accomplished.

Food doesn’t really have a nationality any more​ – there are no borders. French know-how is exceptional and has spread around the world, or people come and acquire it, but overall gastronomy is getting enriched every day – from Europe, Asia, Africa, everywhere.

We have a restaurant opening in St Tropez:​ a new concept called Rivea, replacing Spoon, in the Byblos Hotel. The chef de cuisine, Vincent Maillard, is a real talent. It will be part French, part Italian – fresh, simple, healthy.

In every new country or city you discover something different:​ it might be a man, a woman, a place, a market, a restaurant. It can be something very modest and simple or something innovative and sophisticated. But it is always the result of someone’s passion.

My priority now​ is less on opening restaurants and more on teaching and developing the next generation. Our pastry school [Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Patisserie in Yssingeaux, central France] is growing all the time and we have the cookery school in Paris too [Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse].

I found this little soba place in Osaka​ [Japan] under the railway, with one guy serving just five or six people. For 25 years, every day he is preparing the soba with the flour and trying to improve it. He is a true specialist.

The future of cooking​ in part rests on our diversity. Each chef has his own specific emotional territory – and it is this difference that makes the wealth of the ensemble.

I had dinner with [US chef] Dan Barber at D.O.M. in Brazil,​ which was very interesting. It is important to be local, with a global vision, like [Alex] Atala.

In each of my restaurants the chef is the conduit between nature and culture.​ The question of the wise use of the planet’s resources is essential to me.

We opened IDAM in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.​ It’s not French, but it’s not Middle Eastern either – it’s somewhere between the two. We use a combination of products from Lebanon, North Africa, India and Europe. In the end, we have a beautiful meze menu with a French touch.

The plane accident​ [which Ducasse survived in 1984] helped me realise that I needed to be self-reliant – that I was the only person who could dictate my destiny. The only real danger in life is if you lose your physical or mental independence. I decided I would make my daily life my own.

The World’s Best Female Chef award [won by Nadia Santini] is a good idea,​ a unique idea. The cuisine of female chefs has more sensibility. Nadia’s restaurant, Dal Pescatore, is in the middle of nowhere in Italy, but when you are there everything is perfect: the local products, in the right season, beautifully put together, and the whole family is involved.

My cerebral home is a union​ between the south-west, where I come from and the Mediterranean, a place that seduced me from a very young age. But I am also a curious and emancipated cook: my roots carry me, but do not tie me down.

Last year, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Louis XV,​ I gathered in Monaco 240 chefs from 25 countries – from five continents – together representing 300 Michelins stars. It was a great celebration between colleagues and friends, and a beautiful illustration of the fraternity of our profession.

My career so far is just the beginning,​ I hope. It’s a constant, permanent evolution. And, of course, it’s good that we don’t know what is coming in the next five or 10 years.

This PEarls of Wisdom interview first appeared in the April edition of Restaurant magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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