Alain Ducasse Doesn't Believe in Talent

PHOTO: LAMB AND DUCASSE

Every indicator points to Alain Ducasse having an extra helping of talent under his hat. He cooks dishes no one else could and serves them in ways no one else would.

The results are almost always the same. Wherever he opens a restaurant, crowds and critics flip out. Ducasse comes by Michelin stars the way most people come by tires. His work has changed the world of eating as well as the lives of many of his proteges.

It looks like talent -- but Ducasse says it isn't. In fact, the chef says he doesn't really believe in talent.

"Sixty percent is the quality of the product," said Ducasse. "Thirty-five percent the technique, 5 percent if you have just a little talent. That's my base. And not every day -- we don't have talent every day. That's the key, that's the key of my business."

With restaurants across the globe, Ducasse is the only chef to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Red Guide in three cities. The classically trained French chef now heads the Plaza Athenee restaurant in Paris, the Louis XV restaurant in Monaco, a restaurant bearing his name at the Dorchester in London and two restaurants in New York, among others.

He has climbed the ladder of gourmet success two rungs at a time. When he took the head chef role at Le Louis XV in Monaco's Hôtel de Paris at age 33, Ducasse promised in his contract that he would transform the restaurant into a world-renowned restaurant in four years. And he did just that.

"My restaurants are in movement," Ducasse said. "Every day I discover different flavors. I discover one person ... or one dish or I have a meeting with one new cook. Every day, it's a new, it's a new experience. That's my creativity. That's my interest every day, to discover more and more."

The name Ducasse generally evokes French cuisine so rarefied that it confers on the diner either permanent francophilia or serious gourmet-phobia, in either case taking engagement-ring-sized chunks out of his guests' salaries. Ducasse means huge preparation, serious presentation, small and numerous plates and grand dining rooms. He isn't such a strict traditionalist, however.

CLICK HERE for Ducasse's Gourmet Recipes

"It's necessary today when you have a restaurant, if you have a bistro, fine dining in New York or in London or in Tokyo, you propose one contemporary food," said Ducasse. "Contemporary is to satisfy the guest today, not tomorrow, not yesterday, first is for today."

Ducasse is not only interested in his guests' satisfaction.

"Every day, my objective is to take a pleasure, my pleasure," he said. "I'm very, very, uh, egoist to finish. That's my pleasure first -- first as a cook is personal pleasure, before the pleasure of a guest. That's clear."

Growing Up Ducasse

The genius-chef-to-be grew up on a farm in southwestern France. He remembers a yard full of animals and a garden full of vegetables. "I remember one of my first dish are a mix of vegetable!" he said in his endearingly tipsy English.

"I have country house with a big garden. At home, I prepare very, very simple food from the garden or from the farm, with skinned fish, with a beautiful salad," he said. "Or, I put on the plant vegetable directly from the garden to the plate."

At age 12, he said the smell of his grandmother's cooking drew him into the kitchen. "I remember the perfect taste when I eat chicken," he said. "I compare every day with my taste original flavor."

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