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Dining: Best of the Best Chefs: Alain Ducasse

Scott Haas

Now and then a hardworking visionary comes along and defines the goals and standards of an entire generation. Among chefs, Alain Ducasse is that man.

The 45-year-old Castelsarrasin, France, native is in charge of not one, but three of the best restaurants in the world: the two-Michelin-star Le Louis XV in Monaco, the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Plaza Athénée in Paris, and Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in Manhattan, which earned four stars from The New York Times. Each restaurant’s cuisine shows a depth, soul, and simplicity often associated with genius. Whether you’re dining on a Bresse-fattened pullet coated in grated truffle (Restaurant Plaza Athénée), sole braised in Arbois wine, Muscat grapes, mushrooms, capers, small onions, and chestnuts (Le Louis XV), or a Black Angus rib-eye (Alain Ducasse at the Essex House), the cooking philosophy is clear and consistent.

According to Ducasse, good cuisine is “60 percent ingredients, 40 percent technique.” That philosophy is underscored by his support of artisanal producers, local fishermen and farmers, and the great vineyards and orchards of the world. His technique capitalizes on those ingredients to explore the culinary riches of a locale. “The gastronomic memory of a region,” Ducasse has said, “is based on recipes concocted in obscurity by gifted cooks, and we don’t know where or from whom they have learned their secrets. In borrowing from them, I am fulfilling a sacred duty: I am rescuing hidden gastronomic treasures from oblivion.”  

If Ducasse was known only for his three most exclusive restaurants, he would simply enjoy a reputation for excellence. But having opened several others, including Spoon, 59 Poincare, and Bar & Boeuf, as well as two country inns—La Bastide de Moustiers and L’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle—he has raised a formidable challenge to anyone who dreams of competing at his level. For those who wish to learn how he does it, the world’s greatest chef established the Alain Ducasse Formation, a training center for hoteliers and restaurateurs, in November 1999. Recent classes include the Essentials of Alain Ducasse’s Cuisine, the Three Central Themes of Alain Ducasse’s Cuisine, and the Culinary Heritage of Our Regions. Indeed, there is a lot to be learned.

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