Celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse, renowned for the contemporary French cuisine that graces the tables of Adour at the St. Regis New York and in Washington, D.C., prefers small, intimate dinner parties at home, where he never tires of cooking for his friends and family. Here he offers his insights on creating a special gathering that brings warmth and style to the holiday season.
What is your philosophy of hospitality?
Hospitality embodies an art of living: generously giving your time and attention to someone and, in return, becoming richer in terms of human experience. Being sincere is certainly the most important—if you open your mind and heart, your guests will also open theirs, and a strong relationship will be built as a result.
What do you think makes a great party and a great host?
We like very informal evenings with a small group—maybe a maximum of 12 people or so. A great evening is a wonderful moment when friends meet, and a great host is the one who makes this moment possible.
What are some of your favorite entertaining tips for serving a wonderful holiday meal?
Keep it simple. I believe the simpler and better the ingredients, the better and healthier the meal. Don’t compromise on the quality of the products—prepare them in a very simple, straightforward manner.
What is your favorite cocktail?
Our favorite cocktail is a Bellini: One part fresh peach-and-raspberry puree and two parts Champagne.
What are your favorite wines?
There are simply too many wines and too many diverse wine pairings to have favorites. These days, I am very excited about “feminine wines”—from vineyards owned by women, or grown by female maîtres de chai. They pair particularly well with the style of cuisine I like—very much in tune with the strength and authenticity
What is one of your favorite appetizer recipes?
A very simple one: anchoïade. I think that many people have tasted this puree of anchovies in one form or another, but my recommendation is to make it yourself—the ingredients are easy to find. All you need is a bit of fennel and garlic, some black-olive puree, a few spoons of olive oil, half a spoon of Jerez vinegar, and of course anchovy fillet. Then you just puree the ingredients together.
Any tips for setting the table or decor for a holiday dinner party?
The secret is to make your guests feel comfortable. Lighting is very important; for instance, we very much like indirect light punctuated by candles. Rather than overdecorating the table, we prefer a very nice tablecloth (embroidered white on white creates a fantastic ambience) and to put out a few special items and utensils such as a unique antique butter knife and an antique bread basket.
What are your favorite dishes to prepare for friends and family during the holidays?
Let the market inspire you. If you see mushrooms, or a superb fish, or fresh vegetables, don’t hesitate: Make them the star of the party. And of course, prepare the food you feel your guests will appreciate most.
What impresses guests most?
Make your place look and feel like you, with your own tastes and passions. Being sincere can never be wrong. And to a large extent, the same goes for food. Your guests will always feel and appreciate the spontaneity and generosity you’ve put in your own food and your own recipes.