Alain Ducasse is the world’s most decorated chef alive. He is the first to own restaurants in three cities, each carrying three Michelin stars simultaneously. He has an extensive portfolio of restaurants worldwide, including his home bases in France and Monaco, London, New York, Singapore, Bangkok, Japan, China, and Qatar. His Ducasse Paris enterprise has also developed specialized restaurant consulting, events and catering, cooking schools, luxury inns and hotels, and numerous highly acclaimed and best-selling cookbooks.
Beyond this, Alain Ducasse Manufacturing has been rediscovering the authentic essence of chocolate, then coffee, followed by ice cream, and now biscuits. He controls the manufacturing from personally selected raw ingredients to the end product. Alain develops everything with the same founding principles and vision with high-quality ingredients and artisanal techniques for authentic flavors and a tasty experience. He now has 33 Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse and Le Café Alain Ducasse specialist retail outlets across France, Japan, and the UK, as well as supplying to his restaurants.
I chatted with the culinary ‘tour de force’ Alain Ducasse on his remarkable career and the talent he has nurtured to sustain nearly five decades of international success.
How did it all start? You now have achieved 34 restaurants across three continents and seven countries holding twenty Michelin stars.
I could say it started in my childhood when my passion for cooking was born. It also started years later when HSH Prince Rainier III of Monaco trusted me and accepted a project I submitted to him. The daunting challenge was to turn the upscale restaurant Le Louis XV in the Hôtel de Paris, Monte Carlo, into the first hotel restaurant to receive three Michelin stars.
So our success is a combination of passion and work. My passion was born on the family farm where I was raised and had the irreplaceable experience of the link between nature and cooking. And the work we did to develop an innovative and daring program for Le Louis XV. We had an agreed deadline of four years to achieve those Stars, and against all odds, only thirty-three months later, we accomplished it.
Of these many restaurants worldwide, which have a particular place in your heart? Why?
I’ve been honored to be in charge of Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco since 1987. After HSH Prince Rainier III, his son, HSH Prince Albert II, renewed his trust in us. So this restaurant has a very particular place in my heart. Then, the other restaurant dear to my heart is always the one to come. The one we are working on. The one we are looking for with the best possible ideas. The one we are defining, the unique story we want to tell our client.
Your restaurants span Haute Cuisine, Contemporary, Bistro, and Brasserie styles. How do you decide the cuisine style, menu, and personality for each?
The decision concerning style happens relatively smoothly because it flows naturally from the location. I firmly believe that a location has a soul and that the restaurant we create has to express the vibration of the place—the city, the neighborhood, and the particular building we are in. It’s self-evident, for instance, for bistros like Allard or Benoit in Paris. They were created in 1932 and 1912, respectively, so we better respect this long history. Yet this is also true for a contemporary brasserie like Champeaux, which we opened seven years ago in Les Halles. This hyper-modern district also has its specific vibrancy the venue must reflect. I could give the same examples abroad. Take Muni, the restaurant we opened in 2020 in Kyoto. It offers the most excellent view of a charming river, the Katsura, and its millenary wooden bridge. This environment is a potent source of inspiration for our cuisine.
Hand-picked Chefs de Cuisine helm each of your restaurants. How do you select them, and have they come from within the Alain Ducasse ‘system’?
I’m fortunate to have a host of very talented professionals around me. Chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, and restaurant managers have worked with me for a decade and frequently much longer. They improved their trade by traveling from one of our restaurants to another, rising from commis to chef. By the way, a large majority of them have worked, at one time or another, in our Monaco Le Louis XV restaurant, which is a wonderful nursery of talents. I know each of them very well, and choosing a chef for one of my restaurants is relatively easy. It’s a matter of putting the right person in the right place at the right time!
What do you look for when identifying the Chef talent responsible for managing an Alain Ducasse restaurant?
Each chef has their own personality, which has to fit with the restaurant’s character. But it’s also essential to deliberately create a sort of fruitful tension. For instance, a few months ago, I proposed to Laetitia Rouabah to return to Allard. She has overseen our iconic French bistro Benoit, on NYC’s West 55th Street. I wanted her to bring her American experience to this haut-lieu of traditional French cuisine. Allard, located in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and with an 80-year history, remains one of Paris’se last authentic gourmet bistros. These kinds of challenges help the chefs progress, and the restaurants benefit from a new perspective.
How has this talent helped the Ducasse restaurant business?
One example, though not in our restaurants but in our Ducasse Manufacture, is Flora Davies, who has been working with me for ten years. A Canadian who, when she arrived in France, started as pastry commis at Le Jules Verne, the high-end restaurant I used to manage on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. From there, she went to the Salon Première of Air France at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, which was quite a different challenge. Then I sent her to London to supervise the pastry of a high-class hotel and restaurant: another mission, another experience. In 2020, she was back in Paris to give a hand with the opening of the Manufacture de Glace. One year later, I proposed a new challenge to helm our latest initiative, the Manufacture de Biscuit. We spent 18 months together fine-tuning the biscuits in our range. The large spectrum of experiences she accumulated with me is a powerful asset.
Where do you see the Alain Ducasse restaurant business going in 2023 and beyond?
After the pandemic, our restaurants are rapidly recovering, and I’m quite confident about the future. The new, young generation of chefs working with me is a powerful resource for continuous innovation while still preserving our assets of excellence and environmental and social responsibility. Even more importantly, thanks to the Manufactures, we have started a vigorous diversification movement that is proving to be highly successful.