Ducasse says: 'I define myself as an artistic director: giving the direction, the inspiration, the culinary vision' / Matthew Stylianou


If you chose one chef to cook for you, living or dead, who would it be?

I've been lucky enough to have some of the most amazing chefs from around the world cook for me. There were six who I have loved so much when I visited them – one American, one Brazilian, one Chinese, one Japanese, one Italian, one British – that I invited them to my restaurant in Paris to practise their cuisine outside of their own universe. I particularly liked Dan Barber from New York. The American ambassador, who was at the meal, said 10 years ago that it would have been impossible for an American chef to cook with American ingredients for the French. But talent has no boundaries.

What dish reminds you of summer?

It would be a red mullet, simply grilled with the scales on. It's from the Mediterranean and sums up the summer, sunshine and colours of the place. From the sea to the barbecue!

How much time do you spend in your chef whites?

Most of the chefs who work for me have done so for years. When I visit the cities – in London, in Monaco – I spend time with them. I define myself as an artistic director: giving the direction, the inspiration, the culinary vision. But ultimately, they cook because they are better technicians than I am. It is like the coach and the player.

Your new guide to London restaurants recognises the city's culinary renaissance. How does it compare to Paris?

Over the past 10 years, the evolution of London has been amazing. The diversity that's on offer: the design, the food and the ambience. The cosmopolitan nature of London is reflected in this variety of restaurants. And some of the world cuisines which have arrived in London have not made it to Paris. But Paris is a great place for bistro cuisine and fine dining. You have fewer concepts, but they do what they do well.

Your dining rooms are exemplars of formality. What do you make of other chefs, such as Marcus Wareing, turning away from fine dining?

Everything deserves to have its place: fine dining, gastropubs, rotisserie. There shouldn't be one concept that dies. In this globalised world, it's very important to preserve the identity and uniqueness of every cuisine and restaurant. Mark Hix is great: he brought a contemporary version of British food. But then Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester is great as well.

Do you ever eat junk food?

A hot dog in New York, on a cold day, when I don't have time to eat: the value is incredible. Everywhere it is windy and horrible – and it costs $1.50. In Beijing, there is dim sum. I was there in December. I had an amazing meal in a very, very simple restaurant. We ate a lot and tasted many different dishes and spent $2.50.

When you cook at home, do you ever make mistakes?

It will usually be for friends so I try my best not to. I use them to commis, it's great. The most demanding ones have to peel the onions or the garlic in order to lower their profile a bit. I cook very simply when I'm at home: vegetables from the garden and things from the market.

Do you have one favourite flavour?

For a smell, I love lavender. I have 850 plants of it at my house in Provence. And for tastes: olive oil and salt. When I arrive back home, I'll smell the lavender and eat a plate of vegetables from the garden with olive oil and salt. Heaven!


Alain Ducasse, aged 57, began his career as an apprentice at the Pavillon Landais restaurant in Soustons, France, aged 16. He now holds 18 Michelin stars and last month opened a new restaurant in London, Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel. 'J'aime London' by Alain Ducasse (Hardie Grant, £35) is out now