Samuel Muston: Alain Ducasse knows the secrets of culinary alchemy

 

If I were the super-chef Alain Ducasse's grandmother, I would feel a little silly. At one point, Mrs Ducasse did her best to stifle the culinary ambitions of her young grandchild. He was apt, you see, to criticise her petits pois.

Certain by the age of 12 that he wanted to be a chef, he was not averse to speaking his mind – especially on matters of overcooking. The result: his gran would send him to the garden of the family house in Castel-Sarrazin in south-western France to gather the veggies. This bred in him a regard for vegetables, for the land, and for fresh produce cooked with unimaginable care.

Forty-odd years later and Ducasse is St Paul with a spatula, a Monégasque culinary apostle with 17 Michelin stars, and I am sitting in the newest addition to his empire, Le Meurice Alain Ducasse in Paris, and something odd is happening. I am in a fine-dining restaurant, in a room that looks like some place you'd sign a peace treaty, eating a set menu – and I'm having, whisper it, a good time. And everyone else seems to be, too.

I am in one of the most famous hotels in Paris, which was decorated by Philippe Starck, and has two restaurants (the other is called Le Dali) run by the most influential chef in the world. It should be daunting, but it isn't.

Some might dismiss Ducasse as just another posh French brand name; a purveyor of unthinking, obscene luxury (he has 25 restaurants, culinary schools and a chocolate factory). But at Le Meurice, you see his genius. He has taken all the appurtenances of French haute cuisine and rearranged them into something softer, more approachable.

The food is a flat-out lesson in how to let fine ingredients stand, and shine, on their own: both the vegetables cooked on a bed of salt and the Saint-Jacques scallops touch the sublime because they taste of themselves – only alchemically better. Ducasse takes a set-in-its-ways food culture by the hand and gently coaxes it into the future – and yet never undermines it.

Twenty years before everyone was banging on about the joys of greens, Ducasse was offering menus that had more veg than meat in them at his Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. He has husbanded the skills of some of the best chefs across the world. He has also, for four years, run a programme called Women in the Future, which helps immigrant women in the outskirts of Paris to escape poverty by teaching them haute cuisine. He is the type of chef Gordon Ramsay could have been.

Sure, some of the food served in his empire falls short of the standard of that served at Le Meurice – how could it not? But, still, as I finish my vast rum baba, a Ducasse special, I can't help thinking that he is one of the best ambassadors for culinary culture we have today. He has lots to teach us. And we have a lot to thank his granny for.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

    Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

    Guru Careers: Plumber / Maintenance Operator

    £25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen