fine food - Alain Ducasse
Written by Greg Sunning
Fresh from the Qatar International Food Festival (QIFF), leading chef Alain Ducasse talks food culture, the romance of travel, and his plans to revolutionise modern dining.
Alain Ducasse is quite simply one of the world’s most influential chefs. One of only two chefs to have held 21 Michelin stars at one time, his three-star restaurants are among the most sought-after the world over. But beyond merely collecting stars, Ducasse is an author, an educator, and a powerful advocate for change. What has changed in the two years since we last spoke? Everything.
“We all have to drastically rethink our relationship with the planet,” says Ducasse. A major climate change conference in Paris last year, he says, “contributed to making people aware that the problem is larger and that the action (needed) is urgent. Chefs can be at the forefront of the effort since they are the intermediaries between nature and the consumers.”
Regarding QIFF 2016 and its focus on healthy food, Ducasse says, “I am convinced taste development is a significant lever for a good diet. Developing a wide and varied taste palate is the key to (diversifying) a healthy diet while enjoying it.”
Ducasse has been leading from the front, famously removing meat from the menu at his three-Michelin-star Plaza Athénée in Paris. Why? “Chefs have a direct responsibility. First when sourcing their produce, by favouring local producers. Then when creating recipes, by using less fat and less sugar. And, most importantly, by cooking more vegetables and cereals. This is beneficial for the planet and far healthier for the consumer.
“This is exactly what we do at IDAM, my restaurant in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. I like to take the example of the organic millet dish served crispy with octopus and calamari. We use a cereal that does not require much water to cook (as opposed to wheat or rice) and combine it with local fish. Simple, healthy, and terribly good.”
Which brings us neatly back to the core dining experience that started it all. Ingredients and service are, he says, “more crucial than ever”.
“The quality of ingredients is the indispensable starting point of any cuisine. However, it goes far beyond cooking. Great produce demands passionate producers, working in a sound way, respecting nature. Impeccable service is also important, yet in a different manner. It is a very delicate mission which demands a lot of experience and finesse.”
Put these high expectations into different restaurants and cities and, Ducasse says, you need to adapt. “The real challenge is to be true to the soul of the venue. Be it a bistro, a high-end restaurant, or a brasserie, each venue has to tell its own story and harmoniously combine the place, location, cuisine, and décor. Paris, Doha, New York, London, or Tokyo require a specific approach since the food cultures are different.”
At a time when arguably the best Peruvian restaurant is in London and Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris, food culture is a hot topic. “Cooking is great because it is a unique point of view upon today’s world,” says Ducasse. “Food is the edible version of culture.
“France provided, and still provides, training and inspiration for the main actors on the food scene internationally. A large majority of these cooks have been trained in France or in local restaurants headed by French chefs. To only name a few: Gastón Acurio in Lima, Alex Atala in São Paulo, or Tom Kitchin in Edinburgh.”
As talk turns to globetrotting chefs, Ducasse admits to his love of collecting vintage luggage and travel trunks. “I love travelling the world to discover new people, new food, and new ways of living,” he says. “Luggage and trunks probably epitomise this interest in travel. Being true pieces of art in their domain, leather goods, they do it in a very fascinating way.”
Can a man who travels incessantly still see the romance in travel? Of course. “There is still a romance if you dare (to jump) out of the box – away from the beaten path,” he says. “I always save time to walk around open-air markets, meet local producers, and – most importantly – taste products. I am driven by curiosity.”
Dinner In The Sky
Offering ‘A Taste of Business’ at QIFF 2016, guests experienced our world-renowned Business Class service and multiple award-winning hospitality, both on the ground and suspended in mid-air 50m above the ground in the heart of one of Doha’s most beautiful landscapes. Guests relaxed in the ‘Business Class lounge’ area for a pre-flight experience before boarding a ‘flight’ to taste our exquisite Business Class menu. At the ‘Table in the Sky’, 22 guests were served by our award-winning cabin crew and then, firmly back on the ground, rounded off their sky-high culinary adventure with delicious Fauchon desserts.