'I'm glad to see the end of my career than to have to start today'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 7th February 2020

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester has had a makeover.

With Jean-Philippe Blondet at the helm, the three Michelin-starred restaurant is the envy of the culinary world. 

Presiding over a dynasty 

Monsieur Ducasse has 34 restaurants in seven countries and more accolades than any other chef alive: 20, to be precise. As a young chef, he recalls, "I earned 3 stars in 33 months, when I was 33 years old." 

But what does it take to rule the restaurant world?

Being ahead of the curve 

As he continues to open new restaurants, and having recently launched his own chocolate and coffee brands, the chef is sharp and astute as ever.

"These are all great excuses to travel and continue tasting the world's flavours and to share them with as many people as possible." 

The point of undertaking massive refurbishment work and an ever changing food menu, he explained, is to show customers "that we're here, and that our food is evolving." 

"It shows that we're moving with the times, and that requires that we don't just rest on our laurels, that we always second guess ourselves." 

While the food at The Dorchester will always bear what Mr Ducasse calls "the DNA of French cuisine," as he sees it, he and his team must allow themselves certain liberties - so that instead of following trends, they can be the ones setting them. 

Guests at The Dorchester travel the world eating in restaurants, and set the benchmark for everyone else. 

"There's a sort of 'club' of people who are perfectly informed and that's what sets the tempo, that's how word gets around." 

"Their custom is sought out by many, so it's important that we show them that we're frontrunners, including in our ability to renew ourselves." 

"To be the best, you have to want to run ahead of everyone else."

"This ability to show that we're still in keeping with the times," he explained, "that is what drives me." 

"To always have an ear on the ground, to watch a changing world and be able to synthesise that to make the right offer at the right time." 

"It's not a requirement, we could have kept living the way we were, but it's better to question yourself before you start to decline." 

 

Alain Ducasse and executive head chef Jean-Philippe Blondet 

 

What is The Michelin 'formula?' 

Mr Ducasse might make it seem like a breeze, but there are many elements at play when you consider what it takes to earn Michelin stars. 

"If you want to reach the top," he said, "you have to show rigour, discipline and high standards." 

"You have to select the best products, prepare them to perfection, season them justly, cook them perfectly." 

From choosing the right garnish to a perfect sauce reduction, harmony between the food and the wine, the kitchen and the front of house, everything has to touch perfection.

"It's a case of delivering an experience of high gastronomy, and that starts when you greet a guest on the phone to the last moment, when they leave," he said.  

"They have to keep a delicious memory of the moment spent with us." 

"We are merchants of ephemeral memories, and that memory has to stay with them for as long as possible, because one day that memory will disappear, but the feeling of having spent a wonderful moment won't." 

To summarise, he explained that across his restaurants, the team tries to "think of all the ingredients that play a part in making a memorable celebration of a moment spent with us." 

Knowledge is power 

Having taught today's great talent - from Clare Smyth, Hélène Darroze to Claude Bosi, Emily Roux and Diego Ferrari, the chef considers it his responsibility to perpetuate the knowledge of French culinary classics, which he sees as the foundation for all greatness. 

Like in music, he explained, "you can only be a good musician if you know your musical scales." 

"Then, they bring their own sentiment, their sensibilities, develop their own personalities and tell their own stories." 

In September, he'll open a new culinary school in Paris, where nine classes of students will learn the foundations of classic French cuisine. 

"I am in favour of sharing knowledge, and that is ongoing: I continue to watch the world and include what I see in my restaurants - not to bring back what I see, but to integrate, to distill, to enrich our area of knowledge."

The new dining space at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

Poking holes

Insisting this experience doesn't give him authority, he concedes that he has an opinion on who the stars of tomorrow will be.

"But I'm not going to give you my ranking," he smiled mischieviously, a twinkle in his eye. 

"Michelin does its job, I do mine. I eat with great joy at a lot of restaurants, but I am not the judge." 

"I often make great discoveries; there are those who deserve stars but don't have any, and those who have them but don't deserve them," 

"But I do my job as a chef and restaurateur, Michelin does its job as a guide." 

"As its decisions are based on human judgement, of course they can't be perfect. But you're happy when you get Michelin stars - less so when you lose them."

Legacy 

Faced with an industry brimming with talent, the chef said that he is glad not to have to contend with today's greats. 

 "I'm glad to see the end of my career than to have to start today." 

"If I was forty now, I would face much more competition than I did when I was forty."

"Competition is extremely high - that is great for the culinary world, it's good for guests and it's good for the industry."

But, aged 63, Alain has no plans to retire anytime soon. In fact, as he sees it, he's never worked a day in his life. 

"It's a hobby. I say that I'm working, but in reality, I'm living out my dream." 

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 7th February 2020

'I'm glad to see the end of my career than to have to start today'