Master Chef Extraordinaire – Interview with Alain Ducasse

Words and Photography by Sylvia Le Dung

Alain Ducasse needs no introduction. The French Master Chef, renowned the world over for his culinary empire, which is comprised of Michelin starred restaurants, cooking schools, and cookbooks, shows no sign of slowing down. Ducasse recently made headlines with his upcoming, much anticipated Culinary Summit in Monte Carlo, where he will invite 200 top chefs from around the world to his flagship Monegasque restaurant Le Louis XV. Ducasse’s soon-to-open Qatar restaurant, his first in the Middle East, has also generated a lot of buzz lately.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Alain Ducasse, who visited Hong Kong for the second time in two years, at SPOON by Alain Ducasse; which is located inside the much-coveted InterContinental Hotel Hong Kong. Walking into the hotel, guests will be instantly mesmerized by a spectacular, panoramic view of the famous Victoria Harbour – made possible by the sweeping, oversized lobby windows. This gorgeous view is also visible inside the adjacent SPOON by Alain Ducasse restaurant. I met up with Carole Klein, Director of Public Relations & Communications of InterContinental Hong Kong, who had kindly made all of the meeting arrangements. A big thank-you to Carole!

Alain Ducasse arrived right on time. Impeccably dressed in a tailored gray pinstripe suit, he greeted me with a warm smile and a welcoming handshake. Mr. Ducasse and I chatted with each other in French before Mr. Philippe Duc joined us from the kitchen. Duc, the Executive Chef of SPOON by Alain Ducasse Hong Kong, looked sharp in his chef uniform. We chit chatted for a bit and both men looked relaxed and very friendly. We started by talking about Ducasse’s upcoming, much anticipated Culinary Summit in Monte Carlo.

Can you tell us about the upcoming Culinary Summit in Monte Carlo in November?

Alain Ducasse (“AD” in the below): It’s not a summit. It’s just for fun and a chance for pleasure. I invited 200 chefs from about 26/27 countries to come to Monte Carlo to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my restaurant Le Louis XV. It will be a two and a half to three day event, over the weekend, from November 16-18th.

There will be great mix of fine dinning from around the world.

Some of the chefs attending this event are: Joël Robuchon, Michel Guérard, David Chang, René Redzepi and Australia’s Tetsuya Wakuda and more. (Pointing to Mr. Philippe Duc, sitting next to him) Philippe will also be coming next month along with all of my chefs.

There will be 100 of the finest Mediterranean ingredients from Monte Carlo that are in season. At that time I will select 10 chefs and 10 ingredients. Each chef will work with one ingredient of their choice. The chef will then cook their dish with their best know how.

It is for enjoyment and fun only…not for competition…just a chance to have some fun… you know.

How long are you staying in Hong Kong and where are you going next?

AD: I’m here in Hong Kong for a few days. After this I will fly to Paris for one day, then to New York and Washington for a lunch and dinner.  Then to Las Vegas for another dinner then I go home to relax for a few days, then I will start working again.

Do you and Mr. Duc have new plans for SPOON by Alain Ducasse Hong Kong that we should know about?

AD: [Shrugs shoulders and looks at Philippe]. No big plans for SPOON Hong Kong; but we constantly push the level of our food higher and higher. We upgrade the quality with any opportunity we have. In the last 2 years we continue to upgrade the menu of SPOON. Working with Philippe’s know-how, we continue to elevate the taste and high quality of each dish. We will propose one French contemporary new dish soon. Also, I remember 9 years ago when we opened the restaurant here we were the first occidental restaurant.  Today, many restaurants have come to HK. The level of contemporary French cuisine has changed.

[I turned to Mr. Philippe Duc (PD in the following) for the next question:]
Is Mr. Ducasse a good boss? What’s it like working with him?

PD: Oh no!

AD:  Fantastique!

PD: We’ve worked together since 1999, for over 12 years now. I learned everything that needed to be learned about French cuisine and fine dinning and a lot more from Mr. Ducasse. I moved to HK in 2008 working at SPOON HK, before that I worked at SPOON in Mauritius. We exchange a lot of emails and conference calls. I also work with Christian Julliard in France, who is the Corporate Executive Chef and the link between me and Alain Ducasse. (Nodding) Yes, I think he is a good boss.

Mr. Ducasse, You have many fans worldwide and in Asia, what are your future plans for Asia?

AD: There are a lot of discussions and different opportunities but nothing concrete yet.  When I will sign I will call you to inform you.

Can you tell us about the project in Qatar?

AD: That project is finished. In a few weeks it will open. It is the most beautiful restaurant in the world. It has the view, the decor and the architecture. It will be open in a few weeks and our team is very excited. It was an interesting process. It took about one and a half years just to understand the culture perfectly and communication is important to have success in that part of the world – in the Middle East. Qatar is near the Mediterranean but it is in the Middle East and there is influence from India, Lebanon, N. Africa and Mediterranean taste. The menu will have a mixture of taste from these countries and will aim to suit and seduce guests of the Middle East.

To Macaron Magazine
Je vous attends à Paris. (See you in Paris)
A très bientôt. (See you soon)
Alain Ducasse, HK, 10, 2012
What are the secrets to your success?

AD: Work more, work quicker and work better.

PD: I think it’s about what the guests have to say and we must listen carefully to feedback from clients. And, using excellent ingredients.

When you think of Asian food; you think of _______________.

AD: Asians have the largest palate of tastes and largest palate of products. For example, in China, you eat everything and you like everything. They eat everything that is moving.

PD:  Yes… everything that is moving and growing…just like the French people are the same.

You travel a lot; can you share with us your favorite place to go in Asia?

AD:  I travel when it’s necessary. So my favorite place depends on the reason I’m traveling. If it’s for work or just for a visit. For example, I like Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney. Sydney and Hong Kong both have the waterfront but are exactly opposite and very different. I like Singapore and when I’m there I go to the supermarkets and where all of the restaurants are, to try the food. I also like Tokyo and I prefer Kyoto and especially the food in Kyoto.

What about Bangkok?

AD:  I visited Bangkok a long time ago. I prefer Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Kyoto to Bangkok. I like Thai food but Bangkok is a big, big city and it has too many traffic jams and congestions.

What is a typical day like for Alain Ducasse?

AD: Pheww…..’Il n’y a pas de jours typiques pour moi.’ – There is no one typical day for me. I adapt myself to the situation of the day. Depending on the request and situation of the moment. I do as necessary. For example, if my assistant is too busy doing something else and I have to do paper work, then I do paperwork. I am very adaptable.

What would you or Gwenaelle (his wife) serve if you were hosting a casual dinner at home for a group of friends?

AD:  (taking off his eye glasses, sitting up straight and shaking his head) Non, non non…it depends on the day. Sometimes my friends come to my house and cook for me.

I would imagine that would be quite scary for your friends….

(the whole group laughed)

AD: Uh well, no choice for my friends.

What is the most challenging thing about running a global culinary empire as vast as yours?

AD:  Different places with different atmospheres with different concepts.  Each location is different and no two restaurants for me are the same. It depends on the location. Like this is a contemporary hotel with contemporary French food. I have global vision with local expression dedicating to each different restaurant. Each restaurant is custom made. For example SPOON Hong Kong is French contemporary. My two restaurants in Japan have different menus and different concepts and decorations etc.

In closing, can you tell us one thing that Alain Ducasse feels proud of and yet no one knows about?

AD: ‘Femmes en Avenir’ – a project that I started in 2010. We offer free training to women to learn how to cook, helping some ladies in difficulties who want to learn to cook and find a job.

Do you hand pick each woman?

AD:  Yes, each one.

How many women do you pick each year?

AD:  About 10 to15 and they learn how to become a professional chef.

How are those women doing now? 

AD:  They all have a job and one of them actually is cooking for the Prime Minister. I was very happy when I learned of the news. The woman told me that she’d never imagine one day she would cook for the Prime Minister. I feel very satisfied and happy with this news.

I’m sure these women are very grateful for the opportunity they received from you.

AD:  No problem…. when you are outside of the society it is very difficult to come into the society. It is easier to help when you are a big company. If possible I always try to help people with difficulties.

Thank you gentlemen. Wishing you great success in future endeavors.

AD & PD: Merci beaucoup.