Buzz: Alain Ducasse, Mix and more

Alain Ducasse: “meilleur cuisinier du monde,” Figaro newspaper reported this week. The prestigious “World’s Best Chef” award was presented to Ducasse, in Berlin, by The American Academy of Hospitality and Sciences.  At 46, France’s only 6-star Michelin chef, has not had an easy ride. Remember the press on The Essex House? “A mighty soufflé collapses on Alain Ducasse, boy did they give our boy a hard time. “This marks the beginning of the end of the celebrity chef”… So what did Ducasse do then? He took note, put his head down and now he’s the chou-chou of NYC with Mix — his canteen. As Gwenaelle places yet another trophy in the trophy room there’s confirmation that the universe of Alain Ducasse has no limits: catch me if you can.   “My philosophy is based on one principle: redefine the essence of cuisine, make it simple, easily understood with a subtle balancing of tradition, evolution and modernity,” explains Ducasse. He’s in the kitchens of The Plaza Athenée, Paris, meeting with chef Jean-Françoise Piège and Frédéric Robert chef-pâtissier. “My interpretors,” explains Ducasse. In each of his restaurants Ducasse relies on the close collaboration of the motivated, talented chef/interpretors he has discovered, and trained, at ADF, (Alain Ducasse Formation) his cooking school near Paris. Piège, from Valence, has worked with Ducasse for nine years, Robert for twenty-three! “This is haute cuisine,” says Piège. “Each day means rigour, perfection, precision. Great food is not just great products or great cooking, it’s a basic knowledge of the culture of the products, that means you can get the best out of them.”   To celebrate Ducasse’s award, I lunch at The Plaza Athenée, put the 3-star myth through its’paces. Will I be disappointed? Once through the glass doors, welcomed by the elegant Denis Courtiade, I’m Alice. It’s a magnificent room, shielded from the large terrace by silver-grey transparent curtains. The eye is immediately drawn to the crystal chandeliers, covered with giant metallic grey cylinders projecting a holographic image. Chutzpah! Your mother would loathe it; you’ll love it. Check out designer Patrick Jouin’s other ideas: Folon’s witty sculptures on the tables, the “Saville Row” suited waiter setting up the menu on a mini music stand. The bright orange clock on the mantlepiece is a link to infinity, through the looking glass. Two life-size photographs of lithe jumping people watch joyfully as you sip your Paul Drouet champagne aperitif and decide what to eat. Dear clock, make time stand still, I never want this to end.  The menu is simple, seasonal and, yes, expensive. You want cheap? Go elsewhere. You want the experience of a lifetime—a true 3-star, then your adventure starts here. It comes as an extravagant surprise to be presented with langoustine topped with caviar, that’s the freebie amuse bouche. Stunning. Then choose from the concise menu of classics revised and corrected to modern taste; just as the dining room has been.. Truffles piled onto potatoes and a purée of truffles, Bresse chicken coated with truffles. Pigeon, boned and wrapped in green cabbage leaves, the legs served with a truffled salad. Line caught sea-bass dotted with fresh vegetables, drizzled with a jus. Golden ris de veau matched with écrivisses à la Florentin—divine. “Each meal is a performance that provides diners with the feeling of getting away from it all,” explains the courtly Courtiade. I have to skip the cheese, from Marie Anne Cantin and Monsieur Antoni (sorry!) mainly because I can’t wait for the Baba Au Rhum, comme à Monte Carlo. And it doesn’t disappoint. Nor does anything else. Rush there immediately for a delicious moment of culinary pleasure and discreet pampering. Better than a spa.   Nice touches: Every table is the best table – no restaurant Siberia here. Discreet napkin change each time you leave the table. Champagne coupe automatically refilled. Fresh herb trolley to brew Madame’s infusion to taste. Bag stool by Laval protects the Birkin bag. Post dessert, shiny silver sorbet buckets and a dazzling display of candies, just in case you’re still hungry! Gérard Margeon’s eclectic wine selection. Warm bread to take home – just in case you’re still hungry!  The Plaza Athenée25, avenue Montaigne, 8th Métro: Franklin Roosevlet T: 01 53 67 65 00 Note opening times: Lunch – Thursday-Friday Dinner – Monday-Friday How much? Culinary Delights Menu – 190€ + wine Seasonal Collection Menu – 280€ + wineAnd à la carte.  SPRING IS IN THE AIR – A CELEBRATION IN MONTE CARLO: The Chefs of La Société des Bains de Mer have come up with a neat idea to greet the Spring and show off their delicious new season’s local products. Here’s the lineup: Jean-Claude Brugel (Monte Carlo Beach Hotel) Frank Cerutti (le Louis XV d’Alain Ducasse – ***stars Michelin) Hôtel de Paris Christian Faure (Chef-Patissier) Hôtel de Paris Robert Gamba (Casino Restaurants) Joel Garrault (Vistamar – *star Michelin) Hotel Hermitage Jacques Lambert (Café de Paris) Michel de Matteis (The Hôtel Mirabeau – *star Michelin) Mario Muratore (Côté Jardin and Grill – *star Michelin) Hôtel de Paris Jacky Oberti (L’Hirondelle) Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo   All will feature a product each week, which each chef will translate in his own style: 31 March – 22 June. One product will star in its own show, just because it’s Spring, Spring, Spring tra-la-la: La Coquille Saint-Jacques: Asparagus, John Dory, Baby Goat, Aphrodisiac Artichokes, Pigeons from the Alpes de Haute-Provence, Baby beans and Peas, Baby veal from the hills above Nice, Courgettes from the Var Valley (forget all others), Cherries, Mediterranean Red Tuna.  Reservations: (377) 92 16 36 36   If your name’s Anaïs there’s a birthday cake waiting for you! To celebrate the 25th anniversary of their signature perfume Anaïs Anaïs, Cacherel are offering a cake created by 2-star Michelin chef Hélène Darroze (trained by Alain Ducasse). Enquiries:  Helene Darroze 4 rue d’Assas, 6th (Métro: Sèvres-Babylon) T: 01 42 22 00 11 Bon Appetit – A la semaine prochaine. Copyright 2003 Margaret Kemp
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Born in Hampton, Middlesex, UK, Margaret Kemp is a lifestyle journalist, based between London, Paris and the world. Intensive cookery courses at The Cordon Bleu, London, a wedding gift from a very astute ex-husband, gave her the base that would take her travelling (leaving the astute one behind) in search of rare food and wine experiences, such as the vineyards of Thailand, 'gator hunting in South Florida, learning to make eye-watering spicy food in Kerala;pasta making in a tiny Tuscany trattoria. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Financial Times Weekend and FT. How To Spend, The Spectator, Condé Nast Traveller, Food & Travel, and Luxos Magazine. She also advises as consultant to luxury hotels and restaurants. Over the years, Kemp has amassed a faithful following on BonjourParis. If she were a dish she'd be Alain Passard's Millefeuille “Caprice d'Enfant”, as a painting: Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe !