Book Review: Good Taste by Alain Ducasse

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Book Review: Good Taste by Alain Ducasse

“Opening a restaurant takes a mixture of pride and recklessness, but it’s mostly about passion for creation and taking on new ventures.” —Alain Ducasse

We all have our favorite Alain Ducasse restaurants, and certainly rely on his excellent cookery books for many successful dinners and lunches. Now consider his latest, light-as-a-soufflé biography, Good Taste: A Life of Food and Passion, with endearing introductions by Jay McInerney, the novelist, screenwriter, and wine critic, along with Clare Smyth, Britain’s only woman cheffe with ***Michelin stars.

Ducasse dedicates his book to “Gwénaelle and to our children.” He recounts his journey from childhood (he was born on September 13th, 1956), where he fondly remembers mushrooms gathered with his grandfather and the aromas of his grandmother’s cooking in Les Landes, to creating award-winning worldwide restaurants and exciting allied by-products (schools, publishing house, utensils, chocolate etc.)  

Alain Ducasse. (c)Johann Sturz for Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse

“From my childhood came two major passions which can be found in all my restaurants and in my cuisine,” he writes. “Each of my restaurants is linked to a vegetable garden and each of my chefs has a connection to the land, to local markets and growers. Our culinary school in Meudon, near Paris, also has a flourishing organic herb garden- the Garden of Flavors.”

“Oak is very important to me,” he says. “In tribute to my grandfather and his woodworking. “In fact, in Landes dialect, the word Ducasse means ‘he who lives at the foot of the oak.’”

Ducasse writes a poignant ode to the humble vegetables that have inspired his entire cuisine and to the Masters (including Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Roger Vergé, Alain Chapel) who believed in him and guided him along the way, from Paris, London, to New York and Tokyo via Quatar, Singapore, Bangkok etc. “To travel, see the world and taste the world,” he muses.

Part memoir, part manifesto, Ducasse looks to the future and discusses what “good taste” means to him. Today he has the most Michelin stars of any world chef (21). And remember, he was the first chef to own three restaurants with ***Michelin stars in three different cities at the same time. “This book will guide and inspire generations of chefs to come,” reflects Clare Smyth.

“He is, in many ways, the grand conductor of his orchestra. Calm and considered in everything he does,” she says. “When I first arrived to work at the Louis XV, Monaco, I was given a handbook outlining the 12 values Chef Ducasse expects of his staff. The one that has stayed with me is “Respect” for the produce and producer … and for the chef’s whites, the profession and tradition.”

The team at the Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. Photo: Matteo Carassale

Jay McInerney fondly remembers time spent with Ducasse. “At the Louis XV, Monaco, I first tasted his cooking and became a lifetime fan,” he says. “I still salivate at the taste and texture of his Bresse chicken with white truffles in Albufera sauce. As Walt Whitman remarked, it’s incredibly difficult to achieve the appearance of effortless simplicity.”

“This is not a book of memories, nor is it a book of recipes,” writes Ducasse. “It is a different way of sharing the emotion conjured by a meal, a dish, a taste; of defining something ineffable; of telling a story; of evoking fleeting pleasures and engraving them within us.”

Good Taste may not be, like some Ducasse tomes, glossy enough to merit *** stars. Rather, it’s a delicious bistro of a book (think Benoit or Aux Lyonnais). You can’t eat *** cuisine every day unless your name is Alain Ducasse!

Reading this book, you’ll reap inspiration, not only culinary wise, but also in how to follow your dreams and never give up. Tap into his philosophies, because he’s worth it. “He’s a man for all seasons,” says Richard Vines.

DETAILS

First published in France as “Une vie de goûts et de passion 
Translated by Polly Mackintosh 
Price: £16.99, US$22.95 
Available from Gallic Books, London   

Looking for more on Chef Alain Ducasse?

France Today Members recently enjoyed an hour-long live event in which Chef Alain Ducasse was interviewed about this book, views on French cuisine and more. You can watch the full event recording on the France Today Video Hub by taking up an exclusive free 60-day France Today Membership trial which you can claim here.

Lead photo credit : Esterre Vegetables from Kamakura, top condiment and green jus (c) Palace Tokyo Hotel

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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 It.com, 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 !