24 March 2014

Ducasse: there's a limit to the concessions I'll make...

Here is the second part of the interview with prominent French chef Alain Ducasse — the first half is here. And here's a link to the original, in French. Ducasse was asked about the growing number of restaurant customers who cite "special dietary requirements" when they place their orders and ask for changes in the way dishes are normally prepared. Is that trend fundamentally altering French cuisine?
Q: Can all these customer-imposed constraints on the ingredients you use in your cooking have a positive impact?

A: Yes, in certain ways. I’ll give you an example: we work more and more under pressure from customers who call themselves “locavores,” from the name a diet born on the other side of the Atlantic that means only eating products grown and raised within a radius of a few hundred kilometers. This new constraint encourages us to act responsibly, to protect the limited resources of our planet, and to be conscious of the effects on the environment of the choice of foods we prepare and serve.

Q: Have low-calorie diets also required you to modify your menus?

A: Yes. Because of of new nutritional standards, French cooking contains less fat and oil than it used to, and the portions served are smaller. As a result, French food has never been better, fresher, and lighter than it is today. Forty years ago, when I cooked sole with an herb sauce, there was more butter in the sauce than herbs. Today, thanks to better low-temperature techniques for extracting authentic herb flavors, I hardly put in any butter at all.

I wonder if Alain Ducasse serves curly kale and pulled pork in his restaurants.
But the concessions we make stop there: we will not take the butter out of our recipe for frog legs at our Allard restaurant in Paris, which we just acquired. It takes half a pound of butter to make two servings of frog legs and we haven’t found any better way to prepare this classic French dish.

Q: And what is your own diet like?

A: I am a real Frenchman, in the sense that I have a hedonistic and carnal approach to food, without phobias or restrictions. But I won’t lie to you: I like to taste everything, being curious and fickle, and even if I take care to eat a balanced diet, I regularly indulge in tasting sessions, consuming as many as 15 dishes in a row in my restaurants. It’s impossible, in fact, for me to be consistent in respecting the sacrosanct rule that says we should all eat three square meals a day.


  1. “lovavores,”....?
    locavores, surely?
    And the Locavore "movement" is growing faster where it started... UK.
    It is an offshoot of the "Slow Food Movement" that started in Italy and now has a show in Tours every couple or so years.

    These have been two really interesting posts....
    and show, to me, the thinking behind great food...
    and the need to adapt [within reason] such food to "modern" values...
    and whims.

    I love the comment "a hedonistic and carnal approach to food"....
    your KurlieKale and pork, pictured above, certainly fits that bill for me....
    As I was making paté yesterday, there is a lingering scent of cooked meat to add...
    smellovision to your post!

    1. Thanks for catching the typo, Tim. Pretty funny typo...

  2. Replies
    1. To my knowledge, the locavore movement started in the new Covent Garden market at the Millenium Slow Food London meeting....
      it was designed to promote farmers' markets that were growing at rather a slowish rate...
      what followed was a distinct, almost logrithmic growth....
      with some cities having two farmers' markets a week...
      and London getting a permanent area at Covent Garden.
      From this, the Locale movement was started by CAMRA around 2008 to promote local breweries in cachement area pubs...
      And now...
      some councils are actively promoting the sale of produce from allotments...
      something that is still possibly against the Allotments Act 1922!!
      But who cares, it saves waste and promotes local food for local peepilz!

  3. I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for people who have an allergy or intolerance to some foods and I understand how difficult it can be for them to dine out without being sick.

    On the other hand, I have very little patience with people who choose to be vegetarian or vegan and make a fuss in the public square. It reminds me of the deeply held religious beliefs that the extreme right is brandishing in any context that suits them. They're not born that way! It's perfectly okay to shun animal products for any moral reason as long as it affects only those who do, but asking a restaurant to do that for them is a little too much. I'm sure they wouldn't have any adverse and detrimental effect to their health if they ate some animal product once in a blue moon.

    1. I'm sure that you aren't including Buddhists and some Indian sects [viz. Gujerati] in that last paragraph...
      otherwise they'd not be able to eat out with their friends other than the sparse few Veggi restaurants in the world.

    2. Otherwise I heartily agree with you...
      also, one needs to take into account the fact that we are omnivores by evolution...
      therefore some animal protein is necessary for our well being!!
      The ones I personally have a major gripe against are the fishetarians...
      or the eggetarians, for that matter.

  4. Patricia Wells had an impact on dining in SF, non? She was inspired by French cooking.
    Your greens and pork look like down home cooking and I bet Alain Ducasse would enjoy eating chez vows.

  5. Referencing chm's comments about vegetarians-- anyone who is rude and demanding and self-centered (like the kind of behavior cited above) should be ashamed of themselves, of course. But many, like my sister and her husband, go out of their way not to trouble anyone else, and always work within the framework of what is available. But, of course, like anyone else who loves good food, they're super excited when they find a restaurant that offers creative, healthy, delicious offerings with no meat. Fortunately, there are lots more of those kinds of restaurants around these days, even in Europe.

    Now... chm... I have to say that your comment made me chuckle a little, because ... well... you know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of the über-bible-quoting Americans I've heard say things about gay folks, like, "What, you have an understanding at your place of work that you just don't admit that you're gay? That's fine! That will just teach those people the value of discretion." (gaaahhhh.... I really know a woman who said that!). Or, "Surely it wouldn't hurt them to have sex with a woman sometimes, would it? Would it kill them, just now and then??" *LOL* Okay, okay, don't get angry... I know being a vegetarian is a choice, so it's a different thing, but those rather intolerant, angry-sounding words made me laugh a little, chm. :)

  6. you have no idea how much i am enjoying this interview - thanks! i once was in Paris with 2 gals who were not well traveled. i was the only one who spoke any french...which i promptly forgot when either of them asked if i would request an egg white only omelet or no "french fries" with their steak dinner. worst. trip. ever.

  7. By the way, Ken, that pulled pork looks SO so so scrumptious!

  8. "Today, thanks to better low-temperature techniques for extracting authentic herb flavor...." What do you think he means by this? Something high tech that's not available to those of us who cook with mere pots and pans?

    Gorgeous looking meal, Ken, that I'm sure Ducasse would love to serve or to eat.

    1. Carolyn, I don't know what Ducasse means about the spices. It might be technology, or it might just be having discovered that the herbs are good without all the butter.


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