Where does this board stand re: Alain Ducasse?
- shekamoo Apr 25, 2011 04:52 PM
I made a snarky comment about Ducasse on the Ontario board(on a side issue, not discussing Ducasse directly of course), and was surprised to hear a strong reaction from a fellow CHer, who is a well seasoned foodie of many a Michelin star across the globe.
I have personally only been to Jules Verne and thought the food was rather boring and overpriced(I know you are paying for the location, but still, not for THAT food.). Everything else I have read here about Ducasse has not led me to reconsider this negative judgment.
But now I am thinking that maybe I am missing something here? anyone want to speak out in defence of this International Brand? or maybe this question is too general and you need to look at every individual location and each may fare differently? if so, anywhere you would suggest as particularly good?
" anyone want to speak out in defence of this International Brand?"
Not me. That said, I like his bakery, BE, on bd de Courcelles, a lot. Also, I never made it to the Louis XV in the Ceruti days, but I have every reason to believe it was truly wonderful. I would characterise every other Ducasse place I know like you do: boring, overpriced, and also soulless. Which is not to say the occasional wonderful dish cannot be had.
To me, Ducasse is the incarnation of the industrialisation of fine dining -- making it not fine anymore, but rather expensive, luxurious and reproducible. I'm not sure I don't partly blame him for the emergence of molecular cuisine and that whole obsession with innovation in restaurants business. If good food is gone, why not at least have fun?
It looks like Ducasse is the Attila of fun and substance in cooking: they do not grow back after him. With the notable exceptions of some excellent "Ducasse boys" chefs who worked for him and helped shape the positive landmarks of his empire: Frank Cerruti for Le Louis XV, Frédéric Robert (not the Grande Cascade chef), his former chef pâtissier who created his best desserts, and some others (Didier Elena, David Rathgeber, etc.). But I believe some of these guys are better cooks than Ducasse ever was to begin with.
Bruno Verjus recently wrote about the food at Le Plaza Athénée that Ducasse served not the dishes or products themselves but the idea of them. I find that thought very interesting. With the official intention of "going back to the basics" it is as if Ducasse appropriated the concept of "great products simply prepared", fossilizing them somewhat, making them historical monuments. This is noticeable in the style of cooking - precise, respectful, boring - and even more so in the minimalist appellations of the dishes - minimalist to the point of pomposity: "Veal, salsify" or "Partridge, morels, Swiss chard" or "Langoustine, caviar". It is one rare case of zen-like starkness actually sending out a pretentious message.
That's exactly what I mean by appropriation. He serves something, and he expects us to be absolutely certain that he serves the ultimate idea of that something. We don't have to believe him but he expects us to.
As for precision, I just had lunch at Le Dauphin, and indeed I have to correct what I wrote above. The way everything was cooked there *was* precision itself. After that I could no longer say it about Ducasse. And it was a 27-euro lunch, too.
Did Louis XV back in the day and it was wonderful. Have done Verne and Benoit here, and Benoit in NY. Nope, nope and nope.
did louis xv and it was great. was excited to try his new venture in paris shortly after it opened in rubochon's old space when it was getting great press. it was the most expensive meal i have ever had and the only COMPLETELY DISAPPOINTING meal ever in a starred restaurant. food mediocre at best and service totally inappropriate to the place.
First, he has quite a range of restaurants so to rate them as a single entity is a little strange. Not only do they have different styles, price points and philosophies they also have different chefs so inevitably a lot of variation. Second, the Ducasse philosophy seems to be to deliver reasonably safe, predictable food, thus unifying his stable of restaurants under this market position. And third, I do like his sense of tradition and the fact he has saved some great classic Paris restaurants and preserved their style and the food, and unlike the Costes Bros he hasn't seen the need to modernise.
So fo me his restaurants fit into a niche that sometimes meets my needs and delivers exactly what I want. My favourite restaurants tend to be more avant-garde like Mugaritz in Spain, but I also love the safe, comfy restaurants that deliver an experience that is predictable. For me Ducasse will generally do this.
I have eaten in a number of his places (alas not his top spots) and never had a poor meal, equally I never had a meal that pushed boundaries or contained gastronomic fireworks. But that wasn't a problem because I wanted safe; I wanted to be cosseted and I wanted a good meal - and I wasn't price sensitive. He can seem expensive, and maybe it is, but I never thought it was poor value. I once compared two dishes (Langue De Veau Lucullus) back to back one at Benoit and the other at the Violin d'Ingres (a fav of the board), and IMO Benoit's was in a far higher league and a much better dish.
Thank you for offering this different pov. Please let me point out the following:
"he has quite a range of restaurants so to rate them as a single entity is a little strange."
I had already said:
"maybe this question is too general and you need to look at every individual location and each may fare differently"
I guess this means I did enough CYA to avoid a potential charge of 'strangeness'.