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Where does this board stand re: Alain Ducasse?

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?

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  1. " 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?

    4 Replies
    1. re: souphie

      I retain the word "boring". I do find the Ducasse experience strangely unexciting.

      1. re: Parigi

        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.

        1. re: Ptipois

          I disagree with "precise". In my experience, the Ducasse world is sreangely approximative from a technical point of view. I don't know tha he *serves* the idea. I think we're supposed to be content with the idea of what he's serving.

          1. re: souphie

            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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          3 Replies
          1. re: PhilD

            Thank you for offering this different pov. Please let me point out the following:

            You say:

            "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'.

            1. re: shekamoo

              My "little strange" comment was directed at the replies not the OP. I see the same when people ask about Gordon Ramsay places in the UK.

              1. re: PhilD

                I like Ramsay. Much better than Ducasse.

          2. Dined at Aux Lyon years ago and thought I'd just read recently that Ducasse now owns this restaurant. Does anyone know if this is true and if so, how difficult to get into?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Doreen

              You must mean Aux Lyonnais. If you search on this board under the right name, you will find threads mentioning it.
              Best to reserve a few days in advance.

            2. At a certain point, chefs who move beyond cooking, need to be rated not on their cuisine, but on their business acumen. Ducasse has moved well beyond that point, as have almost any chefs whose names are attached to several restaurants or endeavors. We can continue to rate the restaurants in their empires, but we should no longer think of those restaurants as theirs but rather be identifying the chef they have employed/anointed to run that aspect of their empire for them as the individual whose skills and results we are assessing.

              1. For me, the name of Ducasse's Tokyo restaurant sums up my opinion of the dining experience he offers - "Beige."

                1. Do people here think similarly of Joel Robuchon, or is he a totally different beast (despite also running an empire)?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    Robuchon seems different. The "L'Atelier" brand is designed to be fairly uniform and consistent. The same look, feel and menu in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore and do on. He then has one or two more traditional places like Robuchon au Dome in Macau which are reputed to be stellar like his now closed Paris restaurant La Table de Joël Robuchon (but open in Tokyo). Ducasse went in a different direction, he flirted with a branded chain with "Spoon" and whilst that still exists it has morphed into more individual restaurants. I plan to head to Macau in the near future despite feeling the L'Atelier chain is a bit too much like a production line. on every visit to the Paris branch i had to tell them to slow down.

                    Most Ducasse places try to be unique and tie into the location, Benoit is a very traditional style bistro, Jules Verne is big occasion glamour, his country hotel restaurants are relaxed (befitting a holiday), and his top end three star restaurants are top end three star restaurants with all the bells and whistles. I have yet to have an unsatisfactory Ducasse meal but that said I don't expect a lazy Sunday brunch at Spoon to be like the Plaza Athenee - I think less informed punters (not on this board) can see the Ducasse name and make this mistake

                    1. re: Dustin_E

                      Robuchon is a totally different beast, imo. As PhilD points out, he's much less diversified. He's also still a strong influence *as a cook* in his restaurants, that are all about know-how. Both have empires, but if I had to sum it up, I'd say one is corporate, the other is more like a Middle Ages guild. It's the idea of an Atelier: many apprentices are actually doing work signed by the master, kinda like Michelangelo or Rubens.

                    2. Perhaps ten or 15 yrs ago, we stayed at Ducasse's Bastide de Moustier near Gorge Verdun.
                      I can remember so many fine details: the name of our room (Tournesol), the perfectly ironed linen sheets, the lovely bath salts, the French fairy tale instead of a chocolate on the pillow, the potager and the chef's harvesting herbs from it, breakfast with it's bowl of coffee, folding farmer's knife, and crusty bread. But dinner was totally forgetable.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ScottnZelda

                        It is funny how different people see things differently (or maybe how places change). We ate at the Bastide as part of a weeks tour of the area (about five years ago) eating in some great places and the Bastide was the best of them. I can't recall individual dishes either but we do remember a very satisfactory meal. That said I tend to eat out 200+ times a year so the details of many meals are a bit hazy....that is why I now take photos.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          It's wonderful to hear that your meal was great at the Bastide. It certainly is a charming spot, and so vivid in my memory in so many ways. Perhaps the wine fogged my recollection of dinner. Now I keep a journal, but should really follow your lead and take photos. How I envy your dining out life. I hope you enjoy it.