Results tagged Alain Ducasse from David Lebovitz

Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée Restaurant

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

A few years ago in Paris, I was invited to a special lunch by Dan Barber, of Blue Hill in New York City, who prepared a meal at the restaurant of Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenée. I’ve been fortunate to be on the guest list for some of these meals, including ones that profiled Japanese and Chinese chefs, meant to introduce the foods of other cultures to journalists and food professionals here in Paris.

Of course, Alain Ducasse has upscale restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo, New York, and Tokyo. But during a recent renovation of the Plaza Athenée hotel in Paris, Chef Ducasse and his chef at the restaurant, Romain Meder, decided to break from – and challenge – the traditional definition of luxury dining, and feature the producers and farmers, who produce the food, where good cooking starts. The menu has been completely rewritten, focusing on vegetables and sustainable fish.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

Before this transformation, when Dan Barber was at the restaurant, he gave an impassioned talk to the French journalists and food writers (along with a few of us anglophones) that were assembled, about what he’s doing at his restaurants and his philosophy. Unfortunately the translator gave a word-for-word recapitulation, which didn’t (and couldn’t) explain the sociological shift and remarkable, and profound, transformation in American dining and eating habits over the last few decades. People used to say to me, “Don’t all Americans eat at McDonald’s?” But those who have been to the states now come back, and say “The food was incroyable.”

Farmers’ markets are in full swing in most major cities in America, and on airplanes (and in fast-food restaurants), you’re likely to find bits of radicchio in your baby lettuce salad, and even my local Safeway in San Francisco had organic milk from a local producer and bean-to-bar chocolate. French cuisine has taken a notable hit, mostly because of the increased reliance on pre-packaged foods. But that’s kind of becoming a thing of the past, and the tides are turning. And in this case, it’s coming from the top.

Alain Ducasse Restaurant at the Plaza Athenée

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Restaurant le Meurice

bread at Le Meurice

A few years ago, a good friend who has sadly moved away, was kind enough to take me to Restaurant Le Meurice for dinner. The first memory of walking into the done-up dining room was the way the waiters brought her an Hermès stool for her purse, which was an Hermès Kelly bag. The second memory I have, was shortly after when we sat down and they asked if we wanted apéritifs. I’d heard about the house apéritif they were serving back then, which was famous, so I ordered one.

Restaurant Le Meurice

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La Manufacture de chocolat Alain Ducasse

pralines to dip

I don’t think there’s anyone happier than I am now that we now have our very own bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Paris. I remember when the movement started in America, and small chocolate manufacturers started popping up in the most unlikeliest of places by people curious about roasting and sourcing their own beans, then grinding them into smooth tablets of chocolate. I was impressed, but skeptical when it all started. But am thrilled the movement has taken off in so many ways and directions.

roasting cocoa beans for chocolate

For the past five years, Alain Ducasse has been nurturing the same vision in Paris, along with pastry chef Nicolas Berger, who is now running La Manufacture de chocolat, their chocolate atelier not far from the center of the city.

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Da Dong/Squid/Les Jules Verne/Yquem

geoduck

I now have conclusive proof that I’m not imagining it: There is an international conspiracy to get me to eat squid. Before you say, “You should try it breaded and dipped in spicy sauce!” or “You haven’t tried had my Thai-style squid!” – I should let you know that I’ve installed a special filter on the site that bans the words “You should…” or “You don’t know what you’re missing” just to save folks the trouble.

I was invited to a Chinese lunch, cooked by Da Dong, who is considered one of the best chefs in China. Because I’m from San Francisco, Asian food feels like it’s part of my culture and although more and more good Asian places are opening in Paris, I still miss digging my chopsticks into salt & pepper crab or a big pile of fresh pea shoots sautéed in chicken fat. Paris was a horrible, horrendous mess – one of those crummy days when the wind is blowing sideways, deep puddles are everywhere, and the heavy rain just refuses to stop blasting away at you, and the entire city. I felt sorry for all the tourists lined up in the watery blitz to visit the monument, because just one lone elevator was operating as the rest in the tower were out-of-service.

Fortunately when I reached the Eiffel Tower, there was a canopy for refuge for restaurant patrons and the elevator to the restaurant was functioning fine. I was happy to be inside and making my way up, with a spectacular view of Paris, and ready for a Chinese feast. Lunch was sure to be a bit more refined than the family style Chinese fare that I often wolf down with pals, but I was interested in tasting a few things that I was completely unfamiliar with. I am fairly astute when it comes to knowing ingredients, but I was thrown for a loop by most of what was served, and came face-to-face with my aforementioned nemesis.

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Restaurant Alain Ducasse

Uncharacteristically, I’ll spare you the specifics, but I need to catch up on about 147 hours of sleep. And while we’re at it, I could use a hug. And since the former isn’t necessarily easy to come by here, as is the latter, I was embrassé by dinner at Alain Ducasse restaurant. While it’s been tempting to remove the “sweet life” byline from my header until things return to normal, since one of the sweeter sides of Paris is an occasional foray into fine dining, I dusted off my lone, non-dusty outfit, and rode the métro to a swankier part of town.

When I was in Monaco and I went to visit the chefs and the kitchen at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Louis XV, the pastry chef asked if I could possibly stay and taste their lovely desserts. Unfortunately I had to catch a ride back to Paris because I didn’t want to miss, well..nothing – I couldn’t stay. Then a few weeks later, a lovely invitation to his Paris restaurant arrived in my mailbox and I cleaned myself up, then headed into the aquarium.

waiter at Alain Ducasse Alain Ducasse restaurant

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Monaco, Max, Martell, His Majesty, and Me

Monaco

I’m tired. Or as Madeleine Kahn more bluntly put it in Blazing Saddles, “G-ddammit, I’m exhausted.” The last few weeks I’ve been racing around Paris in my dusty clothes, trying to find things like electrical switches, bathroom shelves, and making a decision about kitchen cabinet knobs for much longer than any sane person would consider prudent. And I’ve been averaging about three hours of sleep a night. (I’m actually in bed for eight hours, but five of those hours are spent worrying about things.) Everything of mine is still piled up in boxes, including important tax documents (hello, April 15th..in just two weeks…), prescriptions that need refilling (hello, sanity…), and most importantly, a much-needed change of clothes.

I’d been invited to Monaco for the one hundredth anniversary of Martell’s Cordon Bleu cognac, which I had accepted, then wrote a message declining. But something in me prevented my twitching finger, which normally hovers over the “Delete” key, from hitting the “Send” button. And when I finally got to the point where I had to make an absolutely certain decision (with substantial prodding from Hélène), I hit that all-important delete key and instead confirmed that I would attend.

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Le Jules Verne

bread

Alain Ducasse recently took over la direction of Le Jules Verne, the high-end restaurant in the Eiffel Tower that had lost its reputation and luster as a fine dining destination during the past several years. I hadn’t ever eaten there, since its reputation had preceded it. But this week, I finally got my chance to dine there.

foie gras

We waited patiently for the private elevator of the Tour Eiffel to lift us up to mid-tower, over four hundred feet in the air, above Paris.

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