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Those in Paris for the collections this week would do well to build up an appetite — and a credit limit to match: The reopening earlier this month of Le Meurice restaurant under the Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse is one of the biggest gastronomic events of the season. Ducasse, 57, is adding the coveted restaurant to his network of more than 20 internationally.
“Le Meurice is probably one of the most beautiful Parisian gems,” the chef says of the famed restaurant, where the grand dining room overlooking the Tuileries garden was inspired by the Salon de la Paix at the Château de Versailles.
When Yannick Alléno left Le Meurice earlier this year to dedicate himself to the Cheval Blanc in Courchevel, it sent shock waves throughout French culinary circles. After all, Alléno had earned three Michelin stars at the highly respected eatery, and Ducasse already has the three-star restaurant at Le Plaza Athénée, also part of luxury hotel group Dorchester Group (though the Plaza Athénée will be closed for partial renovation from Oct. 1 through June 1, 2014).
“Both are the most Parisian palaces. Rue de Rivoli [Le Meurice’s location] is the heart of Paris, while Avenue Montaigne [Plaza Athénée’s address] is the heart of shopping. The clientele is different,” Ducasse explains.
The chef says he will offer a cuisine in harmony with the room: “The space is extremely elegant. We will do an elegant, contemporary French cuisine.”
The menu, concocted with his head chef, Christophe Saintagne, who has run Plaza Athénée’s kitchen, includes such items as a hot guinea fowl pie, sweetbreads cooked on one side with candied tomatoes or a mouth-watering grilled sea bass served with fennel. Dessert options include the chef’s signature aged rum baba, pistachios with cherries and chocolates from the chocolate factory Ducasse, opened this year near Bastille.
He is quick to draw the parallel between fashion and the culinary sciences. “Our haute gastronomy [restaurants] are haute couture, Le Jules Verne [his restaurant inside the Eiffel Tower] is high-end ready-to-wear, etc.,” he says.
The chef, who also owns Beige, the restaurant inside the Chanel building in Tokyo, shares Coco Chanel’s oft-quoted philosophy of construction by reduction: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”
The same goes with cooking.
“We take out everything that is superfluous,” he says, adding, “We are luxury craftsmen.”
The Comité Colbert, the French luxury goods trade association, added Ducasse to its roster in June alongside two other French ambassadors of haute gastronomy, Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy.
It has been a busy year for Ducasse. He has also taken over Allard, a classic French restaurant established in 1935 in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was formerly run by Madame Allard, the mother of bourgeois French cuisine.
Ducasse seems as excited as a little boy describing a guest book that he found while digging through the Allard’s archives, though he will not display it in the restaurant.
“I refuse to have guest books in my restaurants; we aren’t here to use the celebrity of our clients,” he says.
He tapped Laetitia Rouabah as chef at Allard, adding her to the growing list of young women running Parisian kitchens, which also includes Anne-Sophie Pic, Amandine Chaignot and Virginie Basselot. As a tribute to the history of the restaurant, Ducasse says he aims to have mostly women working in the kitchen.