Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and successful chef, brand president of les Collectionneurs: the one and only Alain Ducasse

Interview with the legendary French chef, who tells us about the way he sees work and the future: «We must always, strongly, believe in what we do. Every day we're the makers of our destiny»

02-02-2022
by Elisabetta Canoro
Alain Ducasse, to the right, with Xavier Alberti,

Alain Ducasse, to the right, with Xavier Alberti, president of les Collectionneurs, and Carole Pourchet, general manager

The French edition of Forbes recently featured him on the cover of their special issue on luxury, philanthropy and green economy. «The unsinkable Alain Ducasse», it says referring to the Awards du Luxe 2021, «the chef is for sure one of the most famous names in the world. More than a surname, it's become the signature behind an incredible number of restaurants». A remarkable figure in the contemporary gastronomic scene, an entrepreneur and successful chef, Monsieur Ducasse is the only one to have received three Michelin stars in three different countries, and is to this day the ‘most starred’ chef in the world, with a total of 19 stars spread over 30 restaurants in 9 countries and 3 different continents: France, Monaco, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Thailand, China, Singapore and Qatar.

He's the director, scene director and script writer of a show that over the years has become richer and has renewed itself constantly, giving rhythm and life to a new concept of cuisine and restaurant that has left a mark, first on some great chefs, famous disciples of his, like Massimo Bottura, Carlo Cracco, Davide Oldani and Andrea Berton, to name a few. «More than a cook, I feel I'm an artistic director, with the desire to always do something new». And share this, whether with young talents or established chefs. Not forgetting how important training is for him: the famous Ecole Ducasse, established in 1999, now supported by Sommet Education, opened an avantgarde campus in Meudon-La-Forêt designed by Arte Champentier.

In Italy, during the latest edition of the Identità Milano Congress, Ducasse held a lectio magistralis drawing the attention and enthusiasm of the audience of experts with a positive message for the future. He spoke as brand president of les Collectionneurs, the community of hoteliers, restaurateurs and travellers, who share the same values of "curiosity, high expectations and generosity", and whose motivation is to be "artisans of memories". Today it includes 585 independent establishments in 15 countries around the world: around 400 are in France and some 80 in Italy, the second country in terms of establishments, with many new entries arriving in the last year. The Identità Milano Congress offered a precious chance to meet him and ask him a few questions.

What is the secret of your success, Monsieur Ducasse? «Believing every day in what you do, strongly. Thoughts take shape, daily, we are the makers of our destiny». Being united, for Ducasse, in these hard times, is crucial, this is why sharing goals and values as they do in this community is the leverage that will help build the future. Now the hardest part is over, for Ducasse it's now time to look ahead. Hence the importance for the great chef to «cultivate differences, enrich oneself with the experiences of others», using travel as a strength and starting point. «We're leaving the crisis caused by Covid-19: travellers are ready to return to our ‘homes’, to share experiences and moments of conviviality».

Xavier Alberti

Xavier Alberti

His words were echoed by Xavier Alberti, president at les Collectionneurs: «Humbleness, usefulness, solidarity, these are the values we inherited from Covid, which interpreted in the world of hospitality define a new way of hosting, in which the local territory has acquired a central role», he pointed out. «We are what is necessary to give new motivation and a new drive to hospitality, in all its facets, and the experience of fine food is a crucial part of the nice memories we have of a place». Alberti is convinced of this. Yes, because les Collectionneurs is much more than a network of hotels, it's a "philosophy", it's meeting and interaction, free and spontaneous, because authentic and felt. After all, right from the start the association has focussed not only sales and promotion, standing out as a place of dialogue that has travellers participate too, with their thoughts and feedback on their stay.

Carole Pourchet

Carole Pourchet

«Never forgetting the human factor and the attention to collaborators, the soul of each place but also of the shared project we represent», he added. «Shaping one's culinary identity is the work of a lifetime», Monsieur Ducasse teaches, «Every journey, every meeting, every exchange can and must be an opportunity to grasp to become richer and learn. Curiosity for others and for other places is a quality we must always encourage». It's from this that the spirit of Planet C was born. It's a programme of training and exchange that allows young chefs to move from one establishment to the other, travel and learn, and enrich their experience. A project we studied before the pandemic, and which is now as current as ever. This is why, as general director of les Collectionneurs Carole Pourchet explained: «To give a new dignified image to the profession of cook, which is crucial for our economy, we got the idea to create a protocol for a virtuous management of work, with regulated working hours, adequate salaries, professional growth».

Antica Corte Pallavicina

Antica Corte Pallavicina

This shows that les Collectionneurs is a ‘place’ without borders, a safe haven, but also a laboratory for new projects, a dynamic and constantly growing reality. The new openings reach new borders, not only in terms of geography, promoting new festivals and studying charming activities, thanks to the resourcefulness of chefs and hoteliers. Starting from the countless projects of Massimo Spigaroli that have marked the year that has just ended at Antica Corte Pallavicina in Polesine Parmense. On the 12th and 26th of July and on the 9th of August, they organised Stelle sul Po, three gourmet dinner experiences with original recipes created by the chefs of les Collectionneurs. It was a hot year for Spigaroli, which ended with November Porc ‘Le Grand Table’: three gourmet dinners between November and December, with 10 Italian and French chefs from the community and two special guests, each of whom made a dish from their region, celebrating pork, a versatile and tasty ingredient, featured in some "poor" dishes and in recipes that have been passed on for generations, but interpreted through contemporary cuisine.

Stelle sul Po’

Stelle sul Po’

November Porc ‘Le Grand Table’

November Porc ‘Le Grand Table’

From the 28th of June to the 4th of July, the Dolomites UNESCO Heritage were the exceptional stage for Taste Nature Forest Edition, organised by chef Theodor Falser of starred restaurant Johannesstube at the Engel Gourmet&Spa in Nova Levante: a special occasion, open to the public but dedicated to health professionals who worked during the Covid emergency. A unique event, in the woods, surrounded by silence, intoxicated by the scent of musk and resin, rhythmed by a series of meals prepared on the fire, no electricity. From the Dolomites of Nova Levante to Dobbiaco, to participate from the 7th to the 10th of October in the 8th edition of the Dolomiti Gourmet Festival, organised by the tireless Chris Oberhammer of starred restaurant Tiliapromoting a culinary journey among masi, local producers and restaurants, to discover mountain fine dining through the hands of the chefs of les Collectionneurs summoned by volcanic Chris.

Chris Oberhammer

Chris Oberhammer

Some of the chefs participating in the Dolomiti Gourmet Festival

Some of the chefs participating in the Dolomiti Gourmet Festival

These projects are part of the DNA and the future of the association, as Pourchet explained: «We're working on a system to support travellers with respect to the environment and the valorisation of human heritage».

We're starting again, looking at the road in front of us, without forgetting the lesson brought by what we experienced, because according to Ducasse the epidemic has highlighted our weaknesses, like the fact that «Europe depends on international travellers, without whom the economy in our industry is at risk. But soon they will be back, they are coming back, more numerous and with more ‘appetite’ than before, because the Old Continent is an extraordinary destination, and countries like France and Italy are among the most sought after». It's hard not to have faith in his words, in him, you just need to know his history or simply look at his present: Ducasse is an unmatched example. Nothing is improvised, because success requires effort, passion, sacrifice, dedication, ambition, but also the deep humanity that he has always shown, representing, as in the case of les Collectionneurs, a precious point of reference for everyone in the darkest hour.

While at the beginning of his career his training with giants of nouvelle cuisine like Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Roger Vergé and Alain Chapel was crucial, what made the difference was his determination, which brought him to become chef at Juan-les-Pins's Terrasse which was followed by countless openings. Including Louis XV in Monaco, Plaza Athénée in Paris, and then in New York, Tokyo, Kyoto or Doha. After Plaza closed, after twenty years, today Ducasse's partnership with the Dorchester group continues in London, in three-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and in Paris, in two-starred Le Meurice. But Ducasse never stopped. Also in the Ville Lumière he recently launched a pop up called ADMO, born in partnership with Albert AdriàRomain Meder and Jessica Préalpato, magnificently located on the top floor of the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, right below the Eiffel Tower, which offers, only until the 3rd of March 2022, a fine dining menu that gives an experimental take while having its roots in France and Spain.

ADMO's protagonists

ADMO's protagonists

Salon des Manufactures, the first gourmand restaurant on the first floor of boutique Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse, opened in October in Rue des Petits Champs next to Palais-Royal. It's directed by Alessandro Lucassino, a talented chef originally from Tuscany, and a pupil of Ducasse. And then there's his elegance, and his unique way of infusing modernity in historic Parisian brasseries and bistros like Aux Lyonnais, which is a magnet with two thirty-year-olds: Marie Victorine Manoa in the kitchen and Gabriele Aguillo in the dining room. Not to mention the brand new Sapid, a restaurant in Paris which offers a menu made of 95% vegetable starting from 10 euros.

«We're aware that the planet has scarce resources, and we want to go back to look after to our planet, and after the men and women who cultivate it, fish in it, harvest it», said Ducasse. Respect and attention, solidarity and inclusion, sustainability and sharing, dedication and cohesion. Hospitality is a world. The art of hospitality is the privileged key to access it.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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