The expression “find a job you enjoy doing, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” couldn’t be truer for 3-Michelin star chef, Alain Ducasse. He’s globally renowned as one of the greatest chefs in history, however, it’s surprising to learn that as a youngster, he was actually discouraged from entering the hospitality world by his family. Thankfully, Ducasse persisted and has gone on to have an unparalleled culinary career. We’re going to talk more about how his career progressed, how he developed his empire, and three pieces of his most inspirational, professional advice.
1. From a Farm to France's Top Chef
Alain Ducasse is a French-born chef who grew up on a farm in the southwest of France. Naturally, he was in touch with the fresh products that surrounded him. Mixing this with “... the aromas of [his] grandmother’s cooking...” resulted in him falling in love with the idea of becoming a chef.
Yet again, this love was not shared by everyone around him, especially his mother. She tried to steer him away from the hospitality sector by using reverse psychology. She made him work at a service station cafe, where he was plucking Christmas turkeys in the freezing cold, he describes it as the “stuff of nightmares.” She expected him to hate it and quit, he did hate it but he didn’t quit. He persevered with it, slowly fell in love with the industry, and went on to complete various culinary internships.
Ducasse's first job working as a chef came in 1980 when he took over the kitchens at L'amandier in Mougins. Over the following years, Ducasse worked for or alongside some of the most respected and decorated French chefs in history.
Ducasse remembers working for the legendary Alain Chapel as one of his most challenging and enriching experiences. Further down the line, he took over the late, great Joël Robuchon’s position as head chef as he retired from his restaurant in Paris.
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In 1987, Ducasse was hired by the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) to take over Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. However, this opportunity wasn’t like any that he had had before. His contract stated that he must achieve three Michelin stars within four years (no pressure then). Not one to shy away from a challenge, Ducasse gladly accepted and achieved this incredible feat in just 33 months.
Since then, Le Louis XV has become a hallmark of haute cuisine and is one of Ducasse’s most celebrated restaurants. Throughout his career, Ducasse has spent many years working and residing in Monaco. This led to him becoming a naturalized citizen of Monaco in 2008 and in doing so, losing his French nationality.
2. Ducasse Paris and Ducasse Education
Gaining one Michelin star is an extraordinary achievement that requires endless hours of hard work and is something most chefs dream about. To put Ducasse’s career into perspective, he’s managed to achieve a total of 21 Michelin stars so far. He’s broken records across the globe and was the first chef to have three-Michelin starred restaurants in three different cities.
After so many years of success, Alain Ducasse has become a brand himself. His company, DUCASSE Paris, encompasses all of the new ventures that he has taken on within the hospitality world. One of the keys to his international success is his ‘glocal’ vision, which can be defined as “thinking globally, acting locally”. He has been able to successfully implement this at his 30+ restaurants worldwide.
Ducasse also has over 100 cookbooks to his name, the most famous being: Alain Ducasse Culinary Encyclopedia. In addition, he owns various luxury country houses, culinary schools, consulting services, les Collectionneurs (a hotel chain of 585 members), and even a chocolate factory! No biggie.
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Over the decades, Ducasse has traveled the globe in search of unique and enriching gastronomical experiences. He has come to the conclusion that the ultimate dining experiences are about selling memories:
“It’s the blend of ingredients that come together to create a flavor-filled memory, and most importantly, harmony between taste and presentation.”
This is a critical value for him and he passes it onto his chefs. Teaching comes naturally to Ducasse and it is something he is passionate about. This is why he set up his culinary schools named Ducasse Education. There are currently 10 campuses and/or partners that teach the Ducasse curriculum, from France to the Philippines.
3. Alain Ducasse's Enlightening Advice
What does it actually take to become an exceptional chef? We have taken three pieces of Alain Ducasse’s wisdom and made a tiny blueprint of how you can become the ‘crème de la crème’ one day.
Traveling is proven to broaden your mind, but it also broadens your stomach in more ways than one. Ducasse highlights that in order to become a good chef, you need to explore and taste the world. You need to be curious, adventurous, and open-minded:
“There’s always a way to eat, to nourish yourself somewhere, hidden away. Food is not just about extraordinary dishes, it’s about how to eat humbly in the street; it starts with simple, local food...”
Ducasse wants you to keep your eyes open to the whole "culinary spectrum" at all times, going to the core of what makes food excellent, and enriching your craft without limiting yourself to hierarchies.
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Ducasse says the thing that he likes the least about modern-day cooking is copycats. For him, it’s essential to have a connection with your food as “...the best chefs tell their own personal story.”
This approach implies that you already have the material within you to create magical culinary moments. What you need to do is learn how to apply it to your craft. These genuine and authentic methods will always bring out the best results.
We’ve boiled down to the last piece of Alain Ducasse’s advice which deals with a global priority, sustainability.
“The gastronomy of the future will be mindful of the planet’s scarce resources; as well as the health of those consuming these products, which must be carefully selected, and not just good to eat.”
Ducasse sees how gastronomy in the future will not only be about serving food that tastes good but food that’s good for the planet. This can be done by using more eco-friendly cooking equipment, carefully sourcing ethical products, and using seasonal items as much as possible.
Alain Ducasse’s story and advice should be savored by chefs of all ages. He’s been an inspirational figure and leader in our industry for decades and rightfully deserves to be a hospitality influencer.