The five-star chef Anton Gusteau in the movie “Ratatouille” authored the book “Anyone Can Cook,” which inspired many an aspiring chef, including Remy, a rat.
It’s an inspiring concept, alright, this idea that anyone can cook. But it’s also misleading.
In the world of cooking, as in the arts, one is either hopeless or destined. There are the hopeless cases who perennially burn or undercook food. And the hopeless romantics who have a semblance of accomplishment in cooking, but fall short on flavor.
These are the ones who force their friends to sample their work, mistake politeness for encouragement, then scratch their heads later in bewilderment at why no one would visit their restaurant. They’re like the singer-wannabes whom judge Simon Cowell used to turn down on American Idol.
Then there are the destined ones. Like Chef Alain Ducasse.
Alain Ducasse is one of the most revered chefs in France (and Monaco, and New York, and Hong Kong and… ). He has only… oh, just 21 Michelin stars! Just a few. He also has the distinction of being the only chef to have three Michelin-starred restaurants in three cities: Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London. He is following in the footsteps of one of his mentors, the legendary Paul Bocuse, while establishing his own signature cuisine.
Before the term “farm-to-table” was conceptualized, Ducasse (along with all the lola-cooks in our provinces from Ilocos Norte to Davao) was already practicing this advocacy, i.e., the use of the freshest ingredients to create the ideal meal.
In fact destiny eyed him early on. Ducasse recalled in this exclusive interview with SIM: “I grew up in a farm southwest of France. My grandmother was cooking for the whole family. She used to ask me to go to the kitchen-garden to pick up the ripe vegetables she needed to cook. I never forgot this lesson: Before cuisine, there is nature. Nature dictates what we eat and when we eat it.”
It’s a philosophy he still believes these days, as he declares on his website: “…the product is the only truth. A turbot without a stroke of genius is better than a genius without turbot. Each good product, grown with love and respect, in its distinctive land, has an incomparable flavor. Without which, a chef is nothing.”
Even better, it’s a philosophy practised by the chefs and cooks in all Ducasse restaurants the world over. In La Cour Jardin in Plaza Athenee in Paris, we were offered the freshest summer vegetables. At Restaurant 101 of Enderun Colleges, the executive chef, who has been trained by Ducasse himself, is constantly on the lookout for local produce whose flavors he can expand, heighten and intensify.
Of course we can expect nothing less, as Ducasse was trained by the best before him. “I must confess I didn’t learn much in school,” he admitted in his SIM interview. “I learned much more with the chefs I worked with at the beginning of my career.”
But, wow, what a line-up of chefs he trained with.
He recounted: “I first worked with Michel Guérard, at Eugénie-les-Bains. It was in the early ’70s, when “nouvelle cuisine” was blossoming and Michel Guérard was one of the great figures of this renewal. I then went to Roger Vergé, where I discovered the Provençal cuisine which is one of the many facets of Mediterranean cuisine. The third encounter, with Alain Chapel, is probably the most important since (it was here where I realized) that cuisine is much more than recipes. Later on, the dialogue I had with the legendary Paul Bocuse left me a profound imprint.”
And this experience stretches to training with one of the greatest dessert masters of all time, Gaston Lenôtre (who, by the way, the late Philippine cooking icon Nora Daza brought to the country in her younger years, along with Paul Bocuse).
Said Ducasse: “Michel Guérard and Gaston Lenôtre were close friends and Gaston Lenôtre used to come and visit Michel Guérard at Eugénie-les-Bains. I took the opportunity to ask him to teach me how to do croissants—which he very kindly did. Then, once Guérard’s restaurant closed for winter, I went to Lenôtre to learn about pastry and chocolate making which fascinated me more than I could ever know. In February 2013, I accomplished a dream getting back from those days: to open my own bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the heart of Paris.”
As with any great chef, Ducasse continually improves his menus by constantly traveling and exposing himself to new ideas. “My roots carry me but do not tie me down. I travel a great deal, always on the lookout for new discoveries.”
Determined not only to create a legacy but also ensure its preservation for future generations, the master has created the Ducasse Institute. “Transmission of knowledge is absolutely vital for the future of our trade. It is intrinsically part of cooks’ mission. On the one hand, spreading knowledge to the junior staff is what a cuisinier must do day after day in his kitchen—and this is obviously what all my chefs actually do.
“On the other hand, I believe we have to give access to our knowledge on a larger scale, to a larger audience. This is why I started Ducasse Education which gathers all our knowledge-spreading activities, training centers in France, and Ducasse Institutes abroad.”
We are happy to note once again that Enderun Colleges—make that the Philippines—proudly houses the very first Ducasse Institute outside of France.
He chose the Philippines, Ducasse said, because both the institute in France and Enderun share the same values. “Creating the first Ducasse Institute at Enderun Colleges is a way of giving our partnership a new momentum.”
And because of this, we’ll get another glimpse of Chef Alain Ducasse (he last visited Manila in 2010) on November 25 when Ducasse Institute Philippines at Enderun Colleges and Ducasse Education in France come together to host Youth with a Future, a five-course charity dinner at the Peninsula Manila.
Unfortunately, Alain Ducasse himself will not be cooking. Fortunately, Chef Jérôme Lacressonnière, Ducasse Education Chef Instructor of the Ducasse Institute, will be presenting a Ducasse-inspired menu.
It would have been wonderful to have seen what Ducasse can create out of Filipino food but he leaves that to us.
“I feel that the Filipino (style of) cooking is still a story to write. All the elements are there—the products, the traditions, the know-how and, most importantly, the desire to succeed. Yet they are still (to be) disseminated and must be synchronized to make Filipino contemporary cooking come to life. Giving access to professional culinary training such as what we do at Ducasse Institute is a key to bring together the energy and passion of future Filipino chefs and the reasonable use of local product(s),” he advised.
If you are hardcore and want to try his restaurants, not to worry—there are so many around the world, including nearby Spoon in Hong Kong.
Still, when I asked him which one of his many restaurants we should fly to should we have only one shot at a Ducasse experience, he replied honestly: “Difficult question since all my restaurants are dear to my heart. However, Le Louis XV in Monaco has a special status: It is where I first developed my own vision of cooking.”
So, Monaco it is.
As for his competitors, he said he doesn’t play favorites: “Sorry to disappoint you but I am not going to mention one, for a very good reason: There is nothing like ‘the best’ or ‘the favorite.’ There are many, many remarkable restaurants in the world. In each of them, a chef makes his or her best to deliver the best possible offer—every day, with all his or her knowledge and sentiment. I have a profound respect for what all these colleagues accomplish and don’t want to distribute the good and bad marks.”
His message to food lovers: “Go to restaurants, make up your mind by yourself and enjoy!”
Meanwhile, those who have had a taste of Ducasse concur: Not anyone can cook, but this man certainly can! This is definitely his destiny. •
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In the Ducasse spirit, we are proud to note that here in the Philippines we have chefs who capitalize on using the freshest organic produce to create an ideal menu for their guests. And they’ve been doing this for years.
Here are some of them:
Chef Tonyboy Escalante, Tagaytay
Chef Tonyboy Escalante was one of the first restaurateurs in Tagaytay to use his own greens and sell these in Manila. Back in the day (early ’90s), the only salad you could order was Caesar salad with a thousand island dressing. But the Escalantes pushed special greens, especially arugula, into the market. Today, we continue to enjoy the best salads as well as organic pork raised at the family farm adjacent to Antonio’s Fine Dining and Breakfast at Antonio’s.
Sonya’s Garden, Tagaytay
Five minutes away from Antonio’s is Sonya’s Garden where you can pick flowers and greens from the garden and mix them with your salad right then and there. Sonya’s Garden also has a panaderia (bakeshop) where you can enjoy freshly baked pandesal and other breads.
It’s not greens that star in the show here, but the seafood. This place is right by the water so you can enjoy the day’s fresh catch with buko juice. Try to catch diwal a.k.a. angel wings—a mixture of oyster and squid—when it’s in season. It’s the best!
Eve’s Garden, Baguio
It’s a long drive farther up the mountains of Baguio but it’s worth the trip. You might feel like a Benedictine monk on a mountaintop monastery or like a Jedi in training when you do a tour of the grounds but that’s the idea: sumptuous serenity. The lettuce, edible flowers and other greens on your plate are all from Eve’s garden. Evelynne Acosta will dictate your menu but not to worry, you’re bound to love it!
Rancho Norte, Baguio City
Rancho Norte is all about beef. But not just from cows but from horses, carabaos, and other wild four-legged creatures. Now that’s using local livestock to the max. Here you have a choice of deer, carabao or horse (tapang usa, tapang kalabaw or tapang kabayo). There will be an aftertaste but the meat is oh so tender and the flavors are amazing. Their pinakbet with bagnet is also extremely satisfying.
Grace Park, Rockwell, Makati
From all her trips around the country, Chef Margarita Fores realized that there is so much competitive produce around that are not being fully utilized. So she has come up with a farm-to-table concept called Grace Park. A must try for their special salads; you just know the food here is from across the nation and not just from Cubao’s Farmer’s Market!
Mamou, Serendra, Taguig
Mamou is known for its steaks but if you come back enough times you’d also notice that they have a very Filipino menu. The best thing about this is that the ingredients actually come from different parts of the country. Try their Vigan longganisa, or their lamb tapa, and just to end your meal, Benguet coffee.
The best for seafood. Need I say more?