Alain Ducasse on the Joys of Modern British Food

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Langoustine ravioli by Alain Ducasse
Langoustine ravioli by Alain DucassePhotography by Pierre Monetta

Alain Ducasse, one of the world's most extraordinary chefs and icon of French gastronomy, considers the inspiration he has found in London

“I grew up in a little town in the South West of France, in the countryside between Bordeaux and Spain. The region is rich with everything you could possibly want, so the cuisine is the result of an abundance of offerings from “terre et mer”: earth and of the sea. We were right on the Atlantic coast for seafood, we ate mushrooms from the forest, from the farm we had some of the finest poultry and game, and of course, we had the great wines of Bordeaux.

It was here at age 12 that it first occurred to me that I might become a chef, having observed my grandmother, herself a wonderful cook. She made everything beautifully but she had a special knack for vegetables. She could transform anything from the garden into a delicacy. When I was twenty I left France for an itty-bitty little town called Aston Clinton, near Oxford, where I worked at an inn. But this was also when I went to London for the first time. It was 1977, and eating in London couldn’t have been more different to what it is now. They say it’s an evolution that’s gone on here, but it’s not, it’s a revolution. All of the traditional aspects of London have been well preserved, yet through diversity the city has reached a unique modernity led by its cuisine.

"All of the traditional aspects of London have been well preserved, yet through diversity the city has reached a unique modernity led by its cuisine" — Alain Ducasse

I believe atmosphere is more important in London than it is in Paris – I believe this is because in England there is less fine dining than in France, so it just isn’t the focus – we must leave the Parisians to their fine dining, haute couture and Premier Grand Crus. What I love about the modern British food culture is that it goes so far beyond food. It’s about the space in which you share it with friends. The design, the music: the sexy, dynamic and contemporary side of things. This is much stronger here than in Paris where any old bistro will do."

Known to many as The Ambassador of French cooking, Alain Ducasse is the Monagasque chef responsible for transporting his native cuisine around the world. Currently in possession of 18 Michelin stars – holding three at the world famous Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London – Ducasse has been the greatest innovator of his generation in “Haut Gastronomy a la Francaise”.

Born on a farm in Castel-Sarrazin in 1956, Ducasse began working as a local chef at 16. He spent formative years working for greats like Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre and Roger Vergé at “Moulin de Mougins”, where the young Ducasse first fell for Provençal flavours, which he would later incorporate as essential elements of his own kitchen. It was shortly thereafter, while leading the kitchen at La Terrasse in Juan-Les-Pins, that a 28-year-old Ducasse was awarded his first two stars in the Red Michelin Guide.

The international Ducasse Empire today includes hotels, cookery schools and inns on top of an ever-growing list of eateries. Ducasse is chairman of the French Hotel Association, the author of cookbooks and an active devotee to the training of young professionals. He has also embarked on a year-long round-the-world culinary tour, a passionate quest of cultural food discovery, triggering the idea of sharing his memories and food experiences the world over. This month, Ducasse releases J’aime London, the latest in a series of handbooks reflecting on the rich gastronomic atmospheres in the cities that have over the decades welcomed his cuisine. Loaded with pictures and anecdotes, celebrating the diversity of London’s current food scene, the book is a revelatory journey around Ducasse's London, naming the top 100 destinations – including pubs, burger bars and markets – that have stolen his heart.

J'aime London by Alain Ducasse is out now, published by Hardie Grant.

Text by Monica Ainley