By Shubhangi Shah
When legendary French chef Alain Ducasse visited India this month, his first trip to the country ever, questions were bound to be asked about his views on Indian cooking, restaurants and cuisine. Apart from the two countries’ long-standing history in spices, the multi-Michelin starred chef highlights another thing—India’s treatment of its vegetables. “We are inspired by how India treats vegetables and have used it at one of our restaurants, Spoon, in Paris,” he says.
Environment consciousness features prominently in Ducasse’s culinary tradition. Sapid is a 95% plant-based restaurant he opened in Paris last year. To him, this is one area where he sees a wide range of possibilities and territories to explore. “We recently opened a restaurant, which is accessible to all, with 95% of vegetables and cereals and only 5% of animal protein, and it’s working,” he says.
In fact, among the dominant food trends he sees for the future is the “consciousness of how we treat our planet, how we source our ingredients. Nobody can evade that. Every chef, as well as customer, needs to take this (environmental consciousness) into account while going to a restaurant, a supermarket”. According to him, this includes “less animal protein, more cereals and vegetables and sustainable fishing”.
Veganism, in which a person refrains from eating meat and other animal products, is another green dietary practice that chef Ducasse has gone big on. “For us, being vegan isn’t just a trend. We had anticipated it a long time ago,” he says. Ducasse is among the frontrunners when it comes to vegetarian cuisine. He designed a vegetarian menu way back in 1996. Elaborating further, he mentions burgal, “not burger”, which is a vegan burger the chef created. It is being sold at one point in Paris starting this year, but he plans to sell it in other places too.
Apart from environmental concerns, more and more people are considering food restrictions due to health reasons. Gluten and lactose allergies are affecting a large number of people, who are seeking alternatives. On how, as a chef, he adapts to such a scenario, Ducasse says, “We already had taken these into account from the beginning. For a long time, we have known how to cook without gluten, how to cook vegetables and vegetables only, and respect religious traditions.”
‘A bad review is never as bad’
Ducasse is among the greatest in the culinary field, with not one or two, but 21 Michelin stars, the highest in the world, to his name. On whether he reads reviews of his restaurants, the chef humbly replies, “A good review is never as good as you read, and a bad review isn’t as bad as you read.”
The chef was in town this month to inaugurate his Ecole Ducasse campus, India’s first, at the Indian School of Hospitality in Gurugram. Ecole Ducasse is a network of culinary schools that he founded in 1999 to impart training on French culinary skills and techniques. It has campuses in Paris, the Philippines, Brazil, Thailand and India.
“The biggest culinary education challenge is to keep in mind that we are training the chefs of tomorrow. So we need to hear about their aspirations and expectations for tomorrow to be able to train them for it,” he says, adding: “Not just that, we also train the future managers, who will also be in charge of paying tribute to Earth and being conscious of how they use the resources of the planet. It is a strong part of our training course.”
Speaking on technique and creativity and what role education plays here, he says, “Creativity and innovation are personal. But everything really begins with mastering cooking, its technique.”
About what his Ecole Ducasse campus offers to students in India, he said it will provide them with the tools, techniques and fundamentals to build their own cuisines. “It’s about you being able to use all these cooking lessons to then use them on your own cuisine and recipes,” he adds.