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Ducasse Vaunts Sexy, Dynamic London Restaurant Scene: Interview

Alain Ducasse
Alain Ducasse samples a stock in the kitchen of his restaurant in London. The French-born chef says he has adapted his cuisine to U.K. tastes. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Alain Ducasse smiles as he reflects on the difficulty of running a restaurant empire that stretches across eight countries and includes three-Michelin-star establishments in Monte Carlo, Paris and London. He queries this interpretation of his view.

“Over the last 10 years certainly, London developed the largest variety of different restaurants compared with other cities,” the soft-spoken chef says in an interview at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. “New York continues to develop -- maybe you’re at the same level as New York -- but it entered into competition later and in the last 10 years London has become very contemporary, very sexy, very dynamic.

“In London, many different concepts have developed for restaurants. A restaurant isn’t only the food. It’s also the service, the room, the design, etc. There are many different components today.”

Ducasse, 54, says that he tailors his restaurants to the cities in which they operate and that he learned a lesson when Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester was criticized for its prices and its style.

“In London, it hasn’t been easy to develop fine dining,” he says. “When I arrived, I didn’t understand London customers perfectly, but we’ve developed the right style with the right price and step by step I’m in harmony with London.

‘French Know-How’

“In each restaurant, I develop a different culinary sensibility. In Paris, I’m more classic, because that’s what customers like. In Monaco, it’s classic Mediterranean haute cuisine. In London, it’s a contemporary French restaurant that I’ve developed with a U.K. influence and my French know-how. In New York, it’s also contemporary and we integrate more American influence.

“When you are in New York, customers are very demanding because they have choice,” Ducasse says. “New Yorkers travel around the world and when they return they are demanding. It’s not easy to have success with restaurants in different cities but I like the challenge.”

(In New York, he owns Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis and Benoit; there’s also an Adour in Washington D.C.; there’s Mix in Las Vegas and Mix on the Beach in Puerto Rico.)

In London, where Ducasse won his third star earlier this year, the three-course set lunch with wine, water and coffee is 45 pounds ($71). (London’s other three-star restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, charges 45 pounds without wine.) Ducasse’s a la carte menu features U.K. produce such as Scottish langoustines and Hereford snails.

“Twenty years ago, U.K. cuisine was, for me, old European cuisine,” Ducasse says. “But today it’s not an evolution, it’s a revolution. The century changed and U.K. cuisine changed with it. I taste classic English cuisine and I like it when it’s perfectly made.

“We have beautiful produce, beautiful fish, beautiful game, beautiful beef, lamb, duck, not chicken -- no, no -- but you have many vegetables. That’s the reality and if you have the best, it’s easy to have beautiful cuisine.”

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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