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Alain Ducasse: my life in food

Words by Eduan R. Maggo

Holder of 21 Michelin stars during a glittering career, the renowned chef now opens Mix at Emerald Palace Kempinski in Dubai. Here, Ducasse looks back at his culinary life

Firstly, we asked him to cast his mind back to a dish that reminded him of his childhood.

My earliest food memory is the smell of roast chicken on a Sunday…

I grew up on a farm in the southwest of France. My grandmother prepared meals for the whole family and my bedroom was above the kitchen – I loved smelling the flavours of the dishes being prepared.

A rural childhood showed me the link between nature and food…

My grandmother used to send me into the vegetable garden around 11am to pick ripe produce. Our menus were dictated by nature; we were eating what Mother Nature gave us. Many decades later, I still keep this lesson in mind when cooking.

Lobster truffle pasta at Ducasse’s Dubai restaurant

My parents hoped I would take over the family farm…

But when I started talking about becoming a cook my mother organised a kind of ‘discovery session’ in a modest restaurant nearby. I spent most of the time plucking turkeys in the backyard, with a bucket of cold water but it didn’t change my decision and a few years later I went to a cooking school.

Kitchens today are fortunately better equipped and more comfortable in terms of lighting and temperature…

But being a chef is still demanding, The brigade is a teamwork model – its success depends upon every member’s involvement.

Ducasse has accumulated 21 Michelin stars

It’s almost impossible to pick the best restaurant I’ve eaten at…

How does one compare a great ramen specialist in Tokyo with a bistro in Paris? Or a trattoria in Sardinia with a diner in Brooklyn? But I remember one great experience many years ago that stands out. I wasn’t even 20 years old and I went to Alain Chapel’s restaurant near Lyon. The meal opened my eyes — I realised how much I had to learn to reach this level of perfection. A couple of years later, I returned and worked with him.

Mix at Emerald Palace Kempinski in Dubai

My advice to people cooking at home is to keep it simple…

Go to a market and look what’s available according to the season. Wash, peel and cut all the ingredients so you have them within easy reach. And remember: a successful meal is about the moments you spend with your friends or relatives, not being busy in the kitchen.

The world is facing a gigantic challenge…

On the one hand, hundreds of millions of people are starving or suffering from malnutrition. On the other, almost the same number of people are suffering from obesity or diseases caused by unhealthy diet. And everywhere on Earth, natural resources are overexploited and polluted. Adopting healthier eating habits is key, we must eat more vegetables and cereals, and less meat, sugar and salt. It’s also important that we become more respectful towards nature, we must reconnect with the seasons, and with produce.

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