Hobnobing with Mr. Alain Ducasse at SPOON

As the Michelin guide for gourmets began to unfold in recent weeks all over the world, Alain Ducasse, who was entitled as the first “nine-stars chef ” in the world from the guide last year, arrived Hong Kong to visit his restaurant SPOON in Hong Kong a day before the announcement of the new Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide 2012.  And guess what? His restaurant was awarded with 2 Michelin star this year in Tokyo (Beige) and Hong Kong (Spoon by Alain Ducasse).

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On the 30 November 2011, Chef Philippe Duc, the executive chef of SPOON by Alain Ducasse, did a demonstration on a colorful dish – Pan-seared scallops with lemon-flavored cauliflower semolina. The scallops used was from Hokkaido, encircled with purple cauliflower, yellow cauliflower, cauliflower, broccoli, basil leaves and shiso leaves which were cooked with olive oil.

The evolution of SPOON by Alain Ducasse in Hong Kong

‘When we arrive in Hong Kong, we looked for what we can find, with good quality and nice product, and seasonal product. But when we need something, we will import from nearby like Japan, Australia, and China,’ said the executive chef when he recalled his experience with Mr. Ducasse before the launch of  SPOON in Hong Kong.

‘We have gradual adjustments,’ said Mr. Ducasse. He said it’s interesting to see how the restaurant in Hong Kong has evolved. “Seven years ago,  when we arrive, the Hong Kong people don’t know very well yet the French cuisines,’ Mr. Ducasse recalled. So when they started the restaurant, they modified the traditional french food to cater to the diners. ‘I think our guest are learning more (on French cuisines), so we are more “French” now. We proposed more fusion food before… but now it’s more French.’

‘It’s the right decision to propose contemporary French cuisine today in Hong Kong. That’s my perception. It is my vision today to promote this kind of food. Maybe in two years, we [will be] more and more French. I don’t know, but today, it’s the right proposal.” Modern french food, as elaborated by Mr. Ducasse, tends to be ‘lighter, more accessible, and healthier’.

Pan-seared scallops with lemon-flavored cauliflower semolina, topped with generous shavings of white truffle (Photo by Tyrone Wu)

‘Seabass, beef, foie gras…10 years ago they [Hong Kong people] don’t like it that much,’ Chef Philippe Duc elaborated. But now,  these ingredients became popular choices on the menu now.

When choosing the executive for each of his restaurant, Mr Ducasse said he criteria would be ‘confidence and expertise’. He stressed that he put ‘the right chef with the right place, with the right expertise, and also right time, and right city…’ Chef Philippe Duc, the executive chef of SPOON by Alain Ducasse, has worked for Mr. Ducasse for many years and that Mr. Ducasse entrusted him as he believed that he has learned his expertise throughout the years.

Apparently, Mr. Ducasse has two restaurants in Asia – Japan and Hong Kong. While some reports said he ‘might be’ opening a restaurant in Beijing or Shanghai, he confirmed with the press in Hong Kong that he has no plans to open any restaurants in China.

Writer’s note:

It was my first time meeting Mr. Ducasse. He is a chef that respects everything – from the ingredients, the cleanliness, the atmosphere – in the kitchen. During the photo shoot at the kitchen, he was quite strict with the noise level. And obviously he doesn’t like people picking up phone calls in the kitchen. I really respect his impeccable cooking attitude. He definitely made his own standards and limits very clear to everyone. I guess that’s the reason why he could topped the game in this industry. Although he can be tough sometimes, he’s surely an amiable person as well. And I guess that’s the reason why he gave me a fatherly image.

Other Q & As:

[Q] How has your philosophy and style of cooking evolved throughout the years?

[a] In French, it’s more healthy, less salt, less sugar, less fat. That’s the new trend, new vision.

[Q] Do you have a favorite ingredient or are there any ingredients that you find it challenging to deal with?

[a] There’s no favorite ingredient, but what we find locally each time or easy to import. There’s always interest in all the ingredients that we can find around the world. If there’s a difficult product, whether is its in kansai or Osaka or Tokyo or in uk, I decide which one to put in, depending on the items. There’s no obligation to use only the French product, we just have a look of what we could find locally, nice product in season, same philosophy, before import automatically from France.

[Q] What kind of cuisines do you like?
[a] “I like Japanese, I like Chinese, I like French, I like Italian, I like Spanish..I like Cantonese… if it’s good it’s good. It’s either good or not good.”

[Q] Can you disclose what dishes you have made for the Monaco Royal Wedding?

[a] I prepared a local and sustainable menu for the wedding… local, local, local only. Vegetables from his garden. Fish from Monte Carlo area. Wine from this country. Everything. 95% of the ingredients are from 10 kilometers around Monte Carlo. I do special dishes for this occasion that I have not done before and I will not do after.

[Q] What do you cook at home?

[a] I go to my garden, I go to the market… very simple. I get vegetables from the garden, and the seasonal product from the market, two things. Next week I go the market and two weeks I go the market, the season changed, I buy the best product of that time. I go the garden, I decide after I go the market, never before.

[Q] You have travelled a lot around the world, are there any local markets that you liked most?

[a] A small market in Kyoto. In terms of size and the mix of products… there’s a high quality of product. Everytime when I go to Kansai, around Osaka, and in Kyoto, each season I discover different product. I have been there for 25 times and I discover new product when I go to this market. There’s many kind of ingredients for such a small size of market.

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