Monday, November 19, 2012

Restaurant Royalty Fêtes Ducasse's 25th

Anyone who knows chef Alain Ducasse knows that he does nothing halfway. So when he decided to throw a party to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of his Monte-Carlo restaurant Le Louis XV, he went all out, inviting 240 chef friends for a weekend of elegant food, stellar wines and good fun. Included in the November 16th to 18th festivities were many of the very-top toques in the world, a rarified group holding some 300 Michelin stars between them. Chefs came in from South Africa, North and South America, Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Australia, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Russia... 25 countries all over Europe and beyond...while the French contigent was out in full force. Joël Robuchon? Check! Pierre Troisgros? Check! Michel Guérard and Michel Roux? Of course. Boulud, Hermé, Maximin, Pic, Charial, Darroze, Dutournier, Haeberlin, Marcon, Marx, Pourcel, Senderens, Thuries, Trama, Chibois, Roellinger, Payard, Blanc (Georges) and Blanc (Raymond)....the old guard and the new...they all left their kitchens and came out to honor the man they call the Godfather of French Cuisine. All the finest Riviera region chefs were there as well...from Marseille to Menton...check, check, check. One fabulous chef after another.

Despite a late night on Friday, everyone gathered bright and early Saturday morning on the Casino Square for a family photo, not the easiest undertaking. Then after a panel discussion in the gorgeous gilded Salle Garnier of the Opera de Monte-Carlo, it was off to the Le Sporting for an all-day ''Mediterranean Market'' celebrating 100 of Mr. Ducasse's favorite ingredients...and the hard-working farmers, ranchers, fishermen, foragers and artisans who supply them. A few minutes into the party, the enormous ceiling rolled back, bathing everyone in the bright Mediterranean sun...a perfect metaphor as Mr. Ducasse is unfailingly vocal when it comes to his passion for the region's sun-drenched cuisine. While a few intrepid swimmers splashed around in the calm sea below, the chefs sipped Champagne and glorious wines, perused the beautifully displayed ingredients and chatted up the purveyors, then eagerly set to sampling the dishes being prepared 
à la minute by the 14 chefs Mr. Ducasse had tapped to cook. Can you imagine the pressure those 14 chefs felt, cooking on little portable burners for this crowd? The vast room was white coats wall to wall, with chefs eating, drinking, hugging, toasting, posing for the press, catching up on each other's news and trading war stories. Prince Albert II was there too, sampling and shaking hands, while his dark-suited security detail tried their best to blend. At the party's end, famed Parisian pattisier Pierre Hermé still had a crowd at his station, thanks to the endless supply of sweets he put out, most notably an ethereal white truffle macaron that made even the most-jaded palates swoon.

There was barely time for a few minutes of feet-up before everyone gathered at Le Louis XV for the gala dinner, with Prince Albert among the guests, the lovely Princess Charlene at his side, Princess Caroline of Monaco in the room as well and reportedly 200 chefs and cooks in the kitchen. And the party continued on Sunday, with an elegant brunch. And although he was both guest of honor and the host, Mr. Ducasse was, as usual, focused on playing up the accomplishments of others--his team, colleagues, mentors, protegées, competitors, and peers--rather than shining the spotlight on himself. More than 1/3 of the Monte-Carlo SBM's 3,500 employees worked on putting together the weekend, which was months and months in the planning. Did you just hear that whoosh? That was the collective sigh coming from Monaco today, now that the event is officially over and it's clear that it was a smashing success. Too bad Michelin doesn't give stars for parties. 

Born on a farm in Southwestern France, Ducasse was 12 when he famously proclaimed “Grand-mere, these beans are overcooked!” and 16 when he began his culinary career. He quit catering school--he found the pace too slow--preferring to learn from the chefs he most respected: Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Roger Vergé, Alain Chapel and others. Today he's considered the master of Mediterranean cuisine, which he celebrates and advances through his schools, cookbooks, restaurants, food products and more. His mantra is impeccable ingredients and his philosophy is ''glocal''--meaning he draws inspiration, flavors and techniques from whatever city or country he's working in, while keeping roots planted firmly in Mediterranean soil.

Le Louis XV was Mr. Ducasse's first Michelin three-star restaurant and it remains his company's flagship. Anxious to have a top-rated restaurant in the Principality, Prince Rainier III lured him there in 1987. ''Until then,'' Ducasse said,  ''The Hotel de Paris was serving typical luxury palace fare. The challenge was to bring a breath of fresh air into a very classic room and also bring in local ingredients. I kept that promise.'' But there was more: Ducasse vowed he'd earn three stars within three years...and he did of course, becoming the youngest chef (age 33) ever to do so. He opened in Paris in 1996 and quickly earned three there as well. With the addition of his restaurant in the Dorchester Hotel in London, he became, in 2005, the first chef to hold three Michelin stars in three different restaurants at the same time. Today he's involved in a wide range of projects, which generated, I've read, €68 million in sales ($87 million) last year. His global empire includes 27 restaurants in eight countries...and 21 Michelin stars. A restaurant in Qatar is coming next year.

Ducasse is outspoken in his belief that chefs have a dual role: to provide pleasure though food but also to share their knowledge with others. A successful stint in a Ducasse kitchen instantly elevates any cook's resumé...and those who have toiled Chez Ducasse over the years comprise a list far too long to print. It's a global network of rigorously trained talent and it grows larger every day. 

''The 25th anniversary was truly an historic event,'' says New York-based restaurateur Drew Nieporent, who owns Nobu, TriBeCa Grill, Corton (two Michelin stars), and dozens of other restaurants worldwide. ''There will never be an event that humbled so many great chefs, as Ducasse honored his mentors (Troisgros, Gu
érard, Blanc, etc.), his peers and his 200-plus friends this weekend. It was a delicious honor to be one of them.''

To  learn more about Alain Ducasse click here. To see the 25th Anniversary celebration page on Facebook, click here. For all the participating chefs, Alain Ducasse's favorite Mediterranean ingredients and more, the press kit for the 25th Anniversary celebration is here.

Photos (click to enlarge): 1, 2: The 25th Anniversary logo, made by 240 chefs on the Casino Square...and how they did it. 3: Ducasse shares a laugh with another multiple-three-star chef, Joël Robuchon. 4: Ducasse arrives at Le Sporting with Prince Albert. 5-7: Some of Ducasse' favorite ingredients in the Mediterranean Market on Saturday. 8: One of Pierre Herme's desserts in the Market. 9: Chef David Burke with chef Marc Haeberlin and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. 10: Chefs Pierre Troisgros and Joan Roca. 11: Turkish chef Vedat Basaran with Israeli chef Ezra Kedem. 12: My key to the Kingdom. (Photos 1 - 5 & 8, copyright and courtesy of Agence Photo Realis.)

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  1. How fantastic! Didn't you need someone to go with you and take notes?!

  2. Wow, what an event. And you got the press pass! You truly do get to all the best stuff. (Wait, what's that green feeling coming over me?)

  3. Wow! Where was my invitation? What a fabulous weekend!

    bon appetite!!!

  5. I love to read everything you write Julie. You take me away to places I'd never otherwise get to go.

  6. Your being there proves once again how incredibly cool and fabulous you are. Wow. Just wow. What an amazing weekend, and I know you saw many old friends as well. Voila!

  7. Congratulations on attending this gala event - looks like it was fun!

  8. I loved reading your post about the 25th anniversary. So much talent in one place must have created some sort of a culinary vortex. Strangely, my invitation was lost in the mail. Oh well, I'll just have to dine at the Louis XV to feel the love.

  9. Julie, Thanks for another well done piece on the joys of life in Provence and thanks for sharing with us.
    You are the best,
    Dale white

  10. Hi Julie - what a wonderful occasion and you reported it so beautifully. We are off to the same place for our grand Thanksgiving lunch this Thursday. We are looking forward to this lovely hotel and very grand room for our champagne reception and full American Thanksgiving lunch - but not all the Michelin starred chefs you had the pleasure of meeting! We have, however, invited many of the American military who would otherwise not be with family or friends on this day.

    I love your photos too. Brava.

  11. Nice photos and also nice place. Thanks for sharing the post.