SEVERAL French chefs have gone down in history as the best: there’s Escoffier, and then there’s Careme; and many others besides. But these men were the best for personifying the cooking styles of their day: the excesses of the Belle Epoque are firmly stamped with Escoffier’s name, while the French Empire lives on with Careme’s. Alain Ducasse, the French superstar chef who currently has the most Michelin stars (21 at our last count; Joel Robuchon had 31) for his restaurants, will go down in our age perhaps, for understanding the Zeitgeist that has gripped our world, from lifestyle to climate change.
Mr. Ducasse was born in 1956 in southwestern France, and received his introduction to food in a farm. Beginning in the 1980s, his career expanded across continents, from most of Europe and on to the United States and Asia.
Last week, Mr. Ducasse visited the Ducasse Education institute in Enderun Colleges in Taguig City for his charity work and for the inauguration of a new kitchen. The Ducasse Education institute here, with the partnership of Enderun, is the first outside France.
“Filipino students are very eager to learn,” said Mr. Ducasse, speaking through an interpreter. “That’s something that really touches him,” said the interpreter, as the chef’s answer when asked why the Philippines is so lucky to boast of the first Ducasse institution in Asia.
Growing up near a farm was influential to Mr. Ducasse’s culinary philosophy, which works around natural ingredients and making them sublime through cooking them simply, with just the right seasoning and temperature. “Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration: it is nature that dictates the rhythm of the kitchen, of the farmers, breeders, and fishermen. Conscious of his responsibility to the preservation of natural resources, he works only with seasonal produce, produced naturally or fished durably,” it says on his Web site. “The original taste; the ingredients, they’re closest to the Earth. That’s what influenced him the most,” Mr. Ducasse told BusinessWorld. “You respect the products, and make it a star.”
Asked how he got so many Michelin stars, he said, “I work harder.”
“Just work more, and better.”
“Cuisine must respect the Earth, and also people. We must respect the palates as a whole,” he said. This lines up with his principle of “humanist cuisine” and on his Web site, it said, “For Alain Ducasse, the chef is the liaison between nature and humanity, the artisan whose role is to make happy those he feeds.”
Mr. Ducasse also cites working with the right suppliers “that respect the environment,” and use sustainable techniques, and “take care of the planet and society as a whole.”
Someday, Mr. Ducasse will join the late and great chefs of his tradition. The planet will live on long after he is gone, and an imprint he would like to leave is this. Grasping the world’s situation of inequality, set against an environment changing for the worse, he said, “We have societies which eat too much and have obesity problems and die from it.” On the other side of the spectrum, “Others who are underfed.” While he advocates reducing salt, fat, and sugar, he says, “Once we will find the middle-point, then the planet as a whole will be… happy.” — Joseph L. Garcia