By Mike Urch, Contributing Editor
Published on Monday, September 29, 2014
Alain Ducasse, known as the king of haute cuisine in France, has taken the unusual step of banning meat from the menu of his world famous restaurant at the Athénée Plaza hotel, which has re-opened in Paris after several months of renovation.
The menu of Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée will focus on fish, vegetables and organic cereals in a bid to return to “naturalness.” “The planet’s resources are rare, we must consume more ethically and equitably,” Ducasse says.
Typical dishes on the menu of restaurant — it had three Michelin stars when it closed — include black rice cooked in the oven with shellfish, calamari and octopus, Mediterranean monkfish mixed with bulgar (sic), and quinoa with shellfish.
It was not reported whether Ducasse will follow the exhortations of various environmental organizations to serve what they class as “sustainable” species, but he is insisting on using “humbler” types of fish. This is because they often posed more of a culinary challenge than the more expensive species such as turbot.
Comparing turbot with sardines, preparing the latter required almost “surgical
skills,” he said. “The humbler the product, the more attention it demands. In this case it’s 15 percent sardine and 85 percent work.”
The choice of which wine to go with fish has also been given a bit of a shake up. “One mustn’t be scared to serve red wine with fish,” said sommelier Laurent Roucayrol.
As well as taking meat off the menu, Ducasse has also removed cream while butter and sugar will be used as sparingly as possible. The presence of sugar in food products and fizzy drinks has been getting very bad press reports in the U.K. recently and it seems as though Ducasse agrees.
“My obsession is to remove sugar,” he said, and added that desserts would also be revolutionized in the new menu. “People ask us for cream and caramel with chocolate,” he said, but added that he would not give in to such requests.
This drive for naturalness and healthy eating does not come cheap. Dinner at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée will cost about EUR 380 (USD 488, GBP 298) per head without wine.
Ducasse is no stranger to being awarded Michelin stars, being one of only two chefs to hold 21 Michelin stars throughout his career. He has built up a restaurant empire covering different countries and became the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin stars in three cities in three countries — London, Paris and New York. The New York restaurant was dropped from the 2007 Michelin Guide because the restaurant was scheduled to close.
Like other famous chefs, Ducasse has built up a business empire including books, and cooking schools. It will be interesting to see if his attitude to fish and healthy eating will be copied in other Paris restaurants where several of his protégés are in residence, or indeed in restaurants in other countries.
Interestingly, British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of Fish Fight fame, while not saying that people should not eat meat has come out in favor of eating less of it. “Meat-eating is not a given,” he said. “We don’t need it for survival. It’s a great part of our culinary culture, but it’s absolutely by no means vital.”
Perhaps other famous chefs will agree with Ducasse and Fearnley-Whittingstall and drop meat from their menus, or at least use less of it. If others then follow their lead, the world would be a much healthier place.