If Alain Ducasse isn’t France’s most famous chef—and he might be—nobody can argue about him being the most global, not to mention the most decorated. The 55-year-old has three-Michelin-star restaurants in London (at the Dorchester Hotel), Paris and in his hometown of Monaco, plus outposts in Russia, Italy, Hong Kong, Tokyo and, of course, Las Vegas. In all, he’s amassed a whopping 20 Michelin stars.
I catch up with Ducasse, smartly attired in a designer suit, on the terrace at Mix, his Vegas restaurant atop The Hotel. He has just flown in from Tokyo, and is leaving for New York City in just a few hours so he can accept the coveted Trophée des Arts, given annually to a cultural icon who best represents the French-American relationship.
Ducasse is fiercely passionate about sustainability and healthful eating, and educating a new generation of consumers on both is cause célèbre for him. To that end, he’s written a cookbook titled Nature: Simple, Healthy and Good (Hardie Grant Books), the English version of which is due this spring.
How do you view Americans as restaurant consumers? What is the current state of restaurants in Vegas?
What I love about the American restaurant scene, especially the one in Vegas, is the show, the spectacle, of dining. The design and even the music chosen is all part of the package here, where in Europe the restaurants tend to focus more on the food and ignore the ambient characteristics.
Americans are far more sophisticated now; they make more sophisticated choices when they order. The menu at Mix reflects that now. And I think the Vegas food scene is just fantastic.
What is the most important new trend in the industry?
Definitely harmony—harmony with nature. A new generation of chefs is paying attention to this. They are using less animal protein, less sugar in the desserts, more vegetables, even less salt. And this is happening all over the world—here, in the U.K., in Japan, Germany, even in the Philippines. I travel constantly, and I’ve seen this everywhere.
Who is a chef in this country who exemplifies this, someone you admire greatly?
Well, one is Dan Barber of Blue Hill Farms in New York, who relies on seasonal produce and grills using wood sustained from forests near his restaurant. Young chefs do this everywhere, and when I plan a new menu in one of my restaurants, I try to put the same ideas into practice.
In your extensive travels, where have you enjoyed some of your best meals?
Whenever I travel, my objective is to experience something new. I have to single out Japan as the place where I consistently have the most inspiring experiences. When I was last in Tokyo, I had a meal in a place [Restaurant Sushi Sho] I’ll never forget. Everything I tasted was a revelation, as if tasting a product for the first time.
What about when you visit Las Vegas?
Well, naturally I have a great deal of admiration for my colleagues Joël Robuchon and Wolfgang Puck. I love to eat at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand, and I’ve had great food at Puck’s Italian venue, Lupo, at Mandalay Bay. But let’s not forget that we have a new chef here at Mix, Bruno Riou, who’s doing great food.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I come from a small town in southwest France, and I always had an interest in cooking. So I went to cooking school in Bordeaux, I did apprenticeships with some of the most famous chefs in France, and I worked with Michel Guérard and Roger Verge, not to mention Gaston Lenôtre, the famous pastry chef [whose shop is in Paris Las Vegas].
What would you like your legacy to be?
I would very much like to be known as a chef who educated a new generation of chefs around the world to be more local, seasonal, conservative about the planet’s resources and, overall, more intelligent in the kitchen. Talent has no borders. Connoisseurship is international, and that’s what we should all strive for.