French chef embraces English 'le fish and chips'

“Le fish and chips” in a top French restaurant? Pourquoi pas?

At least that’s the view of leading Gallic chef Alain Ducasse, who is embracing British cuisine with open arms, in the teeth of his homeland’s traditionally snobbish attitude towards English food.

Ducasse, who has Michelin three star restaurants in Monaco, Paris and New York, is branching out in London with “Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester”, offering his trademark gastronomy in one of the British capital’s top hotels.

But the restaurant, the 27th in the Ducasse empire, is doing everything with an Anglo-Saxon twist, risking outrage among his countrymen, for many of whom “la cuisine anglaise” is a contradiction in terms.

Venison a la sauce grand veneur, pigeon roti, veloute de marrons au foie gras may be straight from the traditional Gallic cookbook.

But what’s that chutney alongside the foie gras? And the tartare de langoustine “sur son lit de gelee”—“a nod to English jelly”, says Ducasse.

Not to mention the vol-au-vent, which is basically an adapted version of the British staple chicken pie. “We’ve twisted the chicken pie to do it in our way,” says Ducasse.

And fish and chips, that icon of English plain food? “We are going to do it in a few months,” he says,

“I try to marry French savoir-faire to English cooking,” says the Frenchman, who has the second-most Michelin stars of any chef in the world, with 15 in some of the restaurants he has in eight different countries.

The traditional French attitude towards English food can be summed up by former president Jacques Chirac’s famed remark: “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”

“That was maybe true 15 to 20 years ago.
But not today,” says Ducasse.

To underline the point he voices his desire to taste the cuisine of Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant The Fat Duck north-west of London is seen by some as the best restaurant in the world.

Blumenthal is not the only English exception: Ducasse acknowledges that his biggest competitors, along with his compatriot Joel Robuchon, currently the top-holder of Michelin stars, include foul-mouthed British chef Gordon Ramsay.

Critics would even point out that Ramsay, while still 10 years younger than Ducasse, has already built up a culinary empire of the same scale, with about 20 restaurants, books, television shows and 12 Michelin stars.

And what’s more, the new generation of British masterchefs are taking the game back to their Gallic counterparts: Ramsay is planning to open an English restaurant next year in the Trianon Palace in Versaille, west of Paris.

“I’ve had a belly-full of the French coming over here and telling us how shit our food is”, he said recently in his trademark colourful language.

Ducasse is unperturbed by the trend. “They’re welcome,” he says, adding that bringing British competition to France can only help French people support a gastronomic “revolution” which he says he is leading.

Fundamentally, this means abandoning the serious, formal style of traditional French haute cuisine, in favour of more accessible eateries which everyone can enjoy.

Or better still, come to London, to enjoy “this global culinary capital of modern and sexy restaurants,” said Ducasse, adding that, in his restaurants, customers can wear jeans as well as dinner jackets. - AFP

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