Alain Ducasse on his new Hong Kong restaurant Rech, places in the city he loves to eat at, and the sunny side of life
The master chef with 18 Michelin stars is bringing fine French-style sustainable seafood to the city in his newly opened establishment
Fourteen years ago, Alain Ducasse opened his first Hong Kong restaurant – Spoon, at the InterContinental in Tsim Sha Tsui. The French chef, who has 23 restaurants in seven countries, and a total of 18 Michelin stars, was back in Hong Kong last week to open his latest establishment, Rech by Alain Ducasse, which replaces Spoon.
It is the first international outpost of the Parisian seafood restaurant that opened in 1925 and was taken over by Ducasse in 2007.
Gone are the spoons that somewhat claustrophobically lined the ceilings. The space has been opened up with crisp white walls and bespoke Branca chairs, each made from one solid piece of beech driftwood. Coordinating with the sea green and grey banquettes are pebbles from the coast of Brittany, adorning each white tablecloth and functioning as a perch for the seaweed bread.
Matching the maritime accents of the restaurant, dressed in a sharp suit of deep cobalt, Ducasse is in a relaxed and jovial mood.
“I was at this hotel called Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica,” Ducasse says of the inspiration behind the decor. “Its beautiful white shutters remained in my mind, reminding me of that seaside summer vacation vibe.” So when Ducasse revamped the original Rech in 2012, he did away with the art deco interiors and put in white shutters.
One of Paris’ most famous seafood restaurants, Rech was named after the first owner, Adrien Rech. Parisians would visit the art deco themed restaurant to eat fresh oysters and seafood from the French shores, and an institution was born.
Ducasse and InterContinental Hong Kong’s general manager Claus Pedersen decided to open Rech in Hong Kong. “The Chinese already eat a lot of fish,” says Ducasse. “So we want to offer an authentic French seafood experience in Hong Kong.”
When Ducasse redecorated Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenee in Paris, he changed its menu, reducing the amount of meat and increasing the grains and vegetables. The other restaurants in the Alain Ducasse Group followed suit, using less fat, sugar and meat.
“When talking about sustainability and the future of food, it’s important to take into account the good health of my clients, as well as the health of the planet. Only take from the earth what you consume. Take into account the seasonality of the fish, which is what we do here for Rech,” he says.
The Jégo brothers, fish traders from the ancient port town of Etel in Brittany, supply much of the fish for Rech. They keep rigorous track of quotas and the reproductive seasons, buying line-caught seafood from independent fishermen. In addition to sourcing from the Atlantic, Rech in Hong Kong will buy local seafood and vegetables, and other fish from the Pacific.
The indefatigable entrepreneur, who celebrated his 60th birthday in September, has a Beijing project in the works, and a Ducasse Institute is set to open in Shanghai in 2018. “The key element of French cuisine is its technicality,” says Ducasse. “So we are trying to teach those techniques, but they can then be used for other cuisines, with Chinese ingredients and Chinese flavours.”
Ducasse likes to eat at local restaurants whenever he visits cities, and in Hong Kong, he particularly likes Ho Lee Fook in Central, appreciating chef Jowett Yu’s modern take on Chinese cuisine. “I’ll go again tonight,” says Ducasse.
He also loves Vicky Cheng’s VEA Restaurant & Lounge in Sheung Wan. “It was very creative and contemporary,” he says. “The table setting and the food were in perfect harmony. It was sexy, in terms of aesthetics.”
He particularly enjoyed the scallop dish, which VEA serves seared and dressed with a Thai style sweet-and-sour sauce using Australian finger limes. Ducasse says, “The technique was very French, – not Italian or Scandinavian – but it was a different universe of flavours; we would never do it this way. It’s a different interpretation of taste – perfumed and spicy.”
Diversity is what interests Ducasse these days, and he wants to hear the stories behind what the chefs are cooking. “In this age of globalisation, it’s an individual who makes the difference, not a [restaurant] group.” he says. “VEA tells the story of Vicky Cheng; Ho Lee Fook tells the story of Jowett Yu.”
In 1987, he opened Le Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris Monte-Carlo. “It was the Prince of Monaco’s ambition to create a fine dining restaurant, with the goal of obtaining three Michelin stars,” says Ducasse. “When I presented my ideas, he was shocked that my vision was completely different to what was being served at a grand hotel at that time. I wanted to deliver a totally different narrative from the culinary codes of the time.”
Ducasse succeeded in persuading the prince, and the rest is history.
The chef equates haute cuisine to haute couture. He describes Louis XV as haute couture and Rech in Hong Kong as pret-a-porter deluxe, just like his restaurant Beige on top of the Chanel building in Ginza, Tokyo. “Each season we deliver a different collection, but in the same spirit.”
With 18 Michelin stars, including three establishments with three stars, Ducasse is one of the most highly rated French chefs. When asked what he thinks of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards (Alain Ducasse Plaza Athenee came in at No 58), Ducasse, who was at the W50 Best ceremony last year in New York, feels that all media, awards and accolades are good for the vitality and the quality of gastronomy. “It’s not about just one guide, or one award ceremony,” he says. “There’s competition, certainly, but then there will be more clients. It raises the bar for everyone – the producers, the chefs, the diners, the overall dynamic around dining. Any other industry can only dream of having a third of this kind of attention. I’m honoured.”
In addition to his restaurants around the world, the Alain Ducasse Group also runs rustic inns in Provence and a cooking school in Paris.
Ducasse sees himself as more than just a chef or an entrepreneur. “I’m a publisher, teacher, designer. Each role nourishes the other. I think I just want to share and transmit knowledge, to encourage my children and my collaborators to be curious. And to enrich the world.”
Close friends describe Ducasse as impatient, while strangers describe him as curious. “I just want to discover a lot of different things in different industries and subjects. I am always aiming to do different things, and I can never satisfy my curiosity anyway, so I guess I am impatient.
“This world is fantastic. It’s filled with extraordinary things. You can either choose to have a great day, or go looking for terrible things and have a terrible one. It’s a decision to make in the morning.”