Star chef Alain Ducasse tells cookery students to keep an open mind

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 5:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 6:08pm

Celebrated chef Alain Ducasse celebrated the 10th birthday of his Hong Kong outlet Spoon with a present - not to himself, but to 12 of the city's most talented trainee chefs.

The students had a morning in the kitchen with Ducasse and the Spoon team, helped prepare a lunch for the local media and took part in a Q&A session at which they could ask any questions about Ducasse, cooking, and advancing their own culinary careers.

The trainee chefs, who represented five institutes and the InterContinental Hotel, spent a day with Ducasse in Hong Kong. They were chosen from a group of 20 by a cooking competition in which they had to make a spoon-sized dish.

The winners cooked a three-course menu to reflect some of Ducasse's recent interests - the intense flavour and nods to tradition in the seafood-based appetiser of crayfish with spinach in a Nantua sauce, and main course of line-caught bar fish, with crayfish and chocolate in the dessert.

At their Q&A session, the students asked questions about Ducasse's inspiration, and his tips for career success. Ducasse told the students to spend time in France, if they wanted to master European cooking, and to master kitchen skills so they could use them with confidence.

He also recommended that they "keep an open mind, and be curious about everything. Be inspired by everything." The chef was asked if he had any regrets, and how he kept motivated. "Don't look back, but do look to the future," he replied, adding that he likes to work with people he has spent a long time with, people to whom he feels he has passed on his knowledge.

The Frenchman's own career has been little short of stellar. Born in 1956 in the Landes area of France, Ducasse grew up with ingredients such as foie gras and boletus mushrooms. The area is also the home of Michel Guérard, the chef who invented spa cuisine, and was one of Ducasse's early employers.

Other employers included Alain Chapel and Roger Verge, but Ducasse also spent a year working for chocolate maker Gaston Le Nôtre.

His interest in chocolate has resurfaced with the opening of a chocolate laboratory in Paris that processes cocoa into chocolate bars. He has also created dishes for astronauts on the International Space Station. Coffee roasting is one of Ducasse's next projects.

By the age of 40, Ducasse had three Michelin stars to his name at Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse and had opened his first restaurant in Paris.

Just two years later, he became the world's first six-star chef. Now his empire, which stretches from Paris to Tokyo via Doha and Hong Kong, runs to 17 stars. Ducasse recently bought the three-star Le Meurice in Paris but doesn't count those stars as his own.

Ducasse believes that in the past 10 years, Hong Kong's culinary scene has undergone a revolution in the quality and variety of what is on offer, especially the availability of "fantastic ingredients".

Student chef, Vicky Yip Pui-ki, from the Hospitality Industry Training Development Centre, described her day with Ducasse as "eye-opening" and said, "The discussion emphasised to me how important it is to focus on practice, cooking skills and the sharing of experience and ideas."

Student Calvin Ling Tsz-hin added: "What a wonderful day. I wish we could have longer with chef Ducasse."