As one of the world’s most decorated chefs, Alain Ducasse is known for his forensic attention to detail – from thrice-ironed tablecloths to hand-picked decor and cutlery.
But he has an unexpected weapon in his pursuit of perfection: He closely monitors social media to keep an eye on customer reviews of his culinary empire.
The 62-year-old is arguably the doyen of France’s “grande cuisine”.
His eateries currently have 20 Michelin stars, more than any living contemporary, and three of his restaurants have the coveted three-star accolade.
But just as Ducasse – who now boasts more than 30 restaurants across seven countries – blends tradition and modernity in his menus, he sees tech as a way to finesse the dining experience.
It’s through social media that he discovered Benoit, his popular New York bistro, was messing up a classic French dish.
“Looking at the customer reviews we realised there was an issue. Everyone was complaining about the roast chicken,” Ducasse says during a visit to Macau.
Ducasse’s restaurant in Macau, which he was closely involved in creating.
“It was unbelievable,” he recalls, adding that this helped them spot – and fix – the issue immediately.
That Ducasse personally monitors the social media of all his restaurants is indicative of a man who insists on maintaining control over a sprawling inter-continental business.
“Before we opened here we spent three years choosing every detail. I know every object, there was a lot of personal involvement,” Ducasse says of his eponymous restaurant in Macau at the Morpheus, a new 40-storey luxury hotel designed by the late Zaha Hadid that is held together by an eye-catching steel exoskeleton.
Chefs as a brand
The last two decades have seen chefs with global status rapidly expand their international footprint, sometimes at a cost.
Gordon Ramsey’s culinary empire has had a financial journey of peaks and troughs almost as notorious as the British chef’s famous temper – and his career high of 16 Michelin stars is now trimmed to seven.
Fellow British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver saw his UK business go into liquidation earlier this year with the loss of more than 1,000 jobs.
Ducasse is very involved in the day-to-day running of all his restaurants and even monitors social media to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Yet Ducasse – much like the late Joel Robuchon whose restaurants earned 32 Michelin stars during his career – sails on, expanding with no shortage of critical acclaim.
Morpheus, which just celebrated its one year anniversary, earned two Michelin stars within six months.
Ducasse’s arrival in Macau was fortuitous.
The gambling hub has been ordered by Beijing to diversify away from casinos and become a more family-friendly destination, leading to a dramatic surge in fine-dining given the plethora of well-heeled, primarily mainland Chinese tourists that flock to the city.
It now boasts three three-star restaurants and five two-star eateries – an astonishing per capita ratio considering Macau is home to just 620,000 people.
Macau, Ducasse says, is now “very competitive. (You) cannot sleep, you have to stay awake”.
Ducasse’s first foray into Asia began some 15 years ago in Japan, followed by Hong Kong and then Macau. Later this year he plans to open a restaurant in a glitzy Bangkok mall and a Mediterranean influenced grill in Singapore’s Raffles hotel.
But Asian cooking, he says, is something he never plans to take on.
“I’m not going to be a sushi master because it takes ten years to learn to be a master of sushi. I do not have enough time,” he says.
Customers in Asia, he explains, are looking for the best of French cooking.
The one overseas cuisine he says he feels more comfortable incorporating into his top-end restaurants is Middle Eastern fare – something France understands because of its colonial footprint.
While all of Ducasse’s top-tier restaurants are unabashedly French – London’s Dorchester, the Plaza Athenee in Paris and the Le Louis XV in Monaco – his restaurant IDAM in Qatar, he says, is an exception to this rule.
Unlike Ducasse, not all celebrity chefs have been able to retain their international reputation. Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants have famously many Michelin stars over the years.
“It’s an incredible location, we’re doing very high Middle Eastern gastronomy,” he enthuses. “With French techniques, it’s very interesting as a job.”
Much of his cooking inevitably caters to the one percent – the tasting menu at Le Louis XV clocks in at $410 (RM1,690) a head while one of his most famous signature dishes pairs rockfish jelly with a generous dollop of gold caviar.
But followers of Ducasse’s food empire have noticed a shift in recent years to more accessible eateries.
New openings such as Spoon 2 in Paris, Omer in Monaco – even the Singapore and Bangkok ventures – are more brasserie than haute cuisine.
With rising anger about inequality in the West, is Ducasse looking to democratise his cooking?
He rejects this idea and says it’s more down to business realities – the sheer amount of time and effort required for the top-end restaurants cannot be replicated ad hoc. He draws on a fashion metaphor.
“You cannot just multiply haute couture, each time it requires special creations, it’s the same with culinary creations and space,” he says.
Those restaurants that bear the full name – like Macau’s Alain Ducasse at Morpheus – are what he devotes the most energy to.
He explains: “Everything else is pret-a-porter.”
Mirazur, on the French Riviera, was crowned No.1 at the World’s 50 Best restaurants awards ceremony held in Singapore on Tuesday, lauded for its fresh and seasonal cuisine. The three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Menton climbed to the top from third last year, replacing Italy’s Osteria Francescana.
Mirazur’s menu, which includes dishes like salt-crusted beetroot from the garden with caviar cream, is inspired by the sea, the mountains and produce from its own gardens, which cascade over three levels.
Its Argentine-born chef Mauro Colagreco told Reuters he felt like he “was in the sky” after winning the award, which “showed the world when you have a dream all is possible”. He and his team accepted the prize carrying a banner that combined the flags of Argentina, France, Brazil and Italy.
Launched in 2002, the 50 Best list has grown in prominence to rival the long-established Michelin star system. The ceremony in Singapore is the first to be held in Asia.
After a change in the rules earlier this year, restaurants that previously topped the poll will no longer be eligible for the annual ranking. Past winners, including Osteria Francescana, joined a newly created “Best of the Best” category.
René Redzepi’s re-opened Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, debuted on the 2019 list at No. 2. In its previous incarnation, Noma won the top title in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Chef-owner of Mirazur restaurant Mauro Colagreco and his team react after receiving the award for Best Restaurant during the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, June 25, – Reusters
Spain dominated the top 10 list with three restaurants. Asador Etxebarri in Axpe was ranked No.3 for showing off simple ingredients by grilling them, while Mugaritz was seventh and Disfrutar came ninth.
Compiled by William Reed Business Media, the Best 50 list is based on the experiences of more than 1,000 restaurant industry experts around the world.
The only Asian restaurant in the top 10 was Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand, at No. 4. Kolkata-born chef Gaggan Anand’s playful menu includes a curry dish that diners are encouraged to lick from the plate, while music by rock band Kiss plays in the background.
Another Copenhagen restaurant, Geranium, was fifth on the list, while Paris’s Arpège, where vegetables take centre-stage, was No. 8.
Peru, which has emerged in recent years as a top culinary destination, featured twice in the top 10 — Lima’s Central remained sixth, while Japanese-Peruvian fusion outlet Maido, with its 50-hour-cooked beef short rib, was No. 10. – Reuters
Here is the full list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019:
1. Mirazur, Menton, France
2. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
3. Asador Etxebarri, Atxondo, Spain
4. Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand
5. Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark
6. Central, Lima, Peru
7. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain
8. Arpege, Paris, France
9. Disfrutar, Barcelona, Spain
10. Maido, Lima, Peru
11. Den, Tokyo, Japan
12. Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico
13. White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia
14. Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain
15. Septime, Paris, France
16. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée
17. Steirereck, Vienna, Austria
18. Odette, Singapore
19. Twins Garden, Moscow, Russia
20. Tickets, Barcelona, Spain
21. Frantzén, Stockholm, Sweden
22. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
23. Cosme, New York, USA
24. Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico
25. Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen, Paris, France
26. Boragó, Santiago, Chile
27. The Clove Club, London, UK
28. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, USA
29. Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy
30. Elkano, Getaria, Spain
31. Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy
32. Nerua, Bilbao, Spain
33. Lyle’s, London, UK
34. Don Julio, Buenos Aires, Argentina
35. Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, USA
36. Le Bernardin, New York, USA
37. Alinea, Chicago, USA
38. Hisa Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia
39. A Casa do Porco, Sao Paulo, Brazil
40. Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany
41. The Chairman, Hong Kong, China
42. Belcanto, Lisbon, Portugal
43. Hof Van Cleve, Kruishoutem, Belgium
44. The Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa
45. Sühring, Bangkok, Thailand
46. De Librije, Zwolle, Netherlands
47. Benu, San Francisco, USA
48. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China
49. Leo, Bogotá, Columbia
50. Schollss Schauenstein, Fürstenau, Switzerland
Part of the fun of going to a new restaurant, especially if it’s a cuisine you’re unfamiliar with, is not knowing exactly what’s going to be brought to the table, nor how it’s going to be served.
But if you want to do away with some of the mystery, here’s a tip for French food: When “cassoulet” is on the menu, it means a bean stew.
The dish originates from the Languedoc region in southern France.
“It has a very intense flavour and is a heavy, hearty dish,” says Steve Karlsch, culinary director at the Colette Tim Raue brasserie in Berlin. Ingredients typically include white beans, cured meats, bacon and sausage. “It can also be made with duck, goose or lamb,” he adds.
Cassoulet usually doesn’t come with a side dish, as it’s heavy and satisfying enough on its own. “You simply eat it with some white bread, and a glass of wine along with the meal,” explains Karlsch. – dpa
Some distance away from the heavy foot traffic and constant stream of cars whizzing along Jalan Bangsar Utama 1 is Chez Gaston. The French restaurant sits in a quiet-ish, recessed corner and is a strikingly incongruous addition to a stretch of shoplots that has its fair share of cheap eats and convenience stores. But in many ways, this is the perfect place for Frenchman Florian Nigen to start all over again.
Because Nigen’s F&B adventure also began in Bangsar, with French restaurant Rendez-Vous. When his business partner decided to go back to France, Nigen decided to close shop because the space was more than he could handle on his own. After taking a break in France, he regrouped and emerged energised with the idea of opening another restaurant.
“My father has had a restaurant in Bretagne for 35 years now and he’s still running it. He asks me all the time, ‘Why do you want to stay in Malaysia? Come back here.’ Especially when I closed Rendez-Vous, he said, ‘Come back and look after the restaurant, and I can relax a little bit.’ But I said, ‘Sorry, I’ve been living in Asia for 10 years, I can’t just go back to France,’” says Nigen, laughing.
Instead, he came back to Bangsar, found the space he wanted (“a small restaurant in a corner somewhere”) and quickly went to work putting together Chez Gaston.
Florian Nigen is determined to serve affordable French food at Chez Gaston, and believes that people will come back if the food is both good and reasonably priced.
The restaurant is charming, with widely-spaced tables, and quirky additions like a bicycle and old sewing machine interspersed between functional furniture. Outside, potted plants and planter boxes lend a dash of green to the surrounds, and you can easily imagine lazing outside on sunny afternoons or starry nights, gazing up at the sky above.
The restaurant’s food imbibes much of what Nigen did at Rendez-Vous, with about 30% new additions. He also made sure to offer the food at reasonable prices, a facet he was determined to incorporate into the eatery’s core ethos.
“The price is more affordable than Rendez-Vous because of the location. My rental is lower, that’s why I can afford to give a better price to customers. It’s about 20% to 30% cheaper,” says Nigen, who heads the kitchen and does the daily marketing.
The Mediterranean fish soup is made using Nigen’s father’s recipe and incorporates the use of four different fish.
There are many ways to begin a meal at Chez Gaston, but none of them would be as soul-nurturing as the Mediterranean fish soup (RM17) which is based on Nigen’s father’s recipe. The soup makes use of four different fish – seabass, red mullet, threadfin and white seabream in a tomato base. The resulting broth is delightfully light, with fish flavours undulating delicately alongside the tomato infusion. On the side is a rouille sauce (made with mayonnaise, garlic and saffron), croutons and grated Emmental cheese, all of which serve to add layered nuances to the soup.
The escargots are plush and bouncy and accentuated by pools of rich garlic butter sauce.
Snails are an integral part of French cuisine, and a frequent recurrence on French menus, so it’s no surprise to see escargots (RM22 for half a dozen) here. What is more than a little surprising is the price of these imported French land snails, which are a steal, considering the kidney-parting prices some other eateries are charging. The snails have a nice squidgy quality and are drenched in a homemade golden garlic and butter sauce, which is so good, you’ll be compelled to go full-blown caveman and try and lick every last drop.
On a recent trip to France, I discovered just how much the French love their cheese, when cheese platter after cheese platter was proffered with great enthusiasm. In the tropical depths of Kuala Lumpur though, these cheesy pleasures are notable for being incredibly expensive.
The cheese platter offers cheese fiends something to look forward to.
This is something that Chez Gaston hopes to rectify with a cheese platter (RM38) that is lighter on the wallet. Here, you’ll find a selection of French-sourced cheese like brie, goat’s cheese, Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese and raclette. Of these, the lightly pungent blue cheese is likely to make an impression as is the creamy, silken goat’s cheese.
For a light main meal, indulge in the poulet basquaise (RM29), which is chicken thigh cooked in a white wine and capsicum sauce. It’s the sort of dish that nudges the imagination in the direction of carefree summer days, because the chicken is cooked well and the sauce glides down the palate like warm sun on a sandy beach.
Swimming in a light, sunshine streaked sauce, the poulet basquaise is lovely and light.
The grilled tomatoes (RM29) are stuffed with capsicum, caramelised onions and a blanket of melted raclette cheese. While it is competent comfort food, it doesn’t really have that same intuitive spark that dictates much of the output at Chez Gaston.
Thankfully, the dobe de sanglier (RM42) serves up the perfect remedy, in the form of an ingredient not often seen on menus anywhere. Wild boar is slow-cooked in a rich red wine sauce that is also dotted with olives. The dark sauce that coats the meat is intense, robust and bold while the wild boar itself is tender and pliable.
The wild boar cooked in red wine is an unusual menu addition that is robust and rich.
From the desserts on offer, there are options for those who have been saving space in their stomach for a decadent denouement as well as those who want something sweet without feeling the need to reproach their distended bellies afterward. For those hankering after the lighter option, try the floating island (RM11), a whisper-light egg white meringue floating gracefully in a pool of caramel and vanilla custard. It is delightful from start to finish.
- The dark chocolate mousse is a seductress if ever there was one.
- The floating island features puffy meringue atop vanilla custard.
The chocolate mousse (RM12) is a dark, bewitching temptress designed to seduce and sedate diners into a state of submission. The chocolate is silken smooth, with a richness so powerful, it could potentially induce (unexpected) shivers of pleasure.
Although the restaurant is in its infancy, Nigen already has many plans afoot, including ideas of opening earlier to cater for breakfast as well as starting a deli counter to sell his many homemade pates – which include interesting options like rabbit and wild boar pate. But ultimately, all his plans are designed around one main goal: affordable pricing.
“I am convinced if I make good food at a good price, I will have the volume automatically, because as long as people are happy with this, they will come back. So that’s why I would rather do this than charge more and have fewer customers,” he says.
Chez Gaston may be in an unassuming location, but it is a charming, well-spaced eatery.
12, Jalan Bangsar Utama 9
59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 011-3993 0036
Open daily: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 5pm to 11pm
Anyone familiar with the man considered the greatest gourmet the world has ever known will recognise the name Savarin in this pastry.
The classic French sponge “cake” leavened with yeast was created by Parisian pâtissier Auguste Julien in 1845 in honour of French politician, lawyer and writer on gastronomy Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
In fact, it was first christened the Brillat-Savarin but later shortened to savarin.
By the way, the French pronounce it /sa-VAH-rah/ and the Italians, /sa-VAH-reen/
The savarin is baked in a ring mould, and often soaked with a flavoured syrup. This, arguably, transforms it from a bread to a cake. Serving it with cream and fresh fruit makes it into a pastry that really shines.
The ring mould has a large centre hole and the bottom is rounded instead of flat like the ring pan used for baking cakes. When turned out after baking, the savarin looks like a doughnut or the filled inner tube of a tyre as both the bottom and top are rounded. A treat for the Michelin Man, surely?
- A ring mould with a rounded bottom.
Can’t find a savarin mould or don’t want to use one? A Bundt tin is a good substitute.
If the thought of using yeast and making bread is daunting, there’s no need to worry. The dough is very wet but you don’t knead it or even need heavy-duty equipment. A wooden spoon is more than adequate to mix it.
The savarin recipe featured here is a citrus-flavoured one. It is decorated with candied citrus slices, which is good enough on it own and an alternative to a big dollop of cream and fresh fruit. But feel free to leave off the topping and use another flavour of syrup. However you like it, a savarin makes a nice change from the usual cake.
More recipes with oranges:
Asian-style braised beef with orange
Flourless orange cake
Mandarin orange smoothie
Roast chicken and mandarin orange salad
Candied Citrus Peel
Like a plump inner tube.
180g all-purpose flour
½ tsp fine salt
1 tsp instant yeast
60ml tepid water
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
110g butter, softened
syrup and candied citrus
110g white sugar
2 tbsp fresh orange or lemon juice
½ each orange, lemon and lime, cut into 2mm-thick slices
2 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp grated citrus zest
To make the bread, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and eggs, and stir together until combined. Beat in the softened butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it forms a smooth, very wet dough. It will look like a thick cake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Grease a 25cm savarin mould or Bundt pan. Scrape the dough into the pan and press with a rubber spatula to even it out. It should come halfway up the pan. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until the dough is just above the rim, about 1½ hours.
While the savarin is rising, preheat the oven to 190°C. Bake for 35-40 minutes until it is golden and firm to the touch. Remove savarin from pan and leave to cool. No need to wash the pan as you will reuse it.
Meanwhile, make the syrup: Place the water, sugar and lemon juice into a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat to high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to medium. Add the citrus slices and cook until they turn soft and translucent and syrup has reduced by about a third and thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.
Remove citrus slices from the syrup and transfer to a plate to use later.
Pour about one-third cup of syrup into the savarin mould or Bundt pan. Return the savarin to the pan. Spoon the rest of the syrup over the top until the savarin has absorbed all the syrup. Leave for 20-30 minutes, then turn the savarin out onto a serving plate.
For the topping, warm the jam until runny and brush it over the sides and top of the savarin. Arrange the candied citrus slices over the top and brush more jam on top. Sprinkle the zest over the savarin.
Raised with yeast and spongy like a cake.