I’ve done it again and again. In the gourmet capitals of the world…Paris, London, Tokyo, New York. Tasted the emblematic dish of the seventeen Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s culinary philosophy. A symbol of “sincere cuisine”– a harmony of flavors– that is both respectful to the environment and to health. And that too in restaurants located in the world’s most legendary hotels. I refer to the cookpot…Alain Ducasse’s world renowned signature dish He serves up seasonal vegetables from the local terroir cooked in the cookpot. And this seemingly simple pot is used from the stove to the table.
It’s truly a “sensual” dish with an aesthetic that cradles and caresses the food. It’s almost feminine and womb like and Ducasse’s inspiration for it is from his grandmother. “We must restart from the beginning, where the true tastes are […] the technique here is to reveal the flavour of nature,” announced this maestro many years ago. And this simply superb and superbly simple dish has a basic recipe which is the same across all of Ducasse’s restaurants, with the mushroom duxelle and at least seven local, seasonal vegetables. The pot itself is a design masterpiece that is contemporary and nostalgic ( created by Pierre Tachon it owes it’s attractive curves and perfect proportions to porcelain manufacturer Pillivuyt)
Over the years I’ve been getting high on the cookpot in Ducasse’s restaurants around the world.
Be it London’s Dorchester, Paris’s Plaza Athenee, these finest of all hotels are reputed for infusing into their essence the glamour, excitement, and creativity of the people who have been regulars here.
Today I share with you my most recent taste of this dish in three memorable venues.
PARIS :LUXURIOUS VEGETARIAN WOWS
Please take a look at the photograph, shot in the gleaming kitchen of Paris’ most stylish address Plaza Athenee, which serves up the best of the best. Including Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy which has the gardener’s name on the menu and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Luxury drips in 10,000 Swarovski pendant-like chandeliers and it is here that I’ve had the most fabulous meals coddled by immaculate service and brilliant attention to detail.
On this recent trip I not only had the most exceptional was fixated on Ducasse’s brand new book on vegetarian cooking (which the gifted Chef Romain Meder is holding along with the dynamic chief of the Dorchester group Francois Delahaye).
GOD HAS COME TO LONDON…Dorchester
“God has come to London” swooned critics when Ducasse set up in London’s legendary landmark The Dorchester. I’d first dined at Ducasse’s newly opened restaurant and went back several times again. Here reality is more luxurious than fantasy. Amid the cloud, surrounded by a luminiscient oval curtain, Id gotten high on the classic French-driven menu I still remember the tastes and textures of the “delicate soft Royale of greens” a glorious medley of vegetables with an ever enlarging circle of freshness. And of course that cookpot, heady and perfect.And I still marvel at how the grand hotel continues to tango with high octane young energy.
BREAKING NEWS…On the River Seine
Its making international waves. It’s an unrivalled Parisian experience. And its has just been launched. It’s a floating masterpiece of Paris history and landmarks. It’s been overbooked since it opened and it took planning ahead to get a table here.
I’m on board the brand new super luxurious restaurant “Ducasse sur seinne” that has just opened and is making international waves. As the Eiffel tower sparkles on the hour of eight, Captain Ulysee Boar and Ines Ioudidi flag off our luxurious meal. Luxurious dining gets redefined. Sailing & Feasting on Parisian landmarks and emblematic French food too. Serenditpitiously we are sailing past my favorite Alexanders bridge when my favorite vegetarian Cookpot is served up. The specially-created, single-serving cocotte, delicious with spelt and violet artichokes is memorable. All created in the bespoke kitchens which sprawl on the lower deck Champagne sparkled the beginning of the dinner. And a parade of dishes sashay in as the silent electric boat glides to music. The meal meanders from the delicate Foie gras pâté to the Chocolate crispy praline accompanied by the finest wines, a symphony of the best French Crus. All this amid lighting by Franck Franjoy from lunar cold to candle warm, a coddling of music and sound and uberfab interiors. And ooh! that cookpot…and yes! the maestro has very generously shared the recipe with me, should you need it, please do mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Please take a look at the photograph, shot with France’s most revered Michelin-starred maestro Alain Ducasse in his iconic restaurant’s gleaming kitchen. The focus is their brand new book on vegetarian cooking which the gifted Chef Romain Meder is holding. When I researched and wrote the Worlds first vegetarian guide to Paris (published by The Times of India) this gleaming glittering Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee took center stage. It has the gardener’s name on the menu and serves only vegetables, grain and fish. Aptly ensconced in Paris’ most stylish address Plaza Athenee, it continues to offer the best of the best. Including the most luxurious breakfast in the French capital, which is what the dynamic chief of the Dorchester group Francois Delahaye, St Petersburg’s brilliant restaurateur and ballerina Matilda Shnurova and I were luxuriating in when we got to know that Alain Ducasse was in the kitchen. He is unstoppable, his brand new restaurant in a super luxurious electric boat was even more exciting than dining on the Eiffel tower. But that’s another story!
Back to school…studying, upgrading and updating one’s knowledge is crucial. And to do it in the best of the best is exciting. And that too in Paris, the worlds gourmet capital. The second half of our course is in the land of champagne, at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne.
At Hautes Etudes du Goût (Advanced Studies in Taste) multidisciplinary training programme I,m learning from the eminent university professors, researchers, experts, food professionals and even the revered Herve This, the father of Molecular gastronomy. We re focusing on the culture of taste, gastronomy and the art of fine dining. From going at 2 AM (yes!) to the worlds largest fresh produce market Rungis, Paris to paired, tutored food and wine dinners at Michelin restaurants and back-breaking 10 hour lectures on historic, scientific, economic and sociological aspects of gastronomy. There is a written exam tomorrow and a thesis to be submitted. Excuse me as I go back to my studies…
Mind boggling choices here. Should I take a class in it’s most legendary cooking school? Feast in the Michelin starred uber luxurious restaurant? Dine on traditional brasserie classics? Or take a sip of history in my favourite author Ernest Hemingways favourite bar ? Not to mention that it has the city’s best swimming pool (perfect to burn calories and build up an appetite) Over the years I’ve been doing it all. One step at a time. For sure this ain’t no mere Parisian hotel. It’s a global legend. It is over a hundred years old and still in line with the times. It has not only been witness to history but has even rewritten history, inspired trailblazers and blazed many a trend itself. Beloved of literary geniuses (Hemingway, Proust et al) movie stars, fashion legends, this is the only hotel in the world whose name become part of our vocabulary and has even inspired the song “Putting on the Ritz” ( dress fashionably). Founded in 1898 by two of the worlds greatest names in hospitality, Cesar Ritz and the greatest French Chef Auguste Escoffieur it was the first to have lifts, electricity and private bathrooms. A few years ago it went through renovations but preserved its period furniture and paintings à la Louis XV et al. Christian Boyens who helms this landmark ensures that it continues to be the queen of hotels and hotel of queens.
THE GREAT TABLES OF THE WORLD
Whoa! So many stars in the afternoon? A few days ago, at the iconic Ritz, I attended the elegant and exclusive launch of the prestigious Les Grand Table du Monde 2018 (the great tables of the world).Only Michelin starred chefs present at the launch of this guide established in 1954 to “defend the values of great gastronomy and the art of living” covers 26 countries, across five continents and features 172 restaurants. President David Sinapian, presented the Guide and the ten new members in the salons of the iconic Ritz Paris. My co chairperson of the Worlds 50 best restaurant academy. Nicolas Chatenier flagged off the delicious afternoon with his welcome speech. And a memorial tribute to Paul Bocuse, caviar, oysters to Baba au rum and DomPerignon sparkled the afternoon. It was the brilliant starred chefs who lit up the afternoon. Three starred Alain Ducasse, George Blanc to Pierre Hermes and Yannick Alleno. And playing the perfect host was Chef Nicolas Sale. Ritz’s Michelin-starred restaurant L’Espadon (swordfish), shimmering with mirrors, chandeliers, Louis XV chairs, porcelain and silver cloches continues to provide the perfect setting for his imaginative creations. Fresh from a two-star restaurant in Chamonix, he brings a contemporary vision to luxury ingredients, as in his three-stage starters (lure, raw, cooked) like langoustine with caviar and a main course of Bresse chicken for two.
Named after the noble prize winning author (and my hero) Ernest Hemingway, this charming iconic bar weaves magic. Heres an excerpt from my book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times Publication).
“Just what do you think the renowned American author Hemingway did in this bar which he loved? Knock back martinis ofcourse, but, the unverified story goes that its thanks to his boozing ways that the “Bloody Mary” was invented here. “Make a drink which I can drink all day and which doesn’t stay on my breath” he boomed at the Ritz bartender “so that when I go home, bloody Mary cannot smell it”. Mary was the third (or was it fourth wife?) of this colorful, lovable author. Infact, after the World war and the German occupation of this hotel, it was Hemingway who was the first to bring in his buddies and “liberate” the hotel. The award winning mixologist, Colin Field helms this masculine, cozy warm wood paneled bar with leather chairs and high stools studded with his photos and of famous authors were regulars here (Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce to name a couple). On the menu are a few veggie dishes (artichoke platter, risotto) and many a Hemingway favorite cocktail too.”
And this time at this star among the bars (done up with original photos and letters from Hemingway) I once again elbowed my way into the packed space to chat with brilliant bar chief Colin Peter Field and request him for his Bloody Mary recipe. Should you want it, please email me email@example.com
It was an amazing dream come true…I attended a cooking class by the world famous Japanese chef Nobu at this legendary.
Ritz-Escoffier School of French Gastronomy in the Ritz. The ethos of the school is based on Escoffier’s words, “Good cuisine is the foundation of true happiness.” It offers training courses and workshops for amateur and professional cooks and I never miss a chance of attending one.
Please take a look at the accompanying photograph (shot amid mountains, an hours drive from Paris.) I’ve shot it on this snowy morning after having just taken an invigorating dip in the outdoor hot Norwegian tub. Had a delicious organic breakfast (with the home made jams on freshly baked yeasty bread). It’s all part of “Echo” the philosophy of well-being which runs through it’s beauty and lifestyle organic products and food in Chateau de Sacy, this beautiful castle on a hill in the midst of vineyards. Chef Nicolas Christoforretti, infuses his cuisine with the culinary richness of the Champagne district. And the lovely Tiphaine Brossier ensures a seamless experience. I get high on this whole new aspect of wellness as I do on nature, art, history, culture and ofcourse champagne. After all I’m reporting from France’s Champagne district where not only is the king of wines and the wine of kings made, but where thirty three French kings were crowned in the UNESCO heritage jewel of a gothic cathedral. Sante!
The Parisian night is thick with excitement. I could cut it with a knife and pop it into my champagne glass I raise a toast to this 250 year old historic treasure that has recently been reborn to global applause and been making headlines ever since. We’re dining amid this contemporary palace’s architectural riches of the 18th century which have been transformed into state of the art 21st century modern French art de vivre.
We re at the tiny intimate jewelbox L’Ecrin, Hôtel de Crillon’s gastronomic restaurant. Id met the young and brilliant Chef Christopher Hache several years ago and he is in my book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times Group Books publication). Here’s the exciting bit…next day I attended the prestigious Michelin Guide awards and applauded him receiving his very first Michelin star. So once again Crillon is hitting the headlines. Kudos to our very own superstylish, superstar hotelier Radha Arora who as President of the international group has been spearheading this transformation. As we feast on Chef Hache’s masterpieces of flavour and texture, Im delighted that my young friend, entrepreneur and pastry chef Pooja Dhingra could join me at short notice (thanks to Instagram). Pooja has been seamlessly and continuously delivering Parisian styled culinary experiences in India. Inspirational journey… from working out of a tiny kitchen at home, to three stores, a café, two books and the 31 year old has exciting plans ahead. We nibble the night away as chef Hache continues to dazzle and the ever charming Pierre Jung ensures we have the perfect flawless French gastronomic starred experience. After all we’re in the world’s most excitingly luxurious modern day palace with an 18th century soul.
Im celebrating. Im saluting the trailblazing culinary revolution focussing on health, vegetables, naturalness that is taking place here, in Paris, the gastonomique capital of the world. I’ve been researching vegetarian restaurants around the world ( China, Russia, Japan too) and here in Paris I find paradise. This Parisian landmark is synonymous with Dior, Dietrich and diamonds. This is where icons and trends are born since 1913. And it is here in Plaza Athenee that the very best of the best, the Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s shimmering temple to gastronomy is blazing trails. He serves up the trilogy…vegetables, cereals and fish. It goes without saying that the brilliant chef in the restaurant Romain Meder, ensures that the technical base of French haute cuisine remains intact, including expertise and absolutely precise detailing for vegetable preparation, cooking and seasoning.
NO GARDENER, NO COOKS
Its amazing that here in this temple to high gastronomy the gardener is being given as much importance as the chefs. And there are several reasons for it.
Head gardener of the Royal Grand park de Versailles at the behest of François Delahaye who helms Plaza Athénée have established an exclusive partnership with the Palace of Versailles for the vegetables and fruits supply of the Alain Ducasse restaurant.
The freshest of seasonal Sorrel, squash, broad beans, zucchini, to shallots, rhubarb… dazzle. Also artichokes introduced centuries ago by Catherine de Medicis and were a runaway success at Court because of their hypothetical aphrodisiac virtues .
Needless to say, all these fruits and vegetables are never exposed to phytosanitary chemicals etc. Picked in the morning and in the kitchen with hours. The ever helpful Isabelle Maurin translates whenever I need explanations in the kitchen.
Starting off with the refreshing tomato water flavoured with hibiscus, a parade of masterpieces dazzle, black current in black rice, the kiss of beetroot flavour in amaranth seeds, the crunch of flax or sunflower seed and so on. This approach infuses the work of the talented pastry chef, Jessica Préalpato too.
What do Liz Taylor, Marlene Dietrich have in common with the Parisian landmark Plaza Athenee? Plenty. For sure, they along with legendary figures of the world of glamor and royalty loved to stay here but there is also a deeper connect: a delicious salad dish. I tasted this Salad Mc carthy for the first time in Los Angeles, in Polo Lounge, Hollywood’s most beloved and historic dining institution, when it had just undergone a subtle Tihany-style revamp to celebrate it’s 100th year .It was in Beverly hills (also part of the Dorchester collection) The Polo Lounge that Charlie Chaplin had a standing reservation, Marlene Dietrich, eradicated the “no slacks for women” dress code and dined here. And the gorgeous beauty Liz Taylor honeymooned here four times . Her daily favorite used to be the McCarthy salad . I loved it then and requested for the recipe too, Imagine my delight when the dapper Francois Delahaye (who I met just by chance thanks to my old friend Paul Roll) shows it to me on the menu and has it made too. Ofcourse here in Paris it has been adapted by Ducasse and diced bigger and softer. But I reproduce for you my Hollywood Polo Lounge recipe.
Beverly Hills Hotel McCarthy Salad
1/4 head iceburg lettuce
1/2 head romaine lettuce
1/2 cup grilled, diced free-range chicken
1/2 cup diced roasted red beets
1/4 cup free range egg yolk
1/4 cup free range egg white
1/2 cup bacon
1/4 cup diced tomato
1/4 cup diced avocado
Balsamic Dressing Recipe
1 c. Balsamic Vinegar
1 T. brown Sugar
3 cloves roasted garlic
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and black pepper
Place all ingredients in a blender and drizzle in the vegetable oil to emulsify. Check seasoning
Arrange salad in bowl. Toss with balsamic vinaigrette tableside. You can vary ingredients according to your preferences.
Haute cuisine and haute couture are being seamlessly celebrated here. And Im overjoyed that “naturalness’ cuisines’ vegetarian masterpieces are not only being created in Michelin starred maestro Alain Ducasse’s shimmering restaurant located in the iconic couture landmark Plaza Athenee, but even our very own book “A vegetarian in Paris” (A Times group book publication) is being appreciated.This by the dapper Francois Delahaye who helms this landmark and the charming Isabelle Maurin. Ducasse’s “naturalness cuisine” with the help of his chef Romain Meder is not only healthier and more natural, more respectful of the Planet but it dazzles with flavour and taste. Therein lies its memorable magic.
Past forty days, I’ve been on a foodie pilgrimage: Lima to Mexico city for Latin America’s 50 best restaurant awards (as regional jury chairperson) to Los Angeles and now am concluding it (fittingly enough) in Paris. Here too, I’m dazzled by many a brand new arrival, like Alain Ducasse’s Ore in Palace Versailles, Yannick Alleno’s “extraction” technique. However, my homage to Michelin starred Eric Frechon continues unchanged. I’ve yet to eat food as impressive in its precision — and as gloriously wanton in its luxuriousness. I am an admirer of the intriguing ingredients Eric Frechon packs into one composition and coaxes into harmony, be it in his recently awarded starred Langham in London, 114 Faurbourg and three starred Epicure in Paris. It is here in this exquisite Parisian palace le Bristol that I’ve seen President Sarkozy dine (in fact he still comes here regularly for macaroni, artichoke, foie gras) Chef Eric Frechon has heads of state, royalty and glamour squad eating out of his hands and all of Paris is abuzz with his new book, the last word on French gastronomy.