Sustainability Is All But A Fashionable Craze, Says Top French Chef Alain Ducasse

The renowned French chef discusses the future of sustainable cuisine in an exclusive interview with The Peak.
by Jamie Nonis
Chef Alain Ducasse

Photo: MonteCarloSBM

“Sustainability is all but a fashionable craze,” says Alain Ducasse.

The renowned French chef, who holds 21 Michelin stars across his umbrella of restaurants in eight countries, including France, Monaco, China, and Japan and is slated to helm the opening dinner of the Paris Olympic Games on July 25 , certainly believes sustainability in gastronomy to be more than hype or a fad.

“Facts are scary, be it regarding a warming climate, threatened species, or malnutrition. And we, as cooks, are the link between nature and eaters. Chefs have an important responsibility to encourage producers — farmers, breeders, fishermen — to work towards sustainable techniques, and we have to bring awareness towards a healthy diet,” he adds.

No stranger to the plant-centric proposition, Ducasse remembers spending his childhood on his family farm, often gathering vegetables from the garden for the meals his grandmother would cook.

Chef Alain Ducasse

Three Michelin-starred Le Louis XV — Alain Ducasse at Monaco’s legendary Hotel de Paris. (Photo: Matteo Carassale)

Young Ducasse would soon become a decorated culinary artist who, in the 1980s, went on to create his first plant-based menu, “Les Jardins de Provence” (The Gardens of Provence), as the chef of Le Louis XV restaurant at the legendary Hotel de Paris in Monaco.

“At the time, it was a decision that surprised many people, as no one had ever dared to put an entirely vegetarian dish on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant. But for me, it was the natural thing to do,” he recalls.

Through the years, Ducasse has championed sustainability across his award-winning restaurant empire, culminating in founding the Sustainable Gastronomy Summit in Monaco last September.

Ducasse also chaired the first-of-its-kind summit to discuss and develop sustainable solutions in the culinary world. The event was held under the high patronage of Prince Albert II and brought together the best industry talents from around the globe, including chefs Josh Niland from Sydney, who recently opened FYSH at the Singapore Editions Hotel and Mauro Colagreco from Menton, who also runs Fiamma in Capella Singapore, to chart the future of sustainable cuisine.

Chef Alain Ducasse

Local producers are given priority when procuring produce across Ducasse’s restaurants to shorten distribution channels as part of its sustainability efforts. (Photo: Matteo Carassale)

First on the agenda? Tackling the unfavourable optics surrounding sustainability.

“Sustainability is often perceived with pessimism in terms of constraints, limitations, and renunciations,” observes Ducasse.

Instead, the 67-year-old chef believes a “more tangible and more optimistic” approach should be adopted to address the environmental impact of food production, which accounts for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s time to change how we think about food and see it as a way to save the planet and those who live on it. Environmental challenges impact all of us, everywhere on earth, and we need to learn — or relearn — to eat healthily while using the resources nature offers us sparingly,” he suggests.

It begins with the sourcing of produce. “Being in charge of restaurants means I am involved in a myriad of decisions, from sourcing our products to the recipes we create, from the fight against waste to the training of our teams.”

“Wherever our restaurants are located, we give priority to local producers to shorten distribution channels, and we, therefore, always give priority to seasonal products,” he explains.

Such a philosophy impacts the cooking style and leads to a frequent change in menu, says Ducasse, whose restaurants, manufacturing facilities, and culinary schools are located in 15 countries across Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia.

His restaurant empire alone numbers 29 establishments worldwide, concentrated in France, of course, with Asian outposts in Japan and China, and Blue by Alain Ducasse, a contemporary French fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok.

The fight against waste — another cornerstone of sustainable gastronomy that Ducasse established in his restaurants decades ago — means that almost every ingredient component, including fish bones, meat trimmings, and vegetable peels, is used in the recipe and not discarded. This, in turn, requires a significant evolution in how the kitchen teams work.

The future of food

In the fight against waste, Ducasse’s kitchen teams ensure that almost every ingredient component is used in the recipe and not discarded. (Photo: Matteo Carassale)

Monaco holds a special place in his heart: In 1987, Ducasse opened his first restaurant, Le Louis XV — Alain Ducasse, and earned his first Michelin three-star ranking.

“This restaurant remains the incubator of most of my executive chefs. Today, with [the support of] Prince Albert II, Monaco is a very active think tank for environmental issues,” he says.

The second edition of the Sustainable Gastronomy Summit will return to Monaco in 2025. In February, Ducasse collaborated with esteemed Swiss chef Daniel Humm to create a series of plant-based dinners at the pair’s respective restaurants, Le Meurice in Paris and Eleven Madison Park in New York.

“Daniel Humm is the first chef to have been awarded three Michelin stars for plant-based cuisine, and these four-hand dinners are likely to have a large media impact, hopefully amplifying the echo of plant-based cuisine.”

“Gastronomy,” says Ducasse, who recently opened a pop-up restaurant in AlUla Oasis in Saudi Arabia, “is the outpost of the future of food.”

“This is where ideas and initiatives flourish and can irrigate society. The next step is to disseminate these changes. Restaurants are only one portion of the challenge; the agricultural and food industries are a big chunk of it. If I had a dream, it would be that changes would also reach them.”

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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