Cateys 2020: International Outstanding Achievement Award – Alain Ducasse
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The winner of the International Outstanding Achievement Award is not only one of the most remarkable chefs of his generation, he is one of the most accomplished chefs to have ever lived.
One of only two chefs ever to have held 21 Michelin stars, Alain Ducasse can also lay claim to having been the first chef to operate three, three-Michelin-starred restaurants in three separate cities. Today, he runs one of the most respected culinary empires in the world, overseeing 34 restaurants (from Paris, London and Monaco to Tokyo, Doha and Macau), two hotels, three cookery schools, a publishing house, a manufacturing business that makes coffee and chocolate, and a consultancy. He is also one of the most prolific cookery book writers on the planet.
And yet, at the age of 12, when he first decided to become a chef, the world of gastronomy was completely unknown to him. Growing up in a 200-year-old farmhouse in the Landes region of southwest France, his culinary inspiration was his grandmother. "I still remember the smell and taste of the roast chicken she used to prepare for Sunday lunches," he told Luxury London last year. "This is what inspired me and is still a source of my inspiration."
Ducasse embarked on his formal training aged 16 and went on to learn about regional cuisine from culinary giants Michel Guérard, Gaston Lenôtre, Alain Chapel and Roger Vergé. By 1984, as executive chef of La Terrasse in Juan-les-Pins, he received his first Michelin star. Six years later, as chef de cuisine of the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and following a challenge from Prince Rainier to secure the guidebook's highest accolade, Ducasse earned three Michelin stars at restaurant Louis XV, making it the first hotel restaurant to win three stars in Michelin's history. At the time, he became the youngest chef to win such an accolade. He opened restaurants at pace, notably Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London in 2007. It was an instant hit and was awarded three Michelin stars three years later.
In the mid-1980s, Ducasse was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the French Alps. During a flight to Courchevel with a team of chefs, the pilot was faced with poor visibility.
"All of a sudden we saw the mountain face and crashed," Ducasse told Post Magazine. "Everyone died except me. I lay there for almost seven hours in the snow, bleeding, hoping for someone to rescue me. I learned that nothing is serious except being paralysed intellectually or physically."
Ducasse didn't know if he would stand again, let alone cook, but he recognised that he could make dishes and restaurants "by sharing my knowledge and surrounding myself with people who understand what I want in terms of taste for each restaurant".
For two-Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, Alain Ducasse has been more than someone to admire – the Hand & Flowers rum baba is inspired by Ducasse's signature dish, and Ducasse himself has even cooked Sunday lunch at the Marlow pub.
"Alain Ducasse is everything you imagine the greatest French chefs to be… strong, firm, determined, but also kind, generous and humble," says Kerridge. "He's courteous, and he supports the industry on a global scale. He sends handwritten notes to newly promoted Michelin stars, and sent us the most beautiful letter when our son Acey was born.
"His knowledge of the world of food is incredible," concludes Kerridge, "he's a pillar of the industry and a beacon of food, all in one. Unquestionably, the most inspirational chef alive."
There is no shortlist for the International Outstanding Achievement Award
The editorial team of The Caterer, with nominations from all the Cateys' judging panels