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FOOD & DRINK

Godfather of French gastronomy bans meat

The man seen as the godfather of French gastronomy, Alain Ducasse, as done something very un-Gallic and banned meat from the menu of his famous restaurant in Paris. The move, he said, was to find more "naturalness".

Godfather of French gastronomy bans meat
Alain Ducasse, France's godfather of gastronomy has gone against the grain by banning meat from his menu. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

Top French chef Alain Ducasse has gone against the grain of French culinary tradition by banishing meat from the menu of his restaurant at the famed Paris hotel Plaza Athenee.

Ducasse, whose global restaurant empire has notched up multiple Michelin stars, told AFP that turning over a new leaf to explore a lighter, vegetarian-style cuisine was about a search for greater "naturalness".

"The planet's resources are rare, we must consume more ethically and equitably," Ducasse said, repeating the word naturalness – a new fad of his – several times during an interview with AFP.

The new menu at the restaurant, which reopened on Monday, draws heavily on organic cereals, vegetables grown in the gardens of the famed chateau of Versailles built by France's "Sun King" Louis XIV, as well as fish.

The offerings include black rice cooked in the oven with shellfish, calamari and octopus; Mediterranean monkfish teamed up with bulgar and quinoa with shellfish.

Despite the accent on rusticity and simplicity, meals do not come cheap, priced at 380 euros ($500) a head excluding drinks.

Ducasse's new-look menu banishes cream while butter and sugar will be used as sparingly as possible.

"My obsession is to remove sugar," he said, adding that desserts too will take on a new twist.

"People ask us for cream or caramel with chocolate," he said, adding that he would not give in to such requests "otherwise it's just globalisation. We all eat the same fat and the same sweets," he said.

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Arise humble sardine

Ducasse also stressed that humbler varieties of fish were far more complex and challenging to handle, comparing the sardine to the far more expensive turbot.

Ridding a sardine of skin and bones and turning it into an "open wallet" involved almost surgical skills, he said.

"The humbler the product, the more attention it demands," he said.

"In this case it's 15 percent sardine and 85 percent work," he added.

There are also other radical suggestions at the restaurant, which had a three-star Michelin rating until it closed along with the hotel for renovation in October.

"One mustn't be scared to serve red wine with fish," said sommelier Laurent Roucayrol.

The 100-year-old hotel, a Paris institution, will reopen fully in September. A part of the hotel was reopened on August 1.

Ducasse's restaurant has been entirely redecorated but has not lost any of its opulence.

It is replete with mirrors and houses a cabinet filled with gold and silver and copper culinary objects from Ducasse's personal collection.

Service is posh, with guests welcomed with a herb juice and vodka drink served on a diamond shaped icecube in a crystal glass.

Ducasse denies it's over the top, adding: "We are not here to do simple things."

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Plénitude – Paris

It’s only been open seven months, but the Paris restaurant – on the first floor of Cheval Blanc Paris – now has three stars, awarded to chef Arnaud Donckele in Cognac on Tuesday. Picking up three stars all at once is almost unheard of – only Yannick Alléno achieved the same feat in 2015 with the Pavillon Ledoyen in the 8th arrondissement.

Broths, vinaigrettes, creams, veloutés, juices are at the heart of the cuisine at Plénitude. A seasonal six-course Symphony Menu costs €395, while the Sail Away Together menu of three savoury dishes and one sweet is €320.

La Villa Madie – Cassis, Bouches-du-Rhône

Another new three-star venue listed in this year’s guide came as something of a surprise, by all accounts. Dimitri and Marielle Droisneau’s restaurant in the south of France overlooks the Mediterranean.

“We took this house nine years ago. We had a baby, we have a second one now. We live in the villa. We work in a paradise,” chef Dimitri said at the ceremony in Cognac.

The cuisine follows the seasons, and uses carefully selected local produce. As such, the menu changes daily according to what’s available. The Menu Anse de Corton – a starter, a fish course, a meat course, and a sweet treat – costs €130, while the six-course Menu Espasado “Cap Canaille” is €180.

Plaza Athénée – Paris

Top Chef series three winner Jean Imbert was one of a number of former contestants on the show to win a star for his restaurant in the palace le Plaza Athénée – with the jury praising his “impressive revival of the greatest classics of French gastronomy”.

Guillaume Pape – a finalist in series 10, also picked up his first star for  L’Ebrum, in Brest; as did series nine finalist Victor Mercier, for FIEF in the ninth arrondissement, honoured for producing “empowering cuisine, made exclusively using French produce”. Mercier was also named Young Chef of the Year.

The self-titled Menu de Jean at Plaza Athénée costs €296

Villa La Coste – Bouches-du-Rhône

Continuing the Top Chef theme, judge Hélène Darroze – who already runs the three-star Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London – was awarded a star for her restaurant in the south of France, as was fellow-judge Philippe Etchebest for his latest venture in Bordeaux.

Local vegetables and fruit are the stars of the dining show at Villa La Coste, with meat and fish playing an accompanying role. A three-course lunch menu is €75, while a full dinner menu is €155.

Domaine Riberach: La Coopérative – Bélesta, Ariège 

One of six new restaurants to be awarded a Green Star for its seasonal food and it’s determined approach to ‘sustainable gastronomy’. This year’s six Green Star winners join 81 establishments which received the award last year in France.

“Slow food” is the order of the day, with menus created based – as is often the case – on the seasons, the market and chef Julien Montassié’s instinct. The chief rule is that food must be local – “0 km is our motto”, boasts the website.

The six-course Menu Latitude is €85 without wine. A three-course Menu Km0 is €49 – and a children’s two-course menu is €18.

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