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FOOD & DRINK

Superstar French chef Ducasse takes his recipes to the River Seine

Still smarting from being kicked out of his Michelin-starred restaurant halfway up the Eiffel Tower, France's most famous chef Alain Ducasse is pressing on instead with a new restaurant almost directly underneath it -- and, he boasts, it floats.

Superstar French chef Ducasse takes his recipes to the River Seine
Alain Ducasse's new floating restaurant is set to open on September 10th. Photo: AFP
Ducasse, who has won a total 21 Michelin stars — more than any other chef alive — will be dishing up lobster and duck foie gras onboard an electric boat on the River Seine from September 10.
   
“It's accessible, contemporary French high gastronomy — on a boat,” he told AFP at a table for two onboard the 130-seat Ducasse Sur Seine, which will trundle along the river as diners tuck in.
   
“It's surely the most extraordinary architectural and cultural trip you can have on a river anywhere in the world,” he said.
   
It is perhaps cruel that the 38-metre (125-foot) boat docks just in front of the French capital's most famous monument, given that Ducasse went to court this month to challenge his eviction from its one-star Jules Verne restaurant.
 
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Alain Ducasse (C) with his team. Photo: AFP
 
He was said to be livid after fellow star chefs Frederic Anton and Thierry Marx won a ten-year tenure to run the Eiffel Tower's gastronomic restaurant, where he cooked for US President Donald Trump during his visit last year.
   
Asked about the setback, Ducasse's communications chief tried to stop him answering.
 
But the chef insisted on addressing a defeat which he is still struggling to digest.
   
From his boat, “I see the Eiffel Tower and more — I can see all the monuments of Paris,” he said pointedly. “The Eiffel Tower is in a fixed location. Another beautiful story is just beginning.”
 
Greener and healthier 
 
In court, Ducasse's lawyers argued that the 61-year-old was “the most-starred chef in the world” after the death this month of fellow culinary legend Joel Robuchon, and accused the consulting company used for the Eiffel Tower tendering process of a conflict of interest.
   
He has suffered setbacks before in a four-decade career that has spawned some 30 restaurants around the globe: his first New York venture Essex House flopped upon its launch in 2000 amid ridicule about its astronomical prices.
   
Lunch onboard the glass-walled boat, an idea Ducasse first dreamed up five years ago, will start at 100 euros ($117), and dinner from 150 euros.
   
Both will feature a one-and-a-half hour loop of the Seine, past monuments including the Louvre and Notre Dame cathedral, timed at night to bring diners back for the sparkling of the Eiffel Tower's lights upon the hour.
 
   
Photo: AFP
 
Some critics complain that Ducasse, who became a citizen of low-tax Monaco in 2008, is rarely in the kitchen himself. The boat will be no different: he has charged his former sous-chef Francis Fauvel with the food.
   
The menu will be “a celebration of the seasons and local products” — even taking its honey from Parisian hives — and with less of the meat and heavy sauces traditionally associated with fine French cooking.
   
“We decided to take out the sugar, the salt and the fat, to be in sync with a society that's changing,” he said, naming “a very beautiful turbot in a champagne sauce” as one of his favourite dishes.
   
Aside from local sourcing, Ducasse boasts of his electric boat's green credentials and how silently it cuts through the Seine.  
   
“The direction the world is going in is not to pollute, not to make noise,” he said. 
   
Ducasse, who has sent food to astronauts onboard the International Space Station, is dismissive of the idea that producing haute cuisine might prove more difficult on a boat than on dry land.
   
A 36-strong team of chefs and pastry cooks will prepare everything either on the jetty or in kitchens in the belly of the 300-tonne vessel, which has a wine cellar kept to standard temperatures.
   
Known for his fastidious attention to detail — even fretting over whether the curtain rods of his restaurants are right — he is at pains to distinguish his flashily decorated new eatery from the existing river boats offering dinner cruises along the Seine. 
   
“I was a consultant on the boats of Paris, and I think that has made me want to do better,” he said.
   
“It's a floating restaurant, not a boat or a barge where you get fed.”

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FOOD & DRINK

Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

When travelling through France ordering local dishes and drinks is always a good bet, so we're taking a virtual roadtrip through France, highlighting some of the must-try regional specialities.

Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

This section of our roadtrip takes in the central part of France, from the tourist hotspots of the Alps and west coast seaside resorts through the less well know (but wonderful) central regions. 

The following is just our personal recommendation for some of the areas we’re passing through – please leave your suggestions and foodie tips in the comments box below.

Savoie/Haut-Savoie – Extremely popular for winter sports, the French Alps are stunning all year round and a summer trip for hiking, cycling or water sports is also highly recommended. The long, cold winters and the popularity of sporty holidays means that many Savoie specialities tend towards the hearty, filling, cheese-based and calorific – fondue, raclette and tartiflette.

What to order: It has to be fondue – but this is really a winter dish. Although some tourist spots sell it in summer it’s best enjoyed after a hard day hiking or skiing while watching the snow swirl around outside your window. The basics of a fondue are always the same – a big pot of melted cheese and some bread to dip in – but there are many varieties based on cheese type. We prefer a mixed-cheese option to get the full flavour spectrum, in the spirit of going local let’s order the Fondue Savoyard.

To drink: Wine! Old Swiss and French grannies will tell you that drinking water with fondue can be fatal, as it causes the cheese to solidify and stick in your stomach. As far as we know this has never been proven with science, but it’s definitely true that a crisp white wine is perfect to cut through the rich, fatty cheese.

Opt for a local vin jaune for the perfect partner.  

 
 
 
 
 
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Lyon – you might think that the whole of France is a foodie destination, but to French people Lyon is the ‘foodie capital’, and for that reason it’s a highly popular staycation destination with the French. Definitely check out the ‘bouchon’ restaurants which specialise in the best in local cuisine. 

What to order: Brioche de pralines rosé. There are so many delicious Lyon savoury specialities that it’s hard to pick one so we’ve gone for a sweet treat here. Pink pralines (nuts in a sugar coating) are the city’s signature sweet and while they’re great on their own, for an extra indulgent treat you can get brioche (sweet bread) studded with pink pralines. A slice (or two) with a pot of coffee is quite possibly the world’s best breakfast.

And to drink:  Beaujolais. Stick with us here, there’s more to beaujolais than the much-derided beaujolais nouveau (although that is getting better these days). The wine appellation extends almost to Lyon and is home to hundreds of small vineyards all making beautiful wines, many of whom are taking up production of vins bio (organic) or vins naturel.  

 
 
 
 
 
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READ ALSO: Bio, natural or biodynamic: 5 things to know about French organic wines

Auvergne – central France tends to get missed by many tourists, which is a real shame because much of it is stunning, as well as being quieter and cheaper than the coastal areas. The area is dotted with mountains and (extinct) volcanoes which give it a really dramatic character.

What to order: Auvergnat cuisine is quite meat-based, although the region is also known for good cheeses. To combine the two into one meal, we highly recommend aligot – a type of silky, creamy mashed potato with lots of stringy cheese stirred in – topped with a sausage. Have this at a restaurant with a glass or good wine or buy it from a street stall and go watch the town’s famous rugby team. Either way, the experience will be sublime.

And to drink: Volvic. Those volcanoes that we mentioned earlier give the name to one of France’s most famous mineral waters – Volvic. The water is apparently filtered through six layers of rock for five years, so give your liver a rest and sample some.

 
 
 
 
 
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Corrèze – moving west takes us into Corrèze, one of France’s most sparsely populated départements and one that even some French people would struggle to point to on a map. Transport is not all that easy unless you have a car but if it’s well worth the effort to visit this hidden but lovely corner of France.

What to order: Savoury dishes often feature mushrooms (especially ceps) and chestnuts and freshwater fish such as perch are also popular but we’re going to pick a dessert – clafoutis. The baked fruit flan is hugely popular across France but is traditional in Corrèze – in the classic form it’s made with cherries, but lots of different fruit options are available.

And to drink: They grow a lot of nuts in Corrèze and as well as eating them, they’re often made into digéstifs as well. If by this stage of the roadtrip you are feeling a little heavy, try an after-dinner liqueur to help you digest (although, despite the name scientists claim that a digéstif doesn’t actually help digestion).

 
 
 
 
 
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Île d’Oléron – We’ve now reached the west coast, and just off the shore of the Vendée are two beautiful islands. Île de Ré is known as the ‘French Hamptons’ because it’s such a popular holiday destination for rich Parisians, while its smaller brother Île d’Oléron is less high profile but equally lovely.

What to order: This area is the centre of France’s oyster production and if you take a trip around the island (or on the mainland) you will see hundreds of oyster beds. Virtually all local restaurants serve them, but you’ll also see them piled high at markets, where the stallholders will shuck them for you if you’re afraid of losing a finger in the process.

And to drink: The island is known for its white wines which pair perfectly with oysters. Stop off at the market for a quick glass (and an oyster or two) when you’ve finished your shopping or buy a bottle, plus a platter of oysters and have a picnic. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Head to our Food & Drink section to find guides to the regional specialities of southern and northern France.

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