People 3 minutes 29 September 2019

5 Questions With Alain Ducasse On Running A Restaurant Empire

The prolific French chef, who opened his Singapore outpost BBR By Alain Ducasse in Raffles Hotel Singapore recently, believes that casual concepts are the way to go.

Alain Ducasse Singapore 5Qs

Mediterranean cuisine holds a special place in the heart of renowned French chef Alain Ducasse, who is an institutional figure in the culinary world. After all, Ducasse has three three-MICHELIN-starred restaurants that are synonymous with haute cuisine: Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London and Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo. For his South-east Asian restaurant debut in Singapore, he has chosen to open his casual Mediterranean sharing plates and grill concept in yet another iconic venue, Raffles Hotel Singapore’s 122-year-old Bar & Billiard Room.

Speaking to the MICHELIN Guide Digital ahead of the opening of his 32nd restaurant, which coincidentally falls on his 63th birthday, he says in French through an interpreter: “Mediterranean cuisine is part of my DNA; it is something that I picked up in my early years as a chef when I worked along the Mediterranean coast.”

Veering away from French fine dining, the 235-seat BBR By Alain Ducasse is “casual chic”, according to Ducasse. The concept was designed to fit into the historic Bar & Billiard Room, which will also offer the hotel’s famous Sunday brunch.

Looking equally casual in a suave navy blue suit, crisp white shirt and red suede shoes, Ducasse says: “The BBR By Alain Ducasse is a unique proposition that is conceived with Raffles Hotel. We want diners to return to this landmark venue as a casual yet elegant place for social gatherings.” The restaurant also has a white curvaceous bar serving spirits, tipples and cocktails such as a negroni that is served from a clay pot.
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Ducasse, who runs two other Mediterreanean restaurants in Qatar and Monaco, says about 85% of the all-day dining menu are new dishes. Tapas include a Pissaladiere, a savoury onion and anchovy tart, tortilla espanola (potato and onion omelette), salted cod fritters and the signature grilled octopus spiced with paprika and olive oil.

Mains include the beautifully sweet Carabineros shrimp and shellfish stew, and barbecued striploin steak with green sweet bell pepper sauce. For desserts, there is the vanilla entremet cake in the shape of a tiger, a homage to a tiger which was shot and killed in the very same venue in 1902, and the classic Tropezienne, a brioche cake filled with orange blossom cream that is popular in Saint Tropez in France.
The interiors have also been given an overhaul. Gone are the wood-dominated wall panels and decking. Instead, the open-concept kitchen is housed in a circular island counter that is reminiscent of scales of fish that is an integral part of Mediterranean cuisine.
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The underside of the kitchen roof depicts a map of the Mediterreanean region. Helming the restaurant here is head chef Louis Pacquelin, who was with the Ducasse Paris group seven years ago and has also worked in Canada and Shanghai.

Besides restaurants, the Ducasse empire also spans cooking schools, a catering arm, boutique hotels and chocolate shops. Earlier this year, he started his coffee line, Le Cafe Alain Ducasse.

Up next, Ducasse will open a contemporary haute French restaurant Esterre in Palace Hotel in Tokyo in November.
You run 30 restaurants in seven countries. How involved are you in the opening process of your restaurants such as BBR By Alain Ducasse?

I am involved in all aspects, from the casting of the restaurant team, the venue and determining the energy of the place, to working with architects (Ducasse’s favourite architects Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku designed the interiors of BBR By Alain Ducasse). Whenever I plan for a restaurant, I need to think about the right harmony of the design or “envelope” of the restaurant, menu and the storyline of the restaurant concept.

I have known the Raffles Hotel for 30 years, so it is meaningful to be here. This partnership was mooted by the hotel three years ago. I understand that there has been some closure of fine-dining restaurants in Singapore, so maybe it is time for more casual concepts.

While planning for your debut restaurant in Singapore, what did you learn about the local market?

Competition in the Singapore dining scene is high, but I am presenting something that is out of the box through BBR By Alain Ducasse, which is created specially for the venue, and complements with the rich range of food options here. We are entering a market of serious eaters, who are also sensitive about pricing.
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The Ducasse Paris group has started more casual concepts recently. Why the move towards accessible concepts?

The move towards casual dining is in the air. We continue to develop fine dining, but fine dining is more casual than it used to be. When you think about French fine dining, it is not about being too formal anymore.

The reality is that some clients prefer to dine in bistros on some days and they are not loyal to a specific restaurant anymore. One day, they might want to go fine dining for special occasions, then they would meet friends at a casual eatery.

Foodies these days are driven by what’s new and through BBR By Alain Ducasse, we want to embody the vibrant energy in the dining scene in Singapore. That’s why I thought that a casual concept would work better here.

What is your business strategy in running restaurants ?

Ducasse Paris operates a wide range of restaurants and there is a concept for every price point in denominations of 25 Euros, starting from casual eateries and cafes such as the chocolate and coffee shops to fine-dining restaurants. It is about adapting to different markets and target groups. If fine dining is like haute couture, casual eateries are like Prêt-à-Porter. There will always be room and space for these two types of offerings.

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Do you see yourself more as a chef or entrepreneur these days?

I see myself more as an artistic director. I am dedicated to coming up with food ideas, imagining the next destination, design and restaurant proposal, and getting inspired. The challenge of my role is to amalgamate details of running a restaurant, down to finalising the look and size of the logo. Diners need to feel this harmony of design and food concepts when they visit the restaurant.

Left: Alain Ducasse is photographed with the chef de cuisine of BBR By Alain Ducasse, Louis Pacquelin. 

Why did you branch out to the coffee business earlier this year?

Since I started my chocolate line Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse, it was a natural progression to move on to coffee. Both products share the same processes, such as sourcing the beans and roasting them. I like coffee in all styles, from filter and espresso to cold brew. One of my favourite cuppa is a cappuccino brewed with Ethiopian beans.


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