Sweet Française: Stanley Tucci, Comtesse Elisabeth de Kergolay and Andres Santo Domingo Support Alain Ducasse at the French Institute Gala

Alain Ducasse

Although most of New York’s beau monde employs the double kiss when greeting one another in glittering cocktail gowns, the affectation seems distinctly counterfeit when observed amongst New World notables where handshakes and single cheek pecks are the established salutation. The Observer was deeply pleased, therefore, to practice our double kiss salaam with a clear conscience last Friday evening at the French Institute’s Trophée des Artes gala. Surrounded by French noblesse and their francophilc American cohorts, guests se faisaient la bise as they collected their seat assignments at the entrance.

Descending the staircase, we entered the cocktail reception room where a polyglot, blue-blooded crowd was conversing in English and French, giggling over flutes of champagne.  Andres Santo Domingo, Allison Aston, Elizabeth Stribling, Michelle Gerber-Klein, Philippe Lalliot and Comtesse Elisabeth de Kergolay made their way through the packed room. In short order, we were offered, but declined, a foie gras canapé (we prefer our canard on Page Six, rather than on silver platters), but we did indulge in a crab cake. We hardly had time to swallow the aperitif before we were introduced Alain Ducasse, one of the evening’s honorees.

We asked Mr. Ducasse his thoughts on the luxury food industry, given the fraught state of the world. “There’s always a need for fine food. It’s like couture clothing,” he said. Mr. Ducasse, however, is a realist of sorts, admitting that the world of haute gastronomie is accessible to very few. “It’s a club of five or ten thousand in the world,” he said of the industry’s client base. Deciding to put Mr. Ducasse’s diplomacy to the test, we asked whether he thought Americans had palates refined enough to fully appreciate fine food. “Mais oui!” He exclaimed. “In 1975, it was the beginning, and there was nothing outside of Europe. But 35 years later, there has been a revolution.” A group of well wishers had gathered around us, and we were compelled to offer Mr. Ducasse our congratulations and bid him bon soirée.

Soon, Stanley Tucci appeared with his friend and former co-star, Patricia Clarkson. After he posed for the requisite shots with Mr. Ducasse, The Observer talked with Mr. Tucci about presenting an award to the gastronomical luminary. “I was just very flattered,” the Vine Talk host said of the invitation. We asked Mr. Tucci if he considered himself a Francophile. “I suppose in some ways,” he said, rather demurely. “But he’s a foodie!” Ms. Clarkson said, giving her friend a genial nudge. “Yes, obsessed,” Mr. Tucci said, affirming his love affair with fine eating. He claims not to have a preferred cuisine, however. “I have no favorite dish. I have no favorite wine. I only like good things.” We wondered if Mr. Tucci believed three-star (Michelin, of course) alimentation could assuage some of the world’s issues. “If people would actually start to sit down and eat together a bit more, it might help bridge a few gaps,” he replied.

We noticed a stately looking gentleman perched on a solitary chair. With one arm propped up a black cane, the other holding an antiquated flip phone into which he was squawking vigorous Italian. We soon realized that the bon homme was in fact Le Cirque’s own Sirio Maccioni. After flipping his phone shut, Mr. Maccioni told us several things of interest, namely that lives in the Trump Tower, he dines at Le Cirque every afternoon, and he has known Mr. Ducasse for over 25 years. He is also generally wary of the French. “All these French together, they are dangerous,” he said half-jokingly. He is also homesick. “Well I live here now for more than twenty years. But I prefer Tuscany.” We won’t begrudge you that, Mr. Maccioni.

We were soon introduced to Eric Mourlot of the eponymous gallery. Mr. Mourlot explained that he donates a work of art to the auction each year to support the French Institute’s work. This year it was a signed Picasso lithograph, valued at $16,000. “I started donating artworks from my private collection and it’s been very successful every year and I’ve carried on doing it,” he said proudly. “So my collection is getting smaller but its helping the French Institute.”

Just as waiters were ushering guests upstairs, we noticed Debbie Bancroft enter, draped in a festive pink boa. Ms. Bancroft described herself as a “wannabe francophile,” before expressing compassionate concern for whichever chef was preparing the evening’s meal, as they would be serving some of the world’s preeminent gourmands. “I feel sorry for the chef in the kitchen here. Can you imagine how much he must be sweating?” she said before heading upstairs to the dining room.
The last to sit down, our decorous tablemates had kindly waited for our arrival before raising their glasses in a toast. “À la France!” they said in unison. “Et à l’Amérique!”

Nibbling on a shrimp salad, the audience heard remarks from the evening’s other honoree, Paul Desmarais Jr., a Canadian philanthropist and businessman. Arctic char with leek fondue soon appeared as guests watched a video tribute to Mr. Ducasse’s life. From plucking turkeys on a rural farm, to earning the most Michelin stars of any chef in history, the culinarian’s life flashed before the rapt audience. Guests applauded thunderously as their epicurean king took the stage. He accepted the award in French, pausing periodically for a translator to repeat sections in English.

After Mr. Ducasse’s speech, the lively live auction began. The boisterous audience could barely contain their chatter and had to be repeatedly hushed before the lots were sold. Trips to Morocco, France and the Dominican Republic were all auctioned off to the raucous crowd.
In a kind gesture to Americana, dessert was a New York cheesecake. We finished the dish and, double kissing our friends once more for good measure, retrieved our coat and joined the promenade of well-fed guests spilling out onto the street.
eknutsen@observer.com Sweet Française: Stanley Tucci, Comtesse Elisabeth de Kergolay and Andres Santo Domingo Support Alain Ducasse at the French Institute Gala