For Alain Ducasse, Fine Dining Is Here to Stay

From his new restaurant opening in Naples, Alain Ducasse tells Observer all about expanding his culinary empire to Italy, why fine dining is here to stay and his last great meal. 

Alain Ducasse isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Matteo Carassale

Alain Ducasse has been defining high-end gastronomy for decades. The French chef’s culinary group, Ducasse Paris, now leads more than 60 restaurants, cafes and chocolate shops around the world, including Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Le Meurice Alain Ducasse and Beige Alain Ducasse. He holds 21 Michelin stars, making him second only to late chef Joël Robuchon for the most awarded of all time. But these days, Ducasse is focused on handing the reins over to his devoted protégés, many of whom helm his global restaurants. 

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Ducasse’s latest opening is Il Ristorante Alain Ducasse at the Romeo Hotel Napoli, a new fine dining experience in Naples, Italy that promises to combine Ducasse’s signature haute gastronomy with Italian ingredients and inspiration. It’s led by Alessandro Lucassino, who previously worked with Ducasse in Paris at the Plaza Athénée and Cucina Mutualité.

There is pasta on the menu—a big concern for Italian diners—but it’s also focused on French tradition. “We are here to learn and to interpret the cuisine and recipes,” Ducasse told the crowd at the restaurant’s lively opening at the end of June. “We will do pasta, but we want to bring something different.”

Il Ristorante Alain Ducasse. Matteo Carassale

Ducasse will also open new restaurants in the Romeo Collection’s forthcoming Romeo Roma, set to open in Rome later in 2024, and Romeo Massa Lubrense on the Amalfi Coast, which will arrive in 2025. French chef Stéphane Petit, another of Ducasse’s longtime mentees, will head up the Rome outpost. But while these dining establishments will share his overall vision, Ducasse says he only wants to open unique restaurants that aren’t a copy of something he’s already done. 

“They will be two completely different restaurants,” Ducasse tells Observer, speaking via a translator at the Il Ristorante Alain Ducasse opening in Naples. “The design and the architecture of the Rome hotel, by the studio of Zaha Hadid, is one piece of the experience the restaurant will be about. Here we have the view. We have two chefs, Alessandro and Stéphane. They have the same DNA and they will deliver completely different experiences that correspond to the different locations.”

From his new restaurant opening in Naples, Ducasse tells Observer all about expanding his culinary empire to Italy, why fine dining is here to stay and his last great meal. 

Alessandro Lucassino and Alain Ducasse at Il Ristorante Alain Ducasse at the Romeo Hotel Napoli.

Observer: When you are approached about opening a new restaurant, what makes you say yes to the opportunity?

Alain Ducasse: It has to be fun and something that we’ve never done before. We like it to be in a good destination, and a nice combination of many things: excitement, location, the partner and the vision, as well as the relationship that we’re going to build over the years with the partner and what we’re going to do. The Romeo Collection is a small hotel group, and you get the chance to speak directly to the boss, so making the decisions goes quicker. We have the same attention to detail—we care a lot about the satisfaction of our customers. We also have a shared vision of contemporary gastronomy, [which includes] the produce and a young generation of chefs and talents in the dining room. It’s a young team, but they are good, talented chefs. 

The key elements we are working with here [in Naples] are the talent, the produce and the destination. [To open here], we had many candidates. If tomorrow, I asked my chef Alessandro and his wife to go work in the North Pole, it would be difficult for a Tuscan guy to say yes. But coming to Naples, with his family originally from Tuscany, it’s easy. There is exceptional produce that we are working with. 

Do you have a history with Naples? 

I’ve been coming to the Amalfi Coast for several years. I’ve been very close to [chef] Gennaro Esposito and have visited him in Vico Equense many times. It’s not difficult to gather talent here, because you have the Mediterranean and you’re drenched with the sun. It’s easy to open a restaurant here. 

Ducasse at the big opening in Naples.

The opening party for this restaurant had a lot of fanfare and speech-making. Is it difficult to balance being a chef and also having to be the face of so many restaurants? 

Even I was very surprised! I already have a restaurant in Italy, La Trattoria Toscana, but it opened 10 years ago. I was very surprised to see the impact it made to have me come back to Italy. But my job is to train, inspire and encourage young talent. So being the face is one thing. But being the face to encourage and develop new talent to onboard with you and continue what you have created, that’s the key. 

How do you find young chefs to develop?

There is a lot of loyalty in the Ducasse group. Alessandro worked in several of [my] restaurants before he came here. I have a book, ADN, that is going to be released in October [from Ducasse Edition], and it’s about the cuisine of three of my protégés: Emmanuel Pilon in Le Louis XV at Hôtel de Paris in Monaco, Amaury Bouhours at Le Meurice in Paris and Jean-Philippe Blondet at the Dorchester in London. The book tells the story of these three talents who have been working with me for years, and how with the same background, working in my kitchens, they have developed three completely different cuisines that compliment each other. You still have the Alain Ducasse DNA, but three completely different experiences. 

Do you think the idea of fine dining has evolved since you started as a chef? 

No. It is like haute couture. You can make a parallel with fashion: It will always continue to drive the whole industry of fashion as haute cuisine does in the whole industry of gastronomy. Fine dining will always be there. There is a clientele and an interest that remains constant. In fact, there is more and more of an interest from countries and cities around the world to have their own fine dining scope of restaurants. Traveling, I’m really witnessing this wider, stronger interest from cities to have their own local fine dining. The way I see things is the opposite of what, sometimes, we hear or we read in the media, which is that it is the end of fine dining. What I am witnessing is really the opposite. 

Are you talking about the articles about the closing of Noma, which declared that was the “end of fine dining”?

We read that, yes. We were asked to comment and I said I didn’t have any comment on René [Redzepi]’s way of running his business and his decision. But let’s not mix his personal decision and the end of fine dining. If you look at the map, even since René announced he’s going to close his restaurant, the countries of Northern Europe have been continuing [to open new restaurants]. You know Frantzén, in Stockholm? It’s fine dining. [Chef Björn Frantzén] worked in Paris and he’s proposed one of the best haute cuisine [experiences] in the world. He recently opened in London at Harrods as Studio Frantzén, and it is the best restaurant in Harrods. 

Where else have you discovered great culinary scenes? 

Everywhere. Especially in Japan. London. New York. Europe is so dynamic; look what’s happening in Rome. The opening of all these major hotels is driving fine dining restaurants. There is so much going on. 

What is the last great meal you had?

In Nice at Les Agitateurs. I was very surprised in Nice [by the food]. It’s a younger chef [Samuel Victori], and his wife [Juliette Busetto] is the pastry chef. They propose contemporary modest fine dining and unique food. It’s not too expensive. 

When you go to a city and you walk into a restaurant, do people recognize you?

Usually I wear a cap and I try to sit in the way back, hoping that no one will recognize me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I am not looking to be recognized. When I am recognized it does not save me time. They give me this and this and this, which is nice and I’m very honored, but it is my dream not to be recognized. 

 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For Alain Ducasse, Fine Dining Is Here to Stay