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Inside The Kitchen of “The Architect of Flavors”

Food enthusiast Alia Ibrahim reached out to me and in a breathless, excited email, proclaimed that she had a food story for me.  It was about her journey across the globe to find Alain Ducasse, infiltrating one of his master classes and finding some important lessons in the process.  Here is her story.

Alain Ducasse, needless to say, is one of the most instrumental French chefs and restaurateurs whom the world regards as “The Architect of Flavors.”

I have always been mesmerized by Alain Ducasse’s creations that I only got to see from afar (on TV etc.). When it came to gastronomy, there was always something about him that stirred my curiosity and interest.

Thus, I decided to go to Paris to solely meet him at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athènèe. I kept myself updated with his whereabouts (yes I’m sugarcoating “stalking”), and I was suddenly nuked by the fact that he left Paris. I did not give up. I was so determined to meet him that I signed up for a Baking Master Class at one of his restaurants in the Middle East.

I entered the restaurant with the biggest smile on my face, only to be disappointed, once more. As the maître d’ warmly welcomed me and escorted me to the kitchen, he also told me that Alain Ducasse took off the same day I landed. I wanted to leave at that moment, but I tried to ground myself.

Even though I crossed borders to meet Alain Ducasse, and not really cared for the baking class, I was surprised by the way I was all-consumed – even more interested in the class than the bakers who attended to learn all the recipes.

It was my turning point as a culinary arts aficionado – I hit so many realizations at once.

  1. As much as we think, as hardcore foodies, that our knowledge in food is on the right side of the bell curve, being alongside chefs who work for the world’s very best opens our eyes to the many voids in our knowledge… and it fills those voids
  2. Such master classes, even though might not benefit us in the sense of executing the “secret” recipes, offer keys to understanding culinary arts like never before
  3. These classes also reveal the reasons why fine dining, as an overall experience, is indeed worthy of its cost when done properly
  4. New facets to reviewing food are created, new sensibilities, and new perspectives

The “unofficial” lessons (the side-note kind of lessons) surpassed the “official” ones at the master class. The chefs drew our attention to the littlest details of food, whether the cooking of it or its consumption. For example, the pastry chef emphasized on how the cooking of caramel and its addition to desserts should be in regard to the weather (less when it’s hot, more when it’s cold), and how fruits and vegetables should only be consumed in respect to their seasons.

He also shared the birthplaces of the best ingredients, and how we should not be fooled by the “good enough” ingredients (i.e. fleur de sel should be from West of France, almond milk from Italy, chia seeds from South America, and sugar from cane is better than land (beetroot) sugar)… to name a few.

Moreover, among the many lessons learned, I will never forget the “10, 10, 10” technique, in which one is supposed to wait until caramel is cooled to remove it, instead of applying cold compress or ice on the burnt skin.

Equally important, watching the chefs synchronize perfectly in a clean and organized kitchen, smile even under pressure, use only organic and premium ingredients, utter knowledge, and wisdom, and deliver their feelings before the dishes (that seem as though have fallen from heaven) really justify why fine dining is what it is.

It all starts from the kitchen, the backstage, and it all stems from the core principles of culinary arts that the team follows. Being in that backstage, just like a theater, gives an idea of the hard work that the performers (the chefs) put in their creations. As food reviewers, food fanatics… whatever we may call ourselves, we often attend the show, the front stage, and we critique accordingly. Yet, having a closer look at what happens in the kitchen is an opportunity we should always consider. It so beautifully widens our horizons and ignites the emotional aspect of food.

All in all, I may not have met Alain Ducasse like I planned, but I have definitely understood him and his success through his exceptional team, especially through the performance of chef Benoit Champeau – the head pastry chef at Alain Ducasse Enterprises.

About the Author
Although a holder of BA in International Affairs, Alia considered food as a career in her early days in university. She was a Nutrition and Health Sciences student at first until she found a bigger challenge in International Affairs. It might seem like the two majors are worlds apart, but her background in health sciences strengthened her passion for food, and her degree in politics made her the writer and researcher that she is today. Every so often, the two harmonize with each other.

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