Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Plaza-Athenée Hotel in Paris is one of the world’s most exalted culinary temples. It has received three Michelin stars, along with virtually every other accolade on the planet, and is regarded as the standard-bearer for the glory of French cooking.
Little wonder, then, that Ducasse shocked the food world last week when he announced that he was switching to a vegetable-centric menu at the Plaza-Athenée. The hotel is currently closed for renovations, and when the restaurant re-opens it will specialize in seafood, organic grains and cereals, and produce grown for him in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles (where else?). Meat will be almost nonexistent on the premises.
“The planet has increasingly rare resources,” said Ducasse in an interview, “so we have to consume more ethically, more fairly.” He views his decision as an attempt to return to “naturalness.” Some media outlets were not quite as sanguine.
“Is this the end of haute cuisine?” asked the online edition of the Daily Mail. Even worse than the absence of animal flesh was the chef’s declaration that he was completely banning the use of cream, and also wants to use sugar as sparingly as possible. Clearly, his pastry chef is in for a bumpy ride.
In fact, Ducasse is not the first celebrated French chef to follow this path. Alain Passard, owner of the three-star L’Arpege in Paris, eliminated most meat from his menu as early as 2001. Passard supervises the farming of three kitchen gardens that grow 40 tons of organic produce each year. His business is booming, and L’Arpege is one of the capital’s most desirable tables.
Ducasse’s empire currently includes nearly 30 restaurants around the world, holding a total of 33 Michelin stars. He has declared that his approach at the Plaza-Athenée will constitute “a new expression of contemporary French haute cuisine.” Meat or no meat, he has no intention of lowering his prices: the restaurant’s set menu will continue to cost 380 Euros, or the current equivalent of $495. The cost of eating vegetables has obviously gone up.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com