L’Atelier of Alain Ducasse sets out to provide an insight into the working methods and philosophy of prehaps the most successful chef currently working anywhere in the World today. The book contrasts signature Ducasse recipes with those of his current and former Head Chefs in order to illustrate his influence on the men who work for him.
The book begins with a look behind the scenes of the Ducasse empire and attempts to contextualise it in terms of the last 300 years or so of French gastronomy. This rather dry and pretentious exercise is greatly enlivened by the beautiful black and white portraiture of Herve Amiard. Some amusing non-secquiturs from Ducasse lighten the tone, such as “It is better to have turbot without genius than genius without turbot”. Probably the definitive statement in the fish versus intelligence debate, if not the only one.
Things liven up with profiles of Ducasses favoured suppliers and their produce, and again it’s the full colour photographs that impress. These range from dramatic shots of turbot and bass being landed, to a lemon grower in quite contemplation amongst his trees. They communicate beautifully the powerful connection between man and sea and land.
The book contains recipes for just 8 of Ducasse’s signature dishes. Each is based around a characteristic ingredient of his cuisine, and is followed by further recipes from five of his pupils. Hence, under the heading “Sea Bass” you find Ducasse’s “Sea Bass Steaks with Leeks, Potatoes and Truffles”, along with “Fried Mediterranean Bass” by Le Louis XV head chef Franck Cerutti. Notes on each recipe assist the reader in comparing and contrasting the different approaches taken. Although this is all very enlightening, I personally would have settled for a few more of the great man’s recipes.
Having said that, it is highly unlikely that I would ever attempt to produce a dish such as “Semi Dried Pasta with Cream Sauce, Truffles, and a Ragout of Cockscombs and Chicken Kidney” at home. If invested wisely, the small fortune required to purchase the ingredients (including lobster, sweetbreads, 4 1/2 pounds of veal and chanterelle mushrooms), would see my kids through university.
Although all the main recipes are supported by step by step photographs, preparation is dauntingly complex. You could probably write your first novel in the time that it would take to cook some of the dishes featured. The book is best approached as an inspiration to get into the kitchen, rather than something to be slavishly followed once you are there. Some individual garnishes are achievable however. I particularly liked the thinly sliced potatoes sandwiched together with slivers of olive, which were then baked and served with spider crab.
Illustrations of the food itself are refreshingly clear, and avoid the current and annoying fad of everything being out of focus except for a square centimetre in the centre of the picture. Although the overhead style used for every shot gets a little wearing, it does show the unusually relaxed presentation style Ducasse employs. Elements of each dish seem to be casually strewn across the plate, but still somehow create a pleasing and cohesive whole.
Having read the book, I now have a greater understanding of what M Ducasse food is all about, but didn’t really learn much about the man himself. The book provides a diverting enough read, some stunning photography and a few usable recipes, but can only be recommended to fans M Ducasse who already have his other books.
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars
Buy this book
Atelier of Alain Ducasse: The Artistry of a Master Chef and His Proteges (Masters of Gastronomy)
£20.05 John Wiley & Sons