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Top French chef Alain Ducasse 'goes vegetarian'

Fred Dufour/AFP: Alain Ducasse (right) at his Plaza Athénée restaurant

Vegetarians know it can be a struggle to find a good restaurant in Paris that caters to their needs. Now, as long as they have the cash to fork out, they can get a vegetarian meal from one of France’s biggest names in haute cuisine: Alain Ducasse.


Ducasse, a godfather of French gastronomy who is one of only two chefs to have held a total of 21 Michelin Stars, has gone against the grain of French culinary tradition by banishing most meat from the menu at his famed restaurant at the Plaza Athénée hotel in Paris.

Ducasse says that turning over a new leaf to explore a lighter, vegetarian-focused cuisine was about a search for greater "naturalness" and respect for the environment.

"The planet's resources are rare, we must consume more ethically and equitably," Ducasse told AFP.

The new menu at the restaurant, which reopened on Monday, draws heavily on organic cereals, vegetables grown in the gardens of the famed Versailles chateau built by "Sun King" Louis XIV, as well as fish and seafood.

The offerings include black rice cooked in the oven with shellfish, calamari and octopus; Mediterranean monkfish teamed with bulgur; and quinoa with shellfish.

Despite the accent on rusticity and simplicity, meals do not come cheap at €380 ($492) a head, excluding drinks.

Ducasse's new-look menu also banishes cream, while butter and sugar will be used as sparingly as possible.

"My obsession is to remove sugar," he said, adding that desserts too will take on a new twist.

"People ask us for cream or caramel with chocolate," he said, adding that he would not give in to such requests. "Otherwise it's just globalisation. We all eat the same fat and the same sweets," he said.

Ducasse also stressed that humbler varieties of fish were far more complex and challenging to handle, comparing the sardine to the far more expensive turbot.

Ridding a sardine of skin and bones and turning it into an "open wallet" involved almost surgical skills, he said.

"The humbler the product, the more attention it demands," he said. "In this case it's 15 percent sardine and 85 percent work.”.

The 100-year-old Plaza Athénée hotel, a Paris institution, will reopen fully in September. A part of the hotel was reopened on August 1.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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