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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 February 2019

Chef Alain Ducasse: No one in Dubai was sitting around waiting for me

Alain Ducasse currently holds more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world. But for his latest UAE venture, the focus is as much on the venue as it is on the food

Alain Ducasse has opened his first UAE venture. Courtesy Mix by Alain Ducasse
Alain Ducasse has opened his first UAE venture. Courtesy Mix by Alain Ducasse

“There are already many fantastic places to eat in Dubai. No one was sitting around waiting for me,” says Alain Ducasse, Michelin’s second-most decorated chef of all time. “That’s why we’ve imagined a different space, a place that will create experiences, rather than simply opening a named restaurant.”

Given his universally recognised status, the Monégasque chef could have been forgiven for riding on his culinary coat-tails when it came to his Dubai eatery. But that, he says, isn’t what the three-level Mix by Alain Ducasse is all about.

The main restaurant at Mix by Alain Ducasse in Dubai . 
The main restaurant at Mix by Alain Ducasse in Dubai

“We’ve created something new here,” he explains, gesturing to the gleaming white expanse that is the restaurant’s main dining area. “The idea is really for each person to find whatever it is that they like, in one destination. It’s about a mix of events, different experiences, different spaces, different culinary experiences – Middle Eastern, Asian, South American, combined with my French DNA,” he continues.

The early days

That DNA can be traced back to the southwest of France, where a young Ducasse grew up on a farm. There, influenced by the flavours of his grandmother’s cooking, he gained an appreciation of natural ingredients. “Living on that farm gave me a chance to be outside, go fishing and collect seasonal ingredients in the garden. In spring, the garden was full of colour and was one of the best seasons for fresh vegetables,” the chef has said in the past.

Imprinted with an understanding of nature’s importance in the cooking process, Ducasse started a culinary apprenticeship at the age of 16. Upon completion, he secured a place training under Michel Guérard, the culinary master often referred to as the founder of nouvelle cuisine. Head chef positions soon followed for Ducasse, but it was a posting at the famed Le Louis XV restaurant in Paris that would cement his reputation in the world of gastronomy. Under his watch, the eatery became the first to be awarded three Michelin stars. A series of fruitful restaurants and culinary accolades followed – but the French chef attributes this success to an almost artless formula.

Recipe for success

“The key to success is desperately simple: to work more, better and faster than the others. I may also add a key ingredient. To be detail-obsessed – here lies the difference between good and exceptional,” the culinary legend maintains.

Decades after he first set out, having opened 30 outlets across the globe, sent his food into space, launched an all-electric dinner cruise on Paris’s River Seine and created his own bean-to-bar chocolate, Ducasse is behind the most starred restaurants in the world (only Joël Robuchon, who died in August, has earned more of the Michelin accolades than him). And yet, at Mix, the focus is more on the venue as an experimental destination, than on his culinary brilliance.

“It’s design orientated. We can host a celebration or private dining – the Mix bar and lounge is perfect for entertaining. It’s one whole. Different experiences that complement each other,” Ducasse says.

 The menu is a mix of culinary influences: Middle Eastern, Asian and South American, combined with Ducasse's famed French flair
The menu is a mix of culinary influences: Middle Eastern, Asian and South American, combined with Ducasse's famed French flair

In the mix

Set on the top floor of the grandiose Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai, on the Palm Jumeirah, Mix spans almost 3,200 square metres, across three levels of “entertainment”. The 360-degree views take in scenic ocean vistas from sunrise to sunset, but the main focal point of the space is a 20-metre-tall Fabergé egg, cleverly integrated into the restaurant’s architecture.

“The designer Manuel Clavel and I decided we wanted to connect the whole space with one strong element, something that visually explodes,” explains Ducasse. “We came up with the idea of a Fabergé egg; it’s the connection between the floors and the heart of the space, but at the same times gives it that wow factor,” he reveals.

Four years in the making, the Fabergé egg was manufactured in Spain and then transported, piece by piece, to Dubai, where the delicate sections were painstakingly reassembled. Inside, the egg features layer upon layer of gold, which initially feels like an assault on the eyes. After a few minutes, the senses settle, allowing details like the Muqarna-inspired ceiling elements to shine. The entire cavern conveys a strong sense of drama.

Higher still, the venue’s crown is home to a chef’s table with seating for up to 12 diners. Accessible via a private elevator, a technical kitchen and 350-kilogram central dining table render this space one of Dubai’s most exclusive dining spots. The devil here is in the detail, with every single element – down to the teaspoon you stir your coffee with – specially commissioned by Ducasse. The menu is fully customisable and the culinary team will guide guests in terms of ingredients, taste and seasonality.

The menu

In the main restaurant, the menu does two things very well. First, it satiates Dubai’s craving for luxury, with premium ingredients such as black truffle, sea scallops, Wagyu prime beef and gold caviar all making an appearance. Secondly, it runs like a curated collection of dishes that serve to reflect Dubai’s melting pot of cultures. From a Russian-inspired salmon coulibiac and Oriental croquettes to a Moroccan-motivated lablabi broth, it presents a truly global vision.

Shrimp Toast at miX Dubai. 
Shrimp toast at Mix Dubai

The shrimp toast consists of delicious, thick-cut slices of triangular bread stuffed with fresh prawns and toasted to a tinged caramel. The signature Ducasse cookpot is a pleasing medley of lobster-topped grains that come beautifully plated.

The dessert menu shines. A serious hit of citrus refreshment comes courtesy of the Mix iced composition. This is complemented perfectly with a serving of Mix candy bar – a satisfying plate of richly indulgent chocolate “bars” that point to the chef’s foray into the world of cocoa bean mastery.

A souffle at Mix by Alain Ducasse
A souffle at Mix by Alain Ducasse

But there are also elements on Ducasse’s menu that are underwhelming. While the aubergine caviar is delicious –­ slightly peppery with a pleasing consistency – it is indiscernible from a standard serving of baba ganoush, a local staple in these parts. Similarly, the mrouzia-style lamb shoulder is cooked to perfection, but boasts flavours that are all too common in the region.

I ask Ducasse what his favourite dish on the menu is. He rolls the question around for a few moments as I anticipate a tale of creativity or an anecdote about how a local spice or herb transformed a Ducasse classic. “The Middle Eastern-influenced meze, the cold appetiser,” comes the play-it-safe response after a few moments.

Inside the egg, miX Dubai's golden-dipped dining space. 
The private dining room at Mix Dubai

In the bar and lounge opposite the main restaurant, creative drinks and a distinct bar-food menu of tapas-sized dishes are paired with metallic, almost moody interiors. Live DJs and an outdoor terrace with awe-inspiring views look set to fortify this as a big player in Dubai’s nightlife scene.

For Ducasse, who has countless global commitments, it’s almost time to hand the day-to-day operations of his new venue over to chef de cuisine Hugues Gerard, who has been in his culinary fold for years. “I’ve given Hugues a toolbox and from that he’ll be able to deliver and integrate. I define the direction, but he gives the interpretation,” Ducasse concludes.

Updated: February 14, 2019 09:08 AM

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