Alain Ducasse On His Decision To Open A Restaurant At Raffles Hotel Singapore
The decision to open a restaurant housed in a Singapore landmark hotel is far from an easy one to make. But for one of the world’s most iconic chefs, the ever-affable Alain Ducasse, it helped that it coincided with a particularly fond memory of visiting and cooking at Raffles Hotel Singapore over 30 years ago.
It was also after major renovation works, he recalls, and he had been invited to cook for a special event to celebrate the reopening. It was his first time visiting the Grand Dame and what he experienced made a lasting impression. “The diversity, quality and design of the F&B offerings were the best in Asia at that time,” he tells us during a quick catch-up following the launch of BBR by Alain Ducasse two weeks ago, which has taken over the hotel’s famed 122-year-old Bar and Billiard Room.
Regarding why it had taken him this long—after launching more than 30 restaurants across seven countries and three continents—to open a restaurant here, the 63-year-old French-born Monégasque chef simply affirmed that it was only a matter of time. “There is a saying that [good] things come at the right time if you have time,” he posits, adding how he was drawn to the Bar and Billiard Room from the start because he likes the idea of investing in a landmark space to develop a concept with a “contemporary design and a strong vision”. He noted that he had also wanted the project to coincide with the “spirit behind the renovation” of the iconic hotel.
Ducasse was adamant from the beginning that he was not going to open a fine dining concept in Singapore. He felt that it was already in “the DNA” of the country’s vibrant dining scene to offer “diversity at the right price”, and so, it made sense to invest in a grill and sharing-plates concept; in this case, a “casual yet elegant” space that specialises in a breadth of Mediterranean classics.
What most diners tend to overlook is the fact that the concept also expresses Ducasse’s “more personal” side. Seduced by the flavours of the Mediterranean from a young age, the diversity of the cuisine, mainly across Portugal, Spain, Italy and France, is also a nod to his early years in the kitchen, working in Provence at the Moulin de Mougins with Roger Vergé in 1977, and Le Louis XV in Monaco in 1987.
For now, though, the focus of the menu at BBR by Alain Ducasse seems to be on the classics from the French-Italian riviera, Spain and Portugal. “Step by step, we hope to include dishes from the other Mediterranean coasts,” he shares. He noted how this is a cuisine he has long been invested in, and which led to him to publish, in 2009, Grand Livre De Cuisine: Alain Ducasse's Culinary Encyclopedia, which boasts 700 recipes from French and Mediterranean cuisine that incorporate 100 basic ingredients and 10 major cooking styles.
He says that it’s also about carrying on a heritage, adding that by opening BBR by Alain Ducasse, he is putting on the menu of this historical landmark a historical cuisine that has strong roots and strong flavours.
The aim, he expounds, is to showcase Mediterranean cuisine as tasty, sexy and accessible—the same way street food in Singapore is.
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We asked if innovation is still important when it came to curating dishes for the menu at BBR. “Innovation, yes, but not evolution,” Ducasse insists, highlighting the importance of respecting and preserving the essence and identity of the original recipes.
For example, when curating dishes for a specific region like Catalunya, the team’s aim is to develop adaptations with less fat, less salt and that are more refined than the original recipes to satisfy today’s more discerning diners. Even in Spain, he points out, the recipes today are less fatty.
Ducasse goes on to clarify that this latest opening, which follows recent openings of similarly casual but “chic” concepts (in Paris and Monaco, for example), is coincidental. Rest assured, the decision to launch a new address is a highly strategic one, and a testament to his inspiring string of successes in a notoriously volatile industry.
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His latest, for instance, is Esterre in Tokyo, Japan, which opens in November at the Palace Hotel Tokyo. It's an adaptation of his haute cuisine concept at Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, France, that serves what’s been dubbed “naturalness cuisine”. Drawing on a fashion metaphor, he says that “Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée is haute couture” while Esterre will be the “prêt-à-porter deluxe” version that will feature a strong focus on vegetables, cereals and sustainably sourced fish. “And just one chicken and one beef option,” he adds, so as to not impose this cuisine style on first time visitors.
Suffice it to say, his attention to detail and quality will be apparent, as it is even with decidedly more accessible concepts like BBR by Alain Ducasse, which he is confident will offer a quality of dining worthy of a Michelin star. “Though it’s not a plan (to get one),” teases the man whose restaurants boasts a total of 21 Michelin stars.