Video: Alain Ducasse at MAD3
Of the few things that hadn’t been settled by the time MAD3 kicked off, the most nerve-wracking of them all was what was going to happen with Alain Ducasse. Was he really, actually going to show up? And if so, who would interview him? What questions would they ask him? What topics were off-limits? At various points leading up to the second day of the symposium, teams Lucky Peach and MAD could be seen backstage, considering all these questions, wondering how in the world to welcome a legend.
In the end, Ducasse made it, mingled with nearly every attendee that wanted a word with him, and came onstage during the final session of the symposium for a conversation with Chris Ying, Daniel Patterson, David Chang, and René Redzepi.
It turned out that no subjects — not even the plane crash that nearly took his life when he was 27 — were off limits. During the 40-minute talk, Ducasse spoke of fear, of critics, of the decision to strike out on his own, and of chefs’ ability to influence diners with their decisions. He was candid and confident.
That plane crash taught him that the only real problems in life are those that harm your health and mental faculties. “There is no other problem in life that can’t be solved,” he said.
Despite running a global company of renowned, polished restaurants, Ducasse insisted on the importance of risk-taking and failure. He explained how one of his group’s core values is the need to have one out of every ten decisions be a failure. “If we’re not taking risks, we’re not moving forward,” said Ducasse.
One of those failures — or what some might perceive as a failure — is the press reaction to Ducasse’s first New York fine dining restaurant at The Essex House, which many chefs loved and still remember fondly but many critics shot down as laughably extravagant. “I’m angry for you, still,” said Chang. “You gave New York exactly what it wanted, and it didn’t work out.” Ducasse, without skipping a beat, looked right at him and responded, “We got 1,500 reviews that were negative — so what? It didn’t alter my passion or affect my career path. Again, so what?”
As Ducasse continues to grow his restaurant group, cementing his status as a monument of French gastronomy, he says he isn’t fazed by expectations or pressures. “I pass on the pressure very generously to my collaborators,” he joked.
"At the end of the day, chefs are egotistical: I don’t worry about critics or the perception of my work," said Ducasse. "I have to like what I’m doing first, and then everything else falls into place."
Watch the complete video above.