Star chef cooks up treat for Eiffel Tower
After four months of painstaking renovation, Ducasse hopes next weekend will see the re-opening of the tower's high-end "Jules Verne" restaurant
PARIS, Dec 18, 2007 (AFP) - Throw France's most celebrated chef Alain
Ducasse into the country's iron-laced landmark, the Eiffel Tower, and the
result, according to the restaurateur, will be pure "magic".
After four months of painstaking renovation, Ducasse hopes next weekend
will see the re-opening of the tower's high-end "Jules Verne" restaurant,
revamped after 23 years, and with his signature on the menu.
"We hope to offer a global treat, based on the food as well as the time
spent in this magical place," Ducasse told AFP in an interview. "It's this
magic cocktail we're working towards."
The fast-talking bespectacled 51-year-old, current holder of 15 stars
awarded by the Michelin food bible, says he began fantasising a couple of
years ago when driving by the tower of adding its second-storey restaurant to
his growing foodie empire -- 22 restaurants, five hotels, three cooking
schools and a publishing house.
"I hadn't known then that the lease was up," he said. "But when we
submitted our project to the Eiffel Tower we got a unanimous endorsement."
Since the previous management closed its doors at the end of August,
Ducasse's team of workers have been tearing down the old premises and bringing in the new, labour carried out mostly at night to avoid harassing any of the
tower's seven million annual visitors.
And all under the watchful eye of the administrators of the almost
120-year-old 324-metre (-yard) high tower.
"To preserve the structure we had to make sure the weight of the new
restaurant wasn't any heavier than the old one," said an official at the
1889-opened symbol of the Paris skyline.
"Ducasse's restaurant finally turned out to be even lighter, weighing in at
40 kilos less," the official told AFP of the revamp carried out with Ducasse
partner Sodexho to the tune of four to five million euros (5.7 to 7.1 million
Redesigned and redecorated in creams and browns, special attention was paid
to the lighting by the same expert who lit up the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, to
ensure diners could see what was on their plate while enjoying the view 125
metres up from the ground.
And what will Ducasse, with establishments from New York to Monaco to Tokyo
and more, be dishing up?
"First and foremost it will be a French restaurant, with French wines,
French spirits and even French whisky," he said. "No curries, no nems, just
French produce," said the creator of the Spoon restaurants that promoted
fusion food a decade ago.
"But it will be contemporary, " he added. "The venison sauce will not be as
heavy or as thick as in the 1970s."
With space limited within the 19th-century girders thrown up by Gustave
Eiffel, Ducasse came up with the idea of saving kitchen space for his 47 chefs
and guaranteeing food safety by having veggies peeled and fish and poultry
prepared in an underground food lab not far off.
"Our approach to hygiene is different in 2008 than it was 20 years ago," he
said. "You can't fool around with food nowadays."
With a three-course 75-euro (107 dollars) menu for lunch and around 250
euros (360 dollars) for a basic evening meal including drinks, Ducasse said he
hoped "a visit to the Eiffel Tower restaurant would leave unforgettable
memories for anyone from a businessman from Seoul to a lawyer from Bordeaux."
Among specials will be scallops with creamed cauliflower heads as starters
and John Dory fillets with seaweed and shellfish as a main dish.
Would it mirror a Ducasse three-star meal somewhere else? "No," he said,
speaking at the Plaza-Athenee hotel, home to one of his two flagship
restaurants along with the Louis XV of Monaco, where he spiralled to cooking
stardom after winning his first Michelin three stars.
"Here we have haute cuisine, more classical, more rigorous. It's like haute
couture. There, we will have luxury ready-to-wear."
After opening at the Dorchester in London last month and the Eiffel Tower,
hopefully on Saturday if the last touches of restoration are complete, where
was Ducasse planning to open next?
"Mars!" he said.