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INTERVIEW:
Chef Christian Delouvrier

Chef Christian Delouvrier "A Restaurant is First and Foremost a Place Where You Eat".
             -- Alain Ducasse

In a recent issue of Food Arts Magazine, I took note of a quote from Chef Alain Ducasse…"I love the challenge of selecting the right actors for the right roles." Of course, he was referring to his ability to select the right people for his seventeen restaurants, bars and bistros. He certainly found the right "actor" for New York.

Talk about a marriage made in heaven (or Manhattan), you have to appreciate Chef Christian Delouvrier joining his friend, Alain Ducasse at one of the most intriguing restaurants in the world - Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. Delouvrier, most recently of the late Lespinasse, is a Four-Star chef and one of the most talented and respected chefs in this great restaurant city. Ducasse is one of the major culinary talents on the planet, so the combination of these two is very significant indeed.

Born in Boulogne-Sur-Gesse in Gascony, Christian began his culinary journey in Paris at the Café de la Paix. From there he began traveling and working in some of the world's best kitchens from Montreal to the Bahamas to New York. He returned to Paris in 1978 to Alain Senderens' three Michelin star, L'Archestrate. In 1981, he opened the famed Maurice restaurant in New York's Hotel Parker Meridien in collaboration with his mentor Alain Senderens. Over five years the Maurice emerged as one of New York City's best French restaurants. Chef Delouvrier's next move was to The Essex House/ Hotel Nikko where he opened Les Celebrités that became yet another New York classic.

In 1998, Delouvrier was named Executive Chef at Lespinasse and almost immediately earned a coveted New York Time's Four-Star review. In 2003 he published his very first book "Mastering Simplicity, a Life in the Kitchen."

In April, 2004, Delouvrier joined Alain Ducasse at the Essex House as Executive Chef and continues to garner glowing reviews. According to Delouvrier..."How could I refuse the opportunity to collaborate with Alain Ducasse? He is generally recognized as the best chef in the world".



RR: We met at Lespinasse in September of 2000, and at that time Alain Duccasse was under siege by the New York media regarding his new restaurant in the Essex House. You assured me that he would survive the critics and would soon become a welcome addition to the New York scene. A few short years have proven you right.

CD: It was not a daring prediction and I remember exactly what I said… "Given time, Alain Ducasse will emerge as the great restaurateur that he is and that he has always proven to be." He has done precisely that.

RR: It almost seemed like the media made a unilateral decision to discredit Ducasse and make his opening in America as miserable as possible.

CD: In short order, he received a Four-Star review from the New York Times and a Five-Star Mobil Award. Things changed very quickly and I believe the present is all that matters. Right now Alain Ducasse/NY is a world-class restaurant.

RR: So much of the criticism had to do with the cost of dining at your restaurant and perhaps the expectation that Alain Ducasse would spend more time in New York.

CD: One has to appreciate the quality of our product. We use the best ingredients in the world and our guests understand this. We also offer a one-seating concept that means you have the table for the entire evening. This is a benefit that very few restaurants offer. Dining in our restaurant is an experience that has value and people are willing to pay for it. In terms of Chef Ducasse spending more time in New York, I don't believe this was a totally realistic expectation. The man runs a worldwide business and understandably, he spends time in all his locations including Paris, Monaco and New York. I also must add that he hires very capable people to help run his restaurants, and I consider myself one of them.

RR: Having said that, I doubt that you expected to be the man in the kitchen of AD/NY when we discussed the opening of that "soon-to-be-great" restaurant in the Essex House. But here you are, and it has to be a good thing.

CD: At that time, I was certain that I would be at Lespinasse for years to come, but that was not to be. The restaurant was doing well and it was a prestigious part of the St. Regis Hotel. Management wanted to move the kitchen in a way that I believe would have compromised the quality of what we were about. My reputation was at stake and I couldn't go along with it. Alain Ducasse has been a long-time friend. We share the same roots in the Southwest of France, and we share the same passion and the same vision when it comes to the subject of food. It was such an honor when he asked me to join him. It was an incredible opportunity and of course, I had to do it.

RR: Other than going from one hotel to another, I have to believe there are some major differences in the respective kitchens. How much of an adjustment was involved coming to Alain Ducasse/New York and what are the real differences?

CD: One of the most exciting aspects of my collaboration with Alain Ducasse was that I knew I was going to learn so many new things, and at the same time, I knew that we shared so much of the same philosophy as it relates to cooking. I brought my experience and my own style with me and I'm basically doing what I have always done. In terms of our relationship in the kitchen, I will use the term harmony. We respect each other, and we work extremely well together. I feel very comfortable and at the same time, very confident in my ability to help run this wonderful restaurant.

RR: I know that you have always been dedicated to working with the local farmers and I have to believe that very little has changed in this regard.

CD: This is essential to what we are about. We will search the world over for the finest ingredients, and by definition, this means working closely with the local farmers as much as possible. We must find the absolute best chicken, lamb, scallops, asparagus, and everything else for that matter. It is time consuming and expensive, but it is a necessary part of maintaining a superior restaurant.

RR: Both you and Alain Ducasse have earned a spot in the so-called "celebrity" category, and yet I appreciate the fact that you are most comfortable simply being in the kitchen. Has your new position altered your thinking in terms of taking a more visible presence in the media, etc.?

CD: I am most comfortable in the kitchen, and that's where I belong. I believe the celebrity is in the earth - the ingredients - it's with the local farmers - it's on the plate. I will always do whatever it takes to help my restaurant but I prefer to leave the celebrity thing to others.

RR: I would be interested in your opinion of the New York restaurant scene today, particularly after 9/11, and should we be concerned with the closings of your former restaurant, Lespinasse, and others including La Caravelle, Lutèce and La Côte Basque?

CD: There is so much speculation involved with restaurant closings and this is undoubtedly a complicated issue. My explanation is that New York is very trendy when it comes to dining, and there are so many wonderful chefs running so many new and exciting restaurants. Some of the older establishments have not kept pace with the times and have not catered to a new and more adventurous audience. The events of 9/11 affected all of us, but in my opinion, the closing of a restaurant usually means the failure to adapt to an ever-changing marketplace. I must add that I certainly don't include Lespinasse in this category as I have already explained.

RR: Is it possible that some of the unfortunate anti-French sentiment could be involved?

CD: I don't think so, and you are correct when you include the word unfortunate. I have been living here and working here for many years, and I consider myself a French/American chef. It's an unfortunate political thing that is too often misdirected and misunderstood. Daniel Boulud continues to do well, and Alain Ducasse and so many others are doing well. The recently opened Per Se is a wonderful French/new American restaurant run by a great American chef. We are all part of the new restaurant scene. That's what makes New York so great and that's the way it works.

RR: It's a good time to ask you about New York as it relates to the world's great restaurant destinations.

CD: I believe that we have surpassed Paris as the greatest restaurant city. I say this because of the diversity and quality of our restaurants. I believe that the quality of our chefs has improved dramatically over the past several years and this has elevated New York to where it is today.

RR: I know you love New York, and your real love is being a chef. Some would suggest that working with Alain Ducasse is as good as it gets, and after all is said and done, it appears as though both Chef Ducasse and Chef DeLouvrier have both done very well for themselves...

CD: Both of us love our work. Alain Ducasse runs a major business with locations all over the world. I run a kitchen in a major restaurant in my favorite city. Maybe you are right - it doesn't get any better than this.

Alain Ducasse at the Essex House
155 West 58th Street
(between 6th & 7th avenue)
New York, New York
Tél: (212) 265-7300



ADNY Signature Dishes

  • Sea scallops marinated in extra virgin olive oil, tomato cocktail
  • Roasted halibut, shellfish, razor clams, almond butter "gratiné"
  • Spit-roasted rib eye of certified Black Angus, cèpes fricassee, new potatoes, asparagus tips, jus Bercy
  • Baba, rum of your choice, Monte-Carlo style

ADNY Sample Tasting Menu

  • Amuse-bouche
  • Confit of fresh duck foie gras, apricot gelée
  • Green peas "à la française" with crayfish
  • Filet of black sea bass, cooked "à plat", clear Osetra caviar, Champagne sabayon
  • Organic farm-raised chicken, truffles under the skin, spring onion marmelade, jus Rossini
  • Cheese, perfectly matured

This Restaurant Report interview will appear in an upcoming issue of America's Great Restaurants.




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