It isn't every day that you share space with one of the world's greatest living chefs, measured by the number of Michelin stars.
Alain Ducasse has restaurants and cafés in the world's culinary capitals and worked on sustainability, zero waste in kitchens, and farm-to-table even before the concepts were in vogue.
Ducasse had a maximum of 21 Michelin stars throughout his career and was the first chef to own three Michelin-starred restaurants concurrently.
The chef was in India recently to inaugurate École Ducasse, the legendary culinary school he founded in 1999.
"We want to offer Indian culinary aspirants new horizons abroad and in India," said Ducasse to DH. "India has contributed a lot to European cuisine. As a chef, it's as if I am travelling back via the spice route to India. The opening of the school is such a significant moment for me."
The culinary programmes at École Ducasse in India include undergraduate degrees, diplomas and certificate courses, combining culinary training and technical, managerial and entrepreneurial skills. They also offer the opportunity to study at École Ducasse campuses in France and pursue internships abroad.
Ducasse stresses that the focus will be on learning French techniques rather than French or Indian cuisine.
"We want to give a toolbox to the students, who will then deliver their own cuisine, in India or anywhere else in the world. We are training the future chef-managers, who will be conscious of how they use the planet's resources."
India will soon have a Ducasse Studio, designed for amateurs, enthusiasts and professionals, who can benefit from courses ranging from a day to a three-month certificate programme.
Considering the spread of Ducasse's restaurants worldwide, many have been surprised at the lack of a Ducasse restaurant in India.
"We were in discussions to open a restaurant in India earlier," he reveals, adding it didn't work out. "Now is the time for us to be in India. It's the beginning of a long story."
Ducasse, unusually for a French chef, has experimented with vegetarian food.
"I have been interested from the beginning of my career in how vegetables can become more and more important in the diet," said Ducasse. "In 1987, we began exploring vegetables in the diet. Chefs from one of our restaurants in Paris have written a book inspired by the Indian subcontinent."
In September 2021, Ducasse opened his Sapid, where dishes are 95 per cent vegetarian, based on the principle of "naturality." Incidentally, his latest opening is Burgal, a play on "burger," a vegan burger kiosk at the Place de la Bastille in Paris.
"Burgal is not as popular as the restaurant whose name starts with Mc," he said with a half deprecating, half mischievous smile. "But they are better!"
While the legacy of Ducasse is already unique, he is eager to share his experiences. While he stresses creativity, he is also big on learning the proper techniques.
"Creativity starts from mastering the technique of cooking. It's very personal. The cook needs to dig into themself, look at their surroundings, get inspired, and develop their personal story to tell to the customer."
He also urges restaurant owners and chefs to be relevant.
"If your restaurant is empty, you need to question yourself, are you doing the right thing in the right place at the right moment? What is the story you want to tell? What do you have in terms of produce? Once you answer those questions, you can start designing and creating. Creating an avant-garde restaurant is not the answer; you must feed your contemporaries."
(Suman Tarafdar is a Delhi-based independent journalist and editor)