Alain Ducasse Explains Why Las Vegas Is The Next Great Culinary Destination - Exclusive Interview

Alain Ducasse's name is synonymous with fine dining, and his career is littered with unprecedented achievements. His restaurant Louis XV at Monaco's Hotel de Paris was the first-ever hotel restaurant to earn three Michelin stars. At one point, he operated Michelin 3-star restaurants in three different cities, another world-first. Ducasse's restaurants have been awarded 21 Michelin stars over his lifetime, making him the second-most decorated chef by the Guide after Joël Robuchon

Ducasse's Las Vegas restaurant, Rivea, will be hosting a dinner on June 4th to celebrate the arrival of the World's 50 Best Awards to the city. The menu is a collaboration between two of his protegees: Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester's chef Jean-Philippe Blondet and Rivea's chef Winnie Wong. The dinner, and the recognition from World's 50 Best, is a reflection of Las Vegas' transformation into a global culinary hotspot over the last couple of decades.

In an exclusive interview with Food Republic, Ducasse spoke lovingly about the culinary culture of Las Vegas. He also talked about the increasing sophistication of restaurant customers, how he maintains his standard of excellence across a portfolio of dozens of restaurants, and the future projects he's most excited about.

The evolution of dining in Las Vegas

You opened your first Las Vegas restaurant in 2004, so you've been serving food there for two decades. How has the Las Vegas food scene changed since you've been in town?

In all the major cities, there has been a tremendous improvement in the culinary scene. And that's exactly what I, as a chef, can see. Food is really today's hobby, the hobby of our clients. So there has been a tremendous change in the culinary scene in Vegas.

You can also see there is a parallel between the development of the culinary scene and the improvement of the culinary scene. That's also due to the increase in the number of foodies that are coming to restaurants, and to the success of the internet, of Instagram, of all the social media that have tremendously changed our world as restauranteurs. Our role is really to deliver always the highest cuisine that meets the needs — always more demanding — of this clientele of foodies that have been really multiplied.

At Rivea, we are first and foremost a French restaurant inspired by Italian and French Provence markets, and our goal is really to please the palate of our customers in the best way we can.

And you know Jean-Philippe Blondet? Who is going to be partnering with chef Winnie for the dinner? He's from Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London. But he was born in Nice, so he's Mediterranean. He's from the Mediterranean, from the south of France. But he's already in the Anglo-Saxon world, working and living in London. So we'll make a nice connection between his world and ours here in Vegas. He's been trained in Monaco. He spent quite some time at Louis XV, our signature restaurant at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. He has a very strong background that he's been developing at The Dorchester.

What makes Las Vegas a unique culinary destination

Can you talk about the collaboration between Jean-Philippe Blondet and Winnie Wong?

It will be the right mix. Two talents such as Jean-Philippe Blondet with chef Winnie will be a great combination to please the palate and the taste of the international clients that we will be having that night. Because international is really a world that describes Las Vegas very well, with lots of nationalities and crossing worlds all the time, and movers and shakers. It's the right combination of talents, of chefs. They will be delivering the contemporary face of French cuisine. Winnie is very talented. She's been working with us for quite some years now, the same as Jean-Philippe. So it's two mentees that we're very proud to feature at Rivea Las Vegas on June 4th. It'll be the first time. That's the first time they are collaborating

Oh, that's very exciting. What do you think it means for World's 50 Best to be visiting Las Vegas? Do you think Las Vegas deserves a reputation as a global cuisine destination like Paris, New York, or London?

Definitely, it's a big yes to your question. If the World 50 Best are coming to Las Vegas, it's really because Las Vegas is a very important culinary destination. We have seen this development for 20 years, that I have been among the first important chefs to open a restaurant here in Vegas. I have seen the development, the change, and all the chefs coming and opening. It's really, really a well-deserved honor. It will put a huge light on Las Vegas as a culinary destination.

I like the diversity that is in Las Vegas. It's the competition, it's there. But it's the same competition between all the world's cuisines. And that's what I think is very unique in Las Vegas. There's this diversity of food. And we can really talk in 20 years of a true revolution of the culinary scene. Not even an evolution, but a revolution. I think that I'm among the first notable non-American chefs to open in Las Vegas. I was very pleased to do so. And very, very pleased to be at Rivea in such a unique environment.

The future of French cuisine

Where do you think French cuisine should be heading in the future in, say, 10 or 20 years?

French cuisine has a strong heritage and strong base, and it'll continue on its route, the same way alongside the other cuisines that are joining the ball, the celebration. Because right now what is absolutely amazing, it's the growth of the level of the restaurant, the quality of the restaurant, because there is a growth at the same time of the clients. The interest for food has never been as high as it is today. That's a very good thing. Every cuisine has its own story to tell, and that's this diversity and richness that made our daily lives so amazing. We've never eaten better than today. Everywhere in the world.

You oversee so many restaurants now, but the standard has never wavered in terms of excellence. How do you maintain that quality across all of your businesses?

Taking the example of Jean-Philippe Blondet and Winnie Wong, I have surrounded myself with very talented chefs and sommeliers and pastry chefs. It is thanks to their engagement, devotion, passion. They are the ones that are delivering, that are making the restaurant at the top every day. It is thanks to their passion that we maintain this level of quality, with my guidance. I'm very proud of the loyalty of this team, given it's due to a constant training transmission. I am always beside them to transmit my knowledge, and continue doing that. I often say that, in my company, the biggest gift is the talented collaborators that we have. I'm very thankful for that.

Opening restaurants in Italy

I saw that you will be opening two new restaurants in Italy, in Rome and Naples. I was wondering if there are any particular challenges with opening in Italy or anything that's particularly exciting about that?

Italy is a neighbor country that we know very well. So just to precise, we are opening in Naples in June. Early June in Naples, and Rome will come a little bit later.

We know Italy very well, and we have very close relationship with them. So, I'm not saying that an opening is easy, but it's easier in Naples because we know very well the produce, the different regions. We have lots of chefs that have trained with me that are now in Italy, working in Italy. We have close relationship. And the region where we are going to open is a region where there is a large amount of Michelin-starred restaurants. There will be tough competition, but we are happy to become one of them and to join the culinary scene there. It'll be our first restaurant in Italy.

Will it incorporate some elements of Italian cuisine?

It'll be a French-Neopolitan mix, Neopolitan and French cuisine. Of course, we will incorporate some local ingredients. Absolutely. We are not there to impose our cuisine, but we will mix and create a unique taste for this restaurant. It'll be Italian Mediterranean cuisine with French basics.

You have been very vocal about wanting to cook more plants in fine dining and reduce the amount of animal protein and focus on vegetables and grains. It's the spring and we're getting beautiful seasonal vegetables right now. What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate spring vegetables?

The menu that we will be serving, we looked in a different direction, focusing the signature dishes of both chefs. Tthat's true that spring is the season for vegetables, so we will make sure to revisit that when we are changing the menu at Rivea soon.

Cooking for the space station and new projects

This is unrelated to Rivea, but I saw that you designed meals for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. What were the considerations for that? Were there any challenges with making that menu?

I think that we started cooking for the astronauts on the ISS at least 20 years ago. We're still doing that. The challenge is to please all the nationalities because we are the only program ... It's called Food for Extreme Pleasure, the program. Space Food for Extreme Pleasure. It's the only food program that is accredited by all the space programs that all the International Space Station astronauts in the world come from, which means that any nationality can choose from the catalog of our recipes to take some menus with them. So the challenge is to please the tastes of all nationalities with the highest level of zero bacteria and hygiene. That's the challenge.

You have said that you like to approach your life and career with constant curiosity, taking on new challenges and learning. Are there projects in the future that you're excited about or any culinary areas you're looking forward to exploring in the future?

I'm looking forward to always exploring new destinations and facing new challenges and doing things that I have not done before. Italy is one opening that I'm really looking forward to, but it's not the only one.

Maybe something that is interesting is that we are starting a collaboration with a French mixologist, a cocktail chef, Margot Lecarpentier. We started having her as a pop-up in Benoit, New York. She's so talented. She's the next greatest mixologist in the world, and she's from Paris. Maybe the next challenge will be to bring her to Las Vegas. She's a star.

She's creating alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. And maybe the next challenge will be to bring her to Las Vegas to Rivea and have her do a pop-up there. Maybe that's one of the next ventures to happen. She has been working with us in Paris, at Le Meurice and Les Ombres, now in New York, and maybe next Las Vegas at Rivea.

Make a reservation for the June 4 World's 50 Best dinner at Rivea Las Vegas here. Learn more about Alain Ducasse and his restaurants at his website.