The Quest of Alain Ducasse
(France, 84 min.)
Dir. Gilles de Maistre
We’re in a time when Anthony Bourdain, Paul Bocuse and Wolfgang Puck are superstars. Everyone can start a conversation by asking if you have a favourite new superfood—is it quinoa or coconuts?—and what foodie shows are the ones you obsess over on TV. So it’s no surprise that French documentary filmmaker Gilles de Maistre was given funding and carte blanche to follow the chef and culinary impresario Alain Ducasse for two years to figure out what makes him tick.
Ducasse controls over 20 restaurants, has 18 Michelin stars, builds culinary schools and presents his eco-friendly sustainable philosophy worldwide. Although he occasionally dresses in kitchen whites at major receptions, Ducasse is no longer a celebrity chef; he’s more of an iconic presence, respected by his peers and the rich and famous who spend time and money in his restaurants.
In The Quest of Alain Ducasse, de Maistre follows the culinary expert from France to Japan to Brazil to the United States, Monaco and the Philippines. A charming, thoughtful figure, Ducasse is seen eating sushi in Kyotoa and every manner of meals around the globe but his main interest seems to be with finding produce that is exceptional in every locality he visits. Ducasse was raised on a farm in southwestern France and loves vegetables since he was a child. As a chef and entrepreneur, he was a key figure in simplifying exquisite French food, emphasizing a food-to-table approach that eliminated extravagant sauces and over indulgent presentation styles. His search for the truth in food remains at the heart of his quest.
There is, of course, a show biz quality to Ducasse. The journey around the globe completed, Ducasse works with his team to create Ore, one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, located at the legendary Palace de Versailles. Much of the last quarter of the film is taken up with the opening of Ore and its glittery first reception.
One of the unique aspects of the film is that filmmaker de Maistre never shows us Ducasse’s wife and children. Their absence is only referred to once; it clearly was a condition imposed by Ducasse. We are made to understand that Ducasse is obsessed with food and his working philosophy and that his private life is not important in understanding his “quest.” Whether that’s true or not, The Quest of Alain Ducasse does offer us insights into a very successful culinary giant and is a unique and fascinating film.
The Quest of Alain Ducasse opens June 8 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.