PARIS Talking food with top French chef Alain Ducasse is like simultaneously visiting a local farmers market, travelling across the world, stepping back into history and visiting the future.
France's ubiquitous three-star chef, whose empire includes more than 20 restaurants, a culinary institute and a publishing house, is now embracing 21st century technology with a new iPad application, "My Culinary Encyclopedia".
With 250 recipes from the Mon Grand Livre de Cuisine collection, the app offers ingredient profiles with 360 degree views, demonstration videos, and preparation tips. Ducasse, 56, spoke to Reuters in the kitchen of his Plaza Athenee restaurant about what inspires him today and how much is yet to learn.
Q: One doesn't think of great chefs as being enamoured of technology. Why an app?
A: I'm all about transmitting knowledge. In cooking today it's about technical performance, cooking tools that have developed to help cooks to be more regular in cooking technique. And this technology here helps us to transmit knowledge, it's the modern book. Today a kitchen is a laboratory, it's very technical. Before it was a nightmare because it was so hot, you had gas ovens and you had to test the temperature with your finger. But just a quarter century later we've changed centuries. Our profession was so difficult 25, 30 years ago but today (cooking) is comfortable, appealing.
Q: Do you see clients in your restaurants consulting their iPads at the table before they begin to eat?
A: Of course. We want to know everything about everything. Before eating, the client is going to explain what he's about to eat. Even beforehand he's going to weigh in, it's good, it's not good, he takes a photo and then everyone knows what he's eating. But it's the limit of the exercise. You should first take pleasure before weighing in about it. It's first of all a chance to share a pleasant moment with your friends, to take the time with your food and not to make commentary.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Nature and markets. Nature, what it gives us every day, in spring, autumn, summer. Cooking is all about what do I have - what can I use right now where I am - what do I know, and what do I do. Tonight I'm off to Tokyo and Thursday I'm in Kyoto. There's a street ... where you have a sort of the centre of the world of food. I think the French and the Japanese are both obsessed by seasons, small producers, freshness.
Q: Do you still make new discoveries there?
A: Always. The more I discover the more ignorant I am. What I know is a lot less than what there is yet to discover, it's terrible. I've probably been to that market 50 times and I'm sure I'll find something I've never seen before.
Q: Any new cuisines of the world that lately intrigue you?
A: South America. Brazil and the Amazon. What they've found so far in the Amazon is 5 percent of what there is yet to discover to eat in the Amazon because it's completely unknown. I've eaten things I've never eaten before over there. Now I'm going to try to go to Peru in September because I think the Peruvian food is interesting.
Q: Is that frustrating, after discovering new things not being able to find them again back in France or elsewhere?
A: I think you have to have a global vision but a local expression of that. It's to nourish my curiosity, to register new tastes and maybe, for example, when I'm in Japan or China and I try gyoza, those raviolis ... traditionally, you eat them in the working-class neighbourhoods and they're fantastic. What we can take away from that is the double cooking, the crisp side and the soft side. I've been inspired by the technique rather than the produce. Those local products are best eaten there.
Q: In your busy life do you still get to cook for yourself?
A: Often I cook when I'm in the country. I have a very nice garden and extraordinary markets where there are products from the earth and the sea, in the French Basque country. To make my meal, I go to the market and to the garden and then I decide what I'm going to do. That's a great pleasure. And then after - to choose the wine. The French are always interested in what you eat, but also in what you drink! And they drink well, a lot and often. With Americans it's ice tea. For lunch it's ice tea! No one drinks wine at lunch, it's incredible.
Carrots in Marsala Wine (serves 4)
8 large carrots with tops
2 oz (50 g) butter
10 coriander seeds
3 Tbs Marsala
1 1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Peel, trim and wash the carrots conserving 3/4 inch of shoots. In a ham slicer, slice the carrots into fine 1/10 inch slices, retaining their tops. In a heavy-bottomed casserole, melt the butter and saute the carrots. Grind the coriander seeds, then add to the carrots. Moisten with the Marsala, season with salt and add sugar. Cover the casserole and cook on a gentle heat for 3 minutes gradually, adding stock if necessary. Reduce the carrot cooking juices to thicken. Arrange the carrots on the plates. Depending on the consistency of the sauce, reduce for a further minute until syrupy. Coat the carrots. Serve hot.
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)