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Arpege: dinner and lunch; 2002-2004


Steve Plotnicki
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Plotnicki, it seems your argument about aesthetics splits in two: 1) There's the general argument that Passard offers a more interesting aesthetic than Ducasse; and 2) there's the argument about delivering on the promise. One is theoretical and the other is practical.

To approach it backwards, from the practical standpoint, I'm not sure it's possible to resolve the issue except by some sort of very rigorous and limited opinion poll that we couldn't possibly administer. But for me, if there is one three-star restaurant that above all others failed to deliver on its promise it is Arpege. I'll go back to the deep well of Wells's excellent analysis and quote from the review -- one of the harshest she's ever written about anyone at this level of the game -- she gave to Arpege shortly after Passard pulled his vegetable PR stunt:

"Much of the problem was the very poor quality of the vegetables used (he needs to do research to find the many fabulous sources in Paris, right under his nose) as well as the overly experimental nature of many of the dishes. People may not scream at the thought of paying 620 francs for a lovely layered affair of thinly sliced celery root filled with a chestnut purée, lasagna style, embellished with a fine and fragrant fresh black truffle cream. But they will blanch at paying 320 francs for a watery and tasteless turnip the size of a golf ball rolled in those almond candies and serve in a reduced onion sauce."

In my own experience of Arpege, there were unprofessional cooking errors, the balance of the meal was borderline incompetent, the interesting progression you experienced on your tasting menu was not in evidence, and I felt ripped off.

At the same time, for me, Ducasse has always delivered on his promise. On my short list of best meals of my life, there would be several from Ducasse's restaurants.

So then the question becomes one of divorcing oneself from the empirical evidence. I've had worldbeating meals at more than one Ducasse restaurant, and I've been severely disappointed at Arpege. So I have to look to the secondary sources to determine whether my Ducasse or my Arpege experiences were flukes. Well, I know the Ducasse experiences weren't flukes because my Ducasse meal count has got to be up around ten. But it does reassure me when I get multiple e-mails (seriously) each month from articulate people saying they just had the best meal of their lives at one of Ducasse's places. And amazingly I have never received any such e-mail about Arpege. Now of course it's not an entirely fair kind of evidence for me to produce: I could be lying, and also I'm a magnet for positive comments about Ducasse because I'm one of the only American journalists who champions him (his status among food journalists here overall is currently at the grudging acceptance level). But what about you? I bet you've heard or read about lots of people saying Ducasse is the best, and that specific meals at Ducasse restaurants have been the best of people's lives. Has anybody ever told you that about Arpege? I sort of feel that even if I stripped away the flawed dishes at Arpege and used a multiplier on the really excellent dishes I'd still rate it as a mid-pack three-star kitchen, which I'd demote to two stars anyway because the physical facility and service aren't up to snuff.

As I said, I don't know if the question can be resolved. Once we make up our minds we start hearing what we want to hear. I'm actually quite surprised that nobody you trust likes Ducasse. In every group of educated gourmets I've ever encountered -- and I come in contact with many such groups, from university club discussion groups where I'm asked to lecture, to online communities, to wine-dinner groups, to various gatherings of people assembled by other critics or by friends with different social circles -- there have always been people who represent the potential range of views on Ducasse from what you think to what I think. Me, I have trusted friends who love Arpege but interestingly most of them agree with me about the texture problem, the inconsistency of the kitchen, and the sub-par premises and service. At that point it becomes a question of preference and I don't pursue the argument.

As for the comparison of the Ducasse aesthetic and the Passard aesthetic, the first thing that jumps out at me is that Passard is a one-trick pony -- or perhaps a three- or four-trick pony. I assure you when we go to Adria if all he does is serves us 27 courses of foam I'll not only say it's a crap restaurant I'll also personally kick the guy's ass. Yet that's how I feel about Arpege: That there's the baby food trick and the slow-cooking-in-butter trick and that's it. That he can design a nice tasting menu doesn't impress me -- that's pretty basic stuff that any chef with a "worth a detour" should be able to comprehend and master.

I see Ducasse's range as being a hundred times broader than Passard's. He's a master of most every ingredient and technique. If Passard is a violinist Ducasse is a whole damn orchestra. He has no tricks or gimmicks or any single cooking flourish you can use to pigeonhole him. With Ducasse it's all about doing everything better, with more nuance, with better balance, with more consistency than anybody else does it. I see it as an aesthetic of perfectionism that nobody else can touch. Now if you think Ducasse is failing to deliver it, that's one thing. But if you don't find the promise of delivering that aesthetic thrilling, I can't help you.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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First of all, perfectionism is not an aesthetic. It's a technique that is applied to an aesthetic. There are people who can draw perfect circles by hand, but that doesn't mean they make great art. Secondly, even with all of your negative comments about Passard, and I will include what Wells said as well, you both admit that Passard does have an aesthetic. Whether he executes on it or not is a different issue. Fortunately he has executed on it both times I've been there. But I also have heard of stories from people about when he has failed to execute it.

But the difference of opinion comes back to why people eat out. I said this in my last post. We need to analyze who makes up a chefs critical mass of acclaim. Among the people who share my reason for fine dining, I can honestly tell you that not only do they not say that their meal and experience at Ducasse was among the best meals of their lives, I can hardly find anyone who has anything good to say about the overall experience. From my gut, if I said that Ducasse's approval factor among the people I am describing was as low as 25% I would not be exaggerating.

And everything else you said is absolutely correct. Ducasse's range is much broader then Passard's. And yes Ducasse is an orchestra where Passard is a string quartet. But so what? My standard is one of being interesting and challenging. And a brilliant string quartet trumps a perfectly rehearsed orchestra that executes perfectly but does not play with a level of passion that I demand as a preprequisite to enjoyment.

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Perfectionism is not the ability to draw a perfect circle, Plotnicki. Perfectionism is the unfailing belief that anything imperfect is unacceptable -- in other words it is the belief that an imperfect circle is ugly. This is a specific conception of beauty that clearly qualifies as an aesthetic. Moreover, it is not the beginning and end of Ducasse's aesthetic; it's just a principal component.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But there are a number of diiferent circles. There is the circle that revolves around its utility. Then there is the circle that is a model of symmetry in two dimensions. Then there is the circle you describe, as one that could be ugly, that has nothing to with a circle itself but the environment in which it is presented. Some circles are presented as a geometrical shape. And some circles are presented to express something. It all depends on intent doesn't it? That brings me back to my original question. What is Ducasse's intent when he offers this "perfect food" other then to show you that food can be perfect?

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Finally somebody has correctly used the intentional fallacy. But aside from that, why wouldn't it be enough to show that food can be perfect? I can think of no higher expression of cuisine. Especially when nobody else is doing it. I suppose, were perfection the baseline, it would be like ho-hum another perfect meal so what? But in the context of present-day dining perfection is just as much the edge of the envelope as is anything being done by Adria, Gagnaire, Passard, or anyone else. I don't see how you can be so dismissive of the concept of being the best. The best is the best. As someone so deferential to hierarchies and pecking orders, how can the importance of superiority be lost on you?

Ducasse has shown me repeatedly what the best of something is, be it a single ingredient, a pairing of ingredients, an original dish, a recreation of a classic dish, a cooking technique, or an element of service -- he is about the best of everything. What is Passard about the best of? Perfectionism is an aesthetic I understand and appreciate. It speaks to me in a powerful and emotional way: I am shaken to the core -- dizzy, shocked, stunned, silent, cowed -- when, after eating hundreds of meals at the best restaurants on the planet, a single chef can top so much of what I've seen, and do so comprehensively on so many fronts. It's a wake up call, a glimpse at the possibilities, a pushing back of the boundaries of what I previously considered the ideal. It's about power, optimism, potential, and the realization of potential. It's about setting a new benchmark, a new goal, a new height of aspiration for every other chef. When you dine at one of Ducasse's restaurants, you're in the hands of the greatest master of cuisine of his generation, and it's just incredible to me that it could be falling on deaf ears in your case. What, you don't like excellence? I can't believe that; you're a man of taste and discernment. Can you only be wowed by the unfamiliar?

When you write about restaurants on this site you use the word "perfect" all the time as the highest form of praise. And it's also the single-most overused word in the restaurant reviewer's lexicon. Why? Because it's the gauntlet. It's what everyone is striving for but so few are achieving. Most restaurants don't offer a single perfect anything; Ducasse buries you in perfect thing after perfect thing.

I think we have to distinguish between two definitions of perfect. There's perfect as in without any errors -- like your example of drawing a geometrically perfect circle. That's what I get out of a place like French Laundry, where the kitchen is so technically accomplished that it puts most other restaurants to shame. But that's perfect execution. It's not the same as perfect as best, as excellent, as the realization of everything that cuisine can be. That's the kind of perfect I get from Ducasse -- the inspiring kind. He's not just drawing the perfect circle -- after all, if it's not perfect, it's not a circle anyway. He's drawing the best of all perfect circles.

As for Passard, I don't consider a couple of techniques to be an aesthetic. I consider them to be a couple of things a particular craftsman does differently from the pack. Minimalism, on the other hand, is certainly an aesthetic. But to call it somehow inherently more emotional or communicative than perfectionism is just silly. If anything, minimalism is much more susceptible to characterization as unromantic and unsentimental -- not that I think it necessarily is. But the acid test of the minimalist is whether by stripping away the superfluous the experience is improved, more pure, better. And I don't think Passard achieves that. Whereas when Ducasse -- whose repertoire is so all-encompassing -- decides to create a dish in the minimalist style he can do so with great ability, such as when he simply pairs the best scallop with the best ossetra caviar and serves them at room temperature. But that's just one of many things he can do. That's what I meant about him being an orchestra. It's not that he's playing every instrument at once all the time; it's that he can play any instrument as well as it can be played -- he's an orchestra of soloists who can play brilliantly alone or together.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I was wondering why I was slogging through the ad personam remarks and the circular logic about (socially constructed) "objectivity" in this thread.

But if the argy-bargy succeeded in eliciting that last post, FG, it was all worth while. A lovely bit of writing.

Congratulations to you, and to Steve P for provoking it.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Perfectionism is an aesthetic I understand and appreciate. It speaks to me in a powerful and emotional way: I am shaken to the core -- dizzy, shocked, stunned, silent, cowed -- when, after eating hundreds of meals at the best restaurants on the planet, a single chef can top so much of what I've seen, and do so comprehensively on so many fronts. It's a wake up call, a glimpse at the possibilities, a pushing back of the boundaries of what I previously considered the ideal. It's about power, optimism, potential, and the realization of potential. It's about setting a new benchmark, a new goal, a new height of aspiration for every other chef. When you dine at one of Ducasse's restaurants, you're in the hands of the greatest master of cuisine of his generation, and it's just incredible to me that it could be falling on deaf ears in your case. What, you don't like excellence? I can't believe that; you're a man of taste and discernment. Can you only be wowed by the unfamiliar?

Fat Guy - You wrote a bunch of hyperbole. If the perfection you speak of was present when I ate at Ducasse, I would gladly be the first to report it. And others I know would be reporting it as well. In fact I wish it was true. I have no vested interest to be against him. In fact I'm much happier when there are more places to eat then not. But I have seen no sign of the perfection you describe. Because if it was there, someone among us would at least be reporting that we like the place on that level alone.

Here is my most typical experience with Ducasse. I went to Monte Carlo in the first year it opened. My meal was at best average. Since then I must have been in the South of France at least a dozen times. And for awhile I had the desire to go back to Monte Carlo and give it another chance. And you know every single time I tried I couldn't get the other people I was travelling with to go along. They had all eaten there at least once already and none of them liked it. In fact I probably tried to organize a Ducasse dinner on at least half a dozen occassions but I couldn't convert one opportunity into an actual meal because nobody wanted to go. And ask Robert Brown. He spends the summer in Nice. Louis XV is a 20 minutes drive down the coast road from his house. Did he go to Ducasse this summer? He schleped all the way to Troisgros for dinner, flew to Paris and ate two meals at Arpege but didn't dine down the road from his house. Why do you think that is?

But even if his cuisine was "perfect," perfection doesn't live in a vaccuum. What about personality? What about sense of authorship? What about emotion? What about intelect? Those are all things I find sorely lacking at his restaurants. How can something be perfect when those things aren't present?

When I was in Paris two weeks ago, I went to the Pierre Herme shop on rue Bonaparte. I bought myself an Isphahan and I went to sit on a bench in front of St, Sulpice to eat it. If you've never had one, it's a raspberry macaron with fresh raspberries on it. But when you bite into it it has an entirely different flavor and texture then you were imagining. And it was only when I started to pry the macaron apart to see what was making me so happy, I realized that I had eaten it once before at Korovo and what I was finding interesting were slices of Lychee. Now to me that's genius. Herme took a standard item and improved it to the point where he transformed it into a "better dessert." It wasn't just a plain macaron anymore. And not only that, everything about it was distinctly Pierre Herme. That's the standard I use when I evaluate food. And for my money Ducasse doesn't meet the standard.

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The critic/reviewer is on the side of the buyer and views a product or a work of art from the buyer's (or publics) perspective.

That's true of consumer advocates and other low-level critics who review stuff for epinions.com and such, but serious critics are on the side of the craft itself.

Apart from this thread, I think that's an important point. There's a difference perhaps, between a reviewer and a critic.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Plotnicki, now we're at the point in the argument where you repeat all your old arguments even though they were already dispensed with. Let me know when you have something to say besides 1) Nobody thinks Ducasse is any good, 2) Ducasse's food communicates nothing, and 3) Robert Brown agrees with you.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As I keep saying (ahem,) works of art need to meet an objective standard. What changes, as in your example of Van Gogh, is that there was no standard to hold it to because it was new and unusual for its time. That professionals couldn't formulate the standard is a fluke of history. It just means the right person wasn't born yet.

And when you say that, I need to keep repeating that works of culture are held to standards, while works of art inevitably cause those who inderstand them to revise the standards by which we judge. It doesn't mean that the right person wasn't born yet, it means no one has opened his eyes yet.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Wilfrid has often brought up the fact that Melville's Moby Dick was totally unappreciated until long after the author's death. I think that Melville's vision was so far ahead of his readers that it may still be some time before Moby Dick can be completely understood in all its brilliance. For instance, you could read it and simply marvel at what he did with punctuation, even focusing on just his use of commas, and miss so many other aspects of the book. In that sense, his "right" readers weren't born when he wrote it, and may still not be born.

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Bux, in his ever thoughtful way, has opened the door and boosted my confidence instead of biting my tongue as the discussion has twisted and turned beyond my range...

That's why they pay me big money to be a coordinator. :laugh:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Fat Guy - I didn't say any of that. I said;

1. Based on my own experience Ducasse's food and restaurant are nowhere close to perfect

2. I can't find anyone who wants to go eat there with me

The rest of it you made up to make the conversation look circular. But there are a whole lot of points in my last thread that you haven't responded to including why you think that an obviosuly imperfect meal is perfect?

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Plotnicki, I'm not going to play the quoting game with you. What you and I have and have not said is all right here.

If your experiences of Ducasse's restaurants were bad, it's either because you had bad meals or your judgment is somehow deficient. I'm certainly willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you had bad meals. But I can't help you with that.

I could, however, help you out with a few pointers on how to make more friends.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy - Let's keep the debating technique to a minimum and keep the discussion to Ducasse and not about what I said. There is review of my March 2000 meal of Ducasse pasted into one of the threads on this site. It was a fair review, and if you recall, I liked my meal more then not. But it was nowhere near a perfect meal. Not even close. It wasn't even among the best 25 haute cuisine meals I've ever had. That's a long way from being perfect.

As to the rest of your post, it really takes the thread down the wrong path. You and I might disagree as to the quality or validity of a chef's aesthetic, but there is no reason for there to be a disagreement about actual quality. I have enough confidence in your palate to know that if we were sitting at a table with a bowl of various tomatoes, that there would be very little disagreement as to which one was the best. And if there was, there would be an honest dispute between different types of quality and that is where personal preferences would kick in. In other words, when it comes down to sheer ingredients, your palate will usually ratify mine

But I don't see any of that to be what this dispute is about. I don't see the honest disagreement. I see my offering a chef who expresses a strong aesthetic (Passard) or you brought up Thomas Keller, and I see you trying to offer perfectionism as Ducasse's aesthetic. And first of all perfectionsim is not an aesthetic, despite your valient argument as such, and second I'm wondering how you can make that proffer when it so clear that not everything Ducasse does is "perfect?" I mean there must be 500 reviews to read that pick apart his various restaurants on every level from nits to serious error. I know your response to this is that the media is against Ducasse. And that is probably true to a point. But why are they against him? Isn't it because he doesn't deliver what he promises? For someone who advertises himself as the world's best chef, unless one can harness the majority of public opinion into agreeing with you, aren't you going to get killed by the press? And if you are "perfect," shouldn't you be able to get a majority of opinion to agree with you? And don't try and misstate that as people agreeing with me. I'm a small pisher in the Ducasse criticism game. There is a body of work out there with a tremendous amount of negative criticism of the guy. I'm just wondering how you reconcile the concept of "perfectionism" with all the negative criticism when the basis of the criticism is that he is less then perfect?

I could, however, help you out with a few pointers on how to make more friends.

Spoken by the guy who always says he has no life and no friends.

Heron - Just let me know when you want to go. The chef, Frank Cerruti, used to be the chef/owner of a great Italian restaurant in Nice called Don Camillo. Before he went back to work for Ducasse (he originally trained with Ducasse before going out on his own) his restaurant used to be one of my favorites on the coast. It was a small place (actually it's still there and his wife runs the place,) just a block off the pedestrian area where the market is. It was originally an old fashioned Italian joint, but when Cerrutti took it over he cooked a good combination of Nicoise and modern Italian. And it was a hip place too with the waiters running around in sort of Japanese outfits. But then Ducasse opened Monte Carlo and he hired him to be the chef there. So we went to have dinner there knowing that Frank is a great chef, and thinking that the combination with Ducasse had enormous potential. But it was so boring. Frank's risotto was better at his own restaurant then it was at Louis XV. There was no life to it anymore. It had become institutionalized and bland tasting. But there was one big improvement. Instead of the risotto being glopped onto your plate, they formed it into a perfectly shaped mound and they served it under a silver dome. So for less taste, and better shape, and the chance to eat risotto under a gilded ceiling, they charged us $50 more. But I'm ready to go whenever you are.

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Frank's risotto was better at his own restaurant then it was at Louis XV. There was no life to it anymore. It had become institutionalized and bland tasting. But there was one big improvement. Instead of the risotto being glopped onto your plate, they formed it into a perfectly shaped mound and they served it under a silver dome. So for less taste, and better shape, and the chance to eat risotto under a gilded ceiling, they charged us $50 more. But I'm ready to go whenever you are.

I'm not a huge fan of bland risotto. Let's go somewhere else... :wink::biggrin:

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Plotnicki, holding you accountable for what you've said may be a "debating technique" but you say it like it's a bad thing when, actually, it's a prerequisite for intelligent conversation.

I'm not sure what you think an aesthetic is. Should we start with a definition? We know that the top level definition of aesthetics is "a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty." (Merriam-Webster). And when we say "an aesthetic" we mean "a particular theory or conception of beauty or art : a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight." Now these terms are mostly used to describe schools of thought in the visual arts -- imitationalism, emotionalism, formalism, structuralism, modernism, minimalism -- but they also work for cuisine if they're properly translated. Now my argument was that Ducasse's aesthetic of perfectionism qualifies as an aesthetic because it is "a particular theory or conception of beauty." I guess you could call him a formalist or a structuralist if you want to use only the universe of art terminology (there is as far as I know no school labeled "perfectionism" in the art-history books), but those designations would be somewhat inaccurate because Ducasse is concerned with content as much as with form. But I think perfectionism is the best designation for Ducasse's aesthetic. Remember that cuisine is not the same as painting. It's a totally different form. One of the major challenges of cuisine is creating beauty consistently despite inconsistent and varying base materials. This isn't much of a challenge in painting when you produce one of any given painting. But in cuisine it's a central theme. Ducasse is the leader in harnessing consistency through his top-to-bottom approach to restaurant-kitchen organization, technique, and discovery and maintenance of supply lines. Another issue you have in cuisine is that being a mainstream chef is mostly about compromise: Limits on manpower, ingredients, equipment, and skill. But Ducasse is about the avoidance of compromise: Charging whatever he needs to charge so that whatever he creates in his mind can be implemented on the plate because there are always enough cooks to produce the dish, always the best ingredients available to support the creation, always whatever piece of equipment is needed to bring out its flavor best, and always mastery of all technique so that the best technique can be selected and applied and if a new technique has to be induced it can be done so proceeding from the broadest possible base of knowledge. So especially in the context of cuisine, Ducasse's perfectionism is clearly an aesthetic in this context. Indeed, I'd say that not only does Ducasse have an aesthetic (second definition), but also that he thinks more about aesthetics (first definition), knows more about aesthetics, and has contributed more to aesthetics in the context of his field (gastronomy) than anybody else alive. But I don't really care whether we call perfectionism an aesthetic or not, because I've already explained why Ducasse's perfectionism -- however you want to categorize it -- fulfills all the criteria you've thrown out there for what a chef needs to do to be a great chef.

Now I've used a bunch of words like "always" and "best" and "perfect" in describing Ducasse's aesthetic, or his approach if you'd be more comfortable calling it something other than an aesthetic. But of course I've had dishes at Ducasse's restaurants that didn't meet the standard he sets for himself. And I agree that a restaurant needs to be evaluated not only by the general standards of quality and excellence that all experienced diners sort of agree on but also by the standards it sets for itself. So Ducasse by setting and striving for the highest standard of any chef opens himself up to criticism every time he fails to meet the standard. And since the perfect meal has yet to be served on planet Earth, a particularly perverse commentator could call Ducasse a failure. But I don't see it that way, because the meals I've experienced at Ducasse's restaurants have come closer to perfection than any other meals I've had. And within those meals there have been many individual items that I'd be willing to characterize as perfect -- and if you explore my body of work you'll see that I don't throw that term around with reckless abandon. Sometimes it slips out but mostly I save it for real perfection. So to say "there must be 500 reviews to read that pick apart his various restaurants on every level from nits to serious error" as though it invalidates Ducasse's striving for protection strikes me as unconvincing.

Now the media thing is a big subject that has been debated endlessly already. There has certainly been some legitimate criticism of Ducasse, as there is legitimate criticism of every restaurant. And when you're the best you're going to be attacked more ruthlessly than anybody else. That's fine. But no reasonable, impartial observer could look at the media coverage of Ducasse either in France when he got his six stars or in the United States when he opened in New York and not conclude that there were ulterior motives informing the so-called reviews. In France it was the outrage at Ducasse's corporate approach to reproducing restaurants, and in the United States it was xenophobia, an inferiority complex, and willful ignorance. That's the short answer. I've written the longer answer many times. The point being, while I wouldn't dismiss all criticism of Ducasse, I think it's entirely reasonable -- indeed necessary -- to dismiss much of it as ill-informed and political. And it's not coincidence that among the serious critics there's much less of that. Many of those who came out swinging against Ducasse originally -- like William Grimes -- have now fallen in line and are supporters. And whether it is because Ducasse improved (as they of course would like us to believe) or because they finally got their heads screwed on straight (as I believe) doesn't matter much in the context of this particular argument.

As for having no life and no friends, you think that's easy? It actually requires a lot of work. So I can still give you plenty of good advice on the subject of making and getting rid of friends, since they are really just two sides of the same coin.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steve, the family sold the restaurant maybe 2-1/2 years ago to a local chef. We went one time after that and have not/will not go back. But I shared your love for the place when the Cerutti family owned it. It was still good after the wife, Veronique, was there without her husband. It was the best restaurant in Nice to our minds. I wish Franck would open up his own place again and be able to devote full time to it. He must be getting paid a lot to stay at the Louis XV. My guess is that his heart isn't in Monaco anymore.

I'm still working on it, but at least it's started.

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