Alain Ducasse Doha interview

Alain Ducasse on Doha, dining and the best sushi he’s ever tasted

Alain Ducasse Doha interview

With a flair for picking only the most prestigious addresses for his restaurants, Alain Ducasse has accentuated his passion for simplicity and sophistication in his only Middle Eastern venture, set in one of Qatar’s most impressive locations.

Nestled under the Museum of Islamic Art, IDAM promises a truly French-Mediterranean experience to its customers. The views are impressive, the surrounding is ambient and sophisticated and even before you sit down you already know you’re in for some haute gastronomy. You can’t miss the floor-to-ceiling book shelves, or the eye-catching, peculiar monochrome furnishings. The restaurant’s designer, Philippe Starck, has done well.

Four years into IDAM’s life, Alain Ducasse (or ‘the architect of flavours’), continues to strive to reveal new tastes and exclusive experiences for his guests. After all, only one other chef in the world holds 21 Michelin stars. From the finest garden produce to the fruits of the sea, Ducasse’s IDAM promises a truly delicious experience.

Time Out catches up with the chef on his recent visit to Doha.

Time Out Doha: What makes IDAM so special?
This is one of the best restaurants in Doha, and the Museum of Islamic Art is easily one of the best places to be in the country. So many things make IDAM special — the unique, unparalleled view of the ocean, the setting, the ambience and the chef Damien Leroux. The food is the best here, and when that combines with the glorious architecture and the location, it makes IDAM one of my favourite places.

TODO: What does it take to come up with the menus here?
I always aim to capture the local tastes. In Doha’s case, local culture and tradition means sharing and generosity, and this is what we try to bring about in IDAM. We use local produce as much as we can, while respecting the local taste. What is consistent here is our French expertise — the way we set our tables up, pair beverages with dishes and so on. You can say our food has local flavour but French DNA. All of this creates a unique experience. Another important thing we consider is the season of the product. We work on European seasons. We always closely monitor what produce is the best at certain times of year and we also look for whatever we can find locally. Sometimes we find some fish or vegetables that are in season and we use these to create our menus, also based on feedback of guests.

TODO: It must have taken a while to understand local flavours…
Before we opened, we were here for about a year and a half, just to brainstorm and understand what the local taste is. The head chefs always travelled a lot. The challenge was to create healthy cuisine that highlights regional tastes. We searched the region, all the way from Lebanon to India and North Africa to find the best flavours. Our executive chef Damien Lerous is naturally very curious and therefore always on a journey to find better and different flavours.

TODO: What is the highlight of your visit?
Today, we had a nice lunch with royalty. We were really amazed with their food. Everything was so interesting, and what we ate today is something you can’t find anywhere else in Qatar. You would have to be invited by the royal family itself to try this food out. We had some very traditional dishes, and contrary to what a lot of people believe, almost all the food was vegetable-oriented, with hardly any meats.

TODO: Why did you choose to open a restaurant in MIA?

Because it is the most prestigious address in Doha, and this is what I love. I am a true lover of architecture and culture, and for me, this is the most perfect combination of both. I have the same thoughts of my other restaurants around the world – always the most prestigious and beautiful locations.

TODO: What’s the biggest challenge you face running a restaurant here?
Our biggest challenge is to continue being the flagship of haute cuisine in Qatar and the Middle East. This is a challenge because we have to continuously innovate taste while keeping it accessible to the people. I like to call it haute cuisine for a hot country.

TODO: Besides French, what country’s cuisine do you love most?
Italian. Cuisines are part of the culture of each nation and, for me, Italy shares some of our culture and hence, it is my favourite.

TODO: What do you cook at home?
I always look in my garden first and nature decides my lunch and dinner, because I love eating fresh produce. It is a way of life now. Then I go to the local market.

TODO: What does your family think of your food?

They don’t have a choice. They have to eat what is on their plate and this is something we learned growing up. What I make for them is good, healthy and from the garden. This is the best they can get, and we always eat fresh. For example, I don’t eat strawberries when they are not in season.
Open Wed-Thu, Sat-Sun 12.30pm-3pm; Wed-Sun 7pm-10pm. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (4422 4488).

The Samurai of Sushi
Since his early days travelling, a trip to Japan captivated Ducasse

About 25 years ago, I visited a small, traditional restaurant in Kyoto, Japan, and they were making sushi that was truly authentic. The techniques of preparing sushi in the early days were completely different from what we see and taste now. Those techniques are long gone. However, I will never forget that taste from 25 years ago — In my mind it was the first and last time I ever tasted it and I was pretty sure I would never find it again.

Then recently I visited a restaurant in Tokyo, where everything looked so traditional. The chef, surprisingly, served sushi that tasted exactly like what I had tried 25 years ago. The recipe was contemporary but it was prepared using old techniques. It brought back so many memories. I looked around the restaurant and saw that everything was traditional here – the chef looked like he could have been in that kitchen 25 years ago. He just kept to himself, focused on the food and never interacted with guests. The décor was old-fashioned and even the fridge was wooden. It felt like he was a robot – perfect in his work. I’d like to call him the Samurai of sushi.

I will never share the name or location of the restaurant, but if Time Out Doha ever visits Tokyo, I might make an exception for you. But you'll have to show me your plane ticket to prove it.

IDAM’s Executive Chef Damien Leroux on Ducasse

“Chef Ducasse pushes you to become better every day, although sometimes he can be tough on you, of course. I have been working with him since I was a teenager. I was 19 when I started and he has really shown me how to move past my limits. Sometimes you think what you are doing is great and even guests might compliment it, but chef Ducasse will arrive at that point and make you change everything, with good reason. He knows better, and has a great vision, and every day with him is a new learning experience.”

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