THE QUEST OF ALAIN DUCASSE (La quête d’Alain Ducasse)
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gilles de Maistre
Screenwriter: Gilles de Maistre
Cast: Alain Ducasse, François Hollande, Massimo Bottura, Prince Albert II of Monaco
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/20/18
Opens: June 8, 2018
Film journalists in New York have the good fortune to be invited to screenings in elegant rooms reserved for the press. The Dolby is a favorite room because of its awesome acoustics, plush seating, and wide screens. Its location is not far from Columbus Circle, the center of the universe. Just next door on W. 55 St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is the Benoit Restaurant, a place that might be intimidating for us working critics but after seeing “The Quest of Alain Ducasse,” I suspect that many of us might be curious enough to dig up the funds needed to finance a brunch, a lunch, or a dinner. The Benoit is just of the many establishments owned and astonishingly personally visited by the master chef, who has amassed three-star Michelins like magic wherever he treads. In directing a documentary about the chef and owner, Gilles de Maistre, whose impressive résumé includes 19 entries, mostly for TV, is known by cinephiles in part for his 2002 movie “Ferocious,” about a French Arab who infiltrates a far right sect. This time he affords us documentary about a man who knows how to live, not surprising for a Frenchman.
Ducasse is in the enviable position of being not only highly successful as both a chef and a food entrepreneur but also as the owner of 24 restaurants in eight countries. Now 61 years old and surprisingly of a healthy weight considering how he tests rich French food regularly, he is the sole survivor of a plane crash who nonetheless spends a good deal of life traveling by air. It’s no wonder: with all those businesses covering so many different nationalities—French, Monégasque, Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, Filipino, even Mongolian—he has given jobs to hundreds of people and even sponsors a cuisine school in Manila set up with scholarships for young folks who are not especially moneyed. Of course to make haute cuisine, you need good chefs, but just as important, Ducasse insists on using locally sourced ingredients which he often tastes right out in the fields where they are harvested. You would not expect to find Navel oranges in New York in August or cherries from Chile in Fargo.
As a celebrity he mc’s public events and is shown by the director who doubles as cinematographer chatting amiably with then President Hollande, with public figures from Mongolia, no less, and receiving profound affection from the young students that have been financed to become the future leaders of Philippines cuisine. He is a democrat (small d), a man who shakes hands and shows real devotion to the hundreds of people in white chef’s uniforms and hats, and like an excellent teacher goads them to surpass themselves. As he tastes food he comments “too bland,” “very good,” and an assortment of do’s and do not’s, always delivering his suggestions in a calm, cool manner.
The film builds to a climax, charting the move to open a restaurant in Versailles: “3 months before,” “1 month before opening,” “one hour before opening,” though throughout the tale there is so much to marvel at that we don’t look at our watches to think “when is that climax to come?”
Without mentioning the U.S. by name, he is probably appalled that the typical middle-class household here throws out 40% of the food that’s bought, as he believes nothing, yes nothing, should be thrown out and people do not need complex layers of French seasonings and sauces to serve delicious meals.
With Armand Amar’s score, which suggests a thriller rather than a cerebral look at food and its creators, Alain Ducasse, known to be a private person who had to be coaxed to do this project, should find this foodie film completely to his liking and to his quest to make good food a must for the world’s people.
Unrated. 84 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+