Top chefs work Mediterranean magic at Monaco pow-wow

Top chefs work Mediterranean magic at Monaco pow-wow

Ducasse was feting a quarter century at his first three-star eatery, the Louis XV in Monaco, by holding a three-day chefs' summit in the principality, with a local producers' market on Saturday a highlight of the event.

Boasting a combined 300 Michelin stars among them, the chefs from 28 countries headed down to the market, specially convened in the waterside Sporting Monte Carlo complex -- where 14 of them set to work for lunch.

The two-star Californian Daniel Patterson grated generous slivers of Italian white truffle onto an oyster-flavoured einkorn risotto, as fellow chefs eagerly snapped pictures and jotted down notes.

David Chang -- the Korean-American chef named one of the world's 100 most influential figures by Time Magazine in 2010 -- drew crowds for his miso soup of fermented green French lentils, with black truffle.

"I'm just trying to cook food, trying to make people happy, we're not rocket scientists," he joked.

While he ranks among the hottest chefs of his generation, the 35-year-old said he found it "humbling" to be invited to the Monaco event.

"It's a hangout, it's an invitation from the chef Ducasse, it's like the pope asking you to come visit or the president, you have no choice," Chang said.

"I have to pinch myself to realise this is happening because a lot of theses guys are my heroes."

Lebanon's Maroun Chedid conjured up a risotto of olive oil-poached seabass -- putting a new twist on a classic Lebanese dish called Sayadieh.

"We don't cook lamb in Japan, so I wanted to try it with a sake-soy sauce and cane sugar. It's crunchy on the skin side, but juicy inside," explained Hiroyuki Kanda, who holds three stars in Tokyo.

And Scotland's one-star chef Tom Kitchin -- whose speciality in Edinburgh is rolled pig's head with crispy ear salad -- wrestled a Mediterranean octopus into a carpaccio with fennel compote and tomato confit.

His one-time mentor Guy Savoy warmly approved: "The octopus is beautifully tender, there's a very nice balance of textures and complex flavours -- just a little acidity from the Menton lemon."

Around the corner, the Japanese-born Australian Tetsuya Wakuda marvelled at a stall of orange-capped Caesar's Mushrooms, a Mediterranean delicacy: "I've never tasted these, I'd just heard about them."

"It's unbelievable," said the American Frank Decarlo, before a glistening display of red mullet, octopus, squid and shellfish fished that morning just offshore.

Further along, the pastry chef Pierre Herme bit into a selection of local almonds, approving with a connoisseur's nod.

"Mindsets have changed, chefs used to be jealous of one another -- now they share what they know," summed up the Neapolitan Gennaro Esposito, whose apron was covered with his fellow chefs' autographs "as a souvenir".

Ducasse arrived at the Louis XV in 1987, earning three stars in 1990. He arrived in Paris in 1996, and clinched three stars there too the following year.

In 2005 he became the first chef to hold three stars in three different places by adding New York, a triumph all the sweeter since the restaurant had been panned by critics when it opened five years earlier.

Today, aged 56, he sits at the helm of a global empire with 21 Michelin stars to his name, and fingers in dozens of pies: from space flights to the Eiffel Tower's eatery, all under the umbrella of Alain Ducasse Entreprise (ADE).

His Louis XV has trained hundreds of chefs in the Ducasse style, acting like an incubator and feeding a vast global culinary network.

"He's shown that you can take being a chef to a completely other level and being a really great ambassador at that," Chang said of his host.

"I've never worked for chef Ducasse, but I've worked for people that have worked for him. I think people don't realise the impact he's had on gastronomy worldwide. He's set a level."