CNBC Producer, "On the Money"
Meals like lobster with black truffle sauce or sea scallops and caviar from French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse are typically found in his world famous restaurants or higher-flying side-projects like the menus at the Eiffel Tower or the International Space Station.
Now, the best dishes from one of the world’s most celebrated chefs are edging a little closer to the palm of your hand.
Ducasse has launched a new iPhone and iPad application serving diners a more customizable taste of his haute gastronomy.
"In the beginning, it is a gadget, but then it becomes an actual tool," Ducasse told CNBC from an event at Manhattan's holiday pop-up Wired store.
Ducasse is the world’s only chef with three Michelin three-starred restaurants, the highest ranking available from the influential international cuisine guide. He achieved the first at age 33 with the Le Louis XV restaurant in Monoco, where six-course tasting menus begin at 280 Euros. The former French farm boy who tended geese and Boletus mushrooms is also a self-avowed gadget freak, juggling a Blackberry and iPhone while talking with reporters.
The free -- and the chef promises it will remain so—Alain Ducasse applicationcurrently includes profiles of his 27 restaurants in 8 countries, as well as Ducasse's line of European country inns, bakeries and cooking schools in Paris. Features of the app link to reservations centers, gift certificate purchases and listings of Ducasse-authored cookbooks on Amazon.com.
“It’s something that generates business because it creates awareness to a greater public,” says Ducasse, with the aid of a translator. As his digital public grows, Ducasse plans recipes, video demos, and a chance for the gourmand and international businessman to share discoveries of his own along the way. “Restaurants, shops, boutiques—things to taste anywhere in the world,” akin to a list of the chef’s favorite things.
Ducasse says he’s “never in the same place,” spending much of his time traveling as something of an artistic director to his empire of global restaurants. The three in the United States include: New York's Ardour Alain Ducasse and Benoit, and Mix at the Mandalay Bay Las Vegas. Revenue for the Alain Ducasse Enterprisewith restaurants from Paris to Tokyo to Mauritius is estimated to be nearly $30 million.
“People are tired of being victims of the economic crisis,” says the CEO-Chef, who is seeing a return in personal reward travel and dining. Ducasse describes European high-end consumers progressing forwards very slowly with a still-extended period of plateau. “Americans,” he says, “bounce back quicker.” Business lunches in his midtown Manhattan bistro Benoit are offered for a prix-fixe at $27 and the mid-day crowd is bustling.
The downloadable app is the newest potential revenue stream for celebrity chefs seeking a communication channel with their most dedicated fans. Food Network personality Tyler Florence’s app has a per-download fee of $4.99. British TV chefs Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver sell theirs for $7.99. Martha Stewart’s app for the Everyday Food brand is available for $1.99.
Much like a fine wine or luxe meal, “information shouldn’t be a dead end,” Ducasse states. “It should continue to expand and grow and live and breathe.”
The iPhone application isn’t the first technological experiment from a chef with such a refined resume and, ironically, a focus on traditional technique and simple ingredients. The wine bar at Adour Alain Ducasse in the Starwood Hotels’ St. Regis in New York includes a digital touchscreen with an interactive menu. Guests can access information about a wine’s origin, varietal and flavors from the glowing screen beneath their glasses.
Ducasse hopes to continue building on the alchemy of kitchen and computer flavors. “At some point in the future, we may have a menu delivered on an iPad instead of paper.” He hinted that his 2011 opening at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar will showcase technology “even more integrated into the dining experience.”
With a chef so attuned to the technological addiction, are diners who visibly use their cell phones in his restaurants frowned upon?
“No,” says Ducasse, with a chuckle. “Because I’m the first one to do it.”