The most important chef in the world today is Massimo Bottura.
Bottura is the three-star Michelin chef responsible for pioneering modern Italian gastronomy. Just last June, his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was declared No. 1 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List.
But the most important chef to Bottura is Alain Ducasse.
Food and drink editor Allan Jenkins wrote in The Guardian just two years ago: “Ask (Bottura) what was the most important day in his life and he’ll say it was when he met Alain Ducasse. Note: not when he met or married his wife or when his son or daughter was born. Ducasse was impressed when he ate at Trattoria Campazzo (Bottura’s first restaurant) in 1992 and invited him to work with him in Monte Carlo (at Ducasse’s flagship restaurant Le Louis XV). A few months later, Bottura had sold the trattoria and moved to the Riviera.”
Why Ducasse? Jenkins continues: “It was at restaurant Louis XV, at the birth of modern Mediterranean cooking, (Bottura) says, that he truly learned to rely on his palate: ‘Ducasse tore up my notes, taught me to stand on my own. That was the moment I learned to think.’”
I remembered this piece of culinary trivia as I drove home last week from the Tuloy Foundation in Alabang, where Ducasse paid a private, unpublicized, no-media-allowed visit to the scholars of the Youth With A Future program by the Alain Ducasse Institute Philippines (Ducasse Institute) at Enderun Colleges.
The legendary chef literally just flew in for the day to be with the scholars, and to personally award the Youth With A Future Certificate in Culinary Arts from Ducasse Institute to the current batch of scholars, who will now begin their internships.
The Youth With A Future Program was conceived as a replica of the Women with a Future (Femmes en Avenir) program by the Alain Ducasse Education in France. This was an initiative wherein underprivileged women from Paris were given a “future” by empowering them through a culinary arts program.
Ducasse wanted to show, through this program, what can be done if everyone, not only public bodies but also private companies, got involved. He promised each woman on the program a job in one of his 15 Paris restaurants if they obtained their diploma, in the hopes of changing their lives for the better. The program was a great success and the women who previously seemed to have no hope are now successfully employed.
Patterned after this, Youth with a Future gives a “future” to chosen youth—streetkids fostered by the Tuloy Foundation—by empowering them through scholarships with the Ducasse Institute, with the opportunity to be trained by chefs who work with Alain Ducasse himself.
I have followed the development of the program since it was launched in 2014 (hence the invitation to the dinner even if no media were allowed) and am most amazed at the dedication and commitment that Alain Ducasse himself has shown.
When the program was trying to get off the ground, he personally flew in for the fundraiser that was held to jumpstart the program and for the first batch of scholars.
Chef Jerrome Lacressonnière, then Chef Instructor of the Ducasse Institute at Enderun, whipped up a fabulous Ducasse-inspired dinner; and after dinner, there was an auction of Ducasse’s personal items such as his apron and mortar and pestle, as well as complimentary dinners at his various Michelin-star restaurants abroad. The event raised P2 million for the benefit of the scholars.
Now on the program’s third year, Ducasse paid a quick visit for another dinner, but this time, the menu was cooked in his honor by the beneficiary-scholars themselves.
The program has successfully graduated 20 scholars (10 each year) and has another batch of 10 who just received the much-coveted Youth With A Future Certificate in Culinary Arts from the Ducasse Institute and are about to go on internships.
But more than the certificates, the future of these youth—as promised by the program—is now secure: the graduates have been successfully employed by top restaurants in the Philippines such as Chateau 1771, Cirkulo and Vask; and by the Four Seasons in Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, among other partners. The Four Seasons, in fact, has been so impressed that it has hired a total of eight scholars and is looking to recruit many more.
James Diño, one of the scholars who ended up working at the Four Seasons Dubai, was even given the Employee of the Month award in June 2015.
“The demand for YWAF scholars is now so great, it seems we should produce more graduates!” said Tricia Tensuan, Vice President for Admission and External Relations of Enderun Colleges.
This has left Ducasse very inspired.
“He is very proud of the scholars. When he bit into the the dish that Nelyn (Hatol, one of the YWAF program graduates) prepared, he said, ‘Perfect!’” Tensuan shared.
Tensuan was seated across from Ducasse at the VIP table last Thursday for the dinner by the Tuloy Foundation scholars/graduates in his honor. It was the turn of the beneficiaries to showcase what they had learned. They served a menu guided by Chef See Cheong Yan, culinary head of Enderun Colleges, and Chef Marc Chalopin, executive chef of Ducasse Institute, but prepared entirely by themselves.
Ducasse was impressed by Nelyn’s main course of buro using heirloom rice served with tilapia, which she just learned from Chef Chele Gonzalez at Vask. Tensuan noted that the execution of the dish by Nelyn was perfectly balanced and not salty, as expected of the usual buro.
Pay it forward
The “being inspired” part is clearly contagious as it seems that all beneficiaries now seek to become the best cooks, to make their mentors, especially Ducasse, proud and pay forward this good fortune that Ducasse, the Ducasse Institute, Enderun Colleges, Tuloy Foundation have given them.
Nelyn, from the first batch of scholars, has just been promoted to become demi-chef de partie at Vask, a partner of the program. She is only 21 years old.
“It has been three years and three batches as of date,” she shared with the guests as the program closed, “and I am very glad that I was a part of this program. … I am standing here on behalf of everyone whom you have helped, to thank you for all your efforts. It is now time for us to live up to what we have learned and to spread your good deeds. … What we all can do now is to share (this blessing you have given us), to help others realize their dreams, to believe that they, too, can do it. Rest assured that we will live a decent life with a grateful heart.”
Ducasse, for his part, hopes to keep inspiring these future chefs.
“You must work more, improve yourself, get better and have excellent standards every day,” he reminded them. “But you must also find pleasure in your work,” he cautioned. “It is a decision. If you do not find pleasure, change jobs.” But most importantly, he encouraged them all to continue dreaming. “There is no limit (to dreaming and achieving your dreams)!” he stressed.
Tensuan shared that Ducasse had mentioned that his dream was to have one of the Tuloy Foundation-Ducasse Institute scholars become the executive chef of one of his restaurants.
Perhaps this was his dream for Bottura as well, when, many years ago, Ducasse picked him out of that small restaurant in Italy and brought him to Le Louis XV.
Bottura may not have stayed on to become the Chef de Cuisine of any of Ducasse’s restaurants, but certainly Ducasse strengthened Bottura’s wings and contributed in inspiring him to become the best chef that he can be … and today he is the World’s Best Chef!
Whatever magic Ducasse sprinkled on Bottura, he for sure continues to sprinkle on aspiring chefs with great potential today, including and especially the Youth With A Future scholars. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a decade or so, one of these scholars not only becomes executive chef of a 3 Michelin star Ducasse restaurant but also becomes regarded among the world’s best chefs.
And when these future great chefs are asked what is the most important day of their lives, they may just look back and say—as Bottura did—that it was when they met Alain Ducasse.
Youth with a Future, a program of Alain Ducasse Education, Enderun Colleges and Alain Ducasse Institute Philippines, aims to support and provide educational scholarships every year to a select group of culinary students of Tuloy Foundation. With the strong internship and career placement program of Enderun Colleges, the school also extends support to the students in securing internships and job opportunities. For inquiries on how you can donate, please contact Angel Cordero at 8565000 local 574 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from the author including past articles on the Youth With A Future program and dining at Alain Ducasse restaurants at margauxsalcedo.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.