I am not sure if it was the carrot stew or the parsley diced thinly over the potatoes… Maybe it was that sprinkle of sea salt I saw him apply swiftly and with skillful hands. The cucumber melting into the olives as it swims in the streams of freshly squeezed organic tomatoes. In a shallow pool of lava emanating from the oven flamed potato stuffed with vine leaves; my God, was I in heaven from the first bite!
It probably was the ear-catching crumbling and crushing sound of the freshly warm baguette dipping into the dish piece by piece, which elevated the taste. But there really is no way, even without the Parisian bread warming my palms in the frigid Belgian winter, the dish still stands out marvelously needless to say! Perhaps it could be the pumpkin sauce and garlic salt dabbed very lightly from the iron spoon atop the sauteed cocktail of vegetables harvested from the fertile lands of Charleroi. It added to the aroma fuming the room around me lavishly, reddening the Belgian-French border cheeks from the faces sat around me, as if the Czars have come back from the cold dead to dine with us!
Whatever it is, it is all the above and something that I just can’t seem to put my hands on… It surely can’t be that sip of the heavenly white wine of Sancerre from the Valleys of Loire. It moves my senses to ecstasy with each bite and every drop of the 2004. I could not help but make the sweet, sweet, love to this heavenly gift of a meal, finish the remaining crumbs and walk across the great hall into the kitchen. I’m greeted with buttered saute vapor and the grinding noises of pans slamming against the flames worked by tireless hands.
Alain Ducasse was seated resting with a cigarette next to an old stove with nothing but a tea table adjacent, an ash tray and a small shot glass of thé à la menthe. The greatest chef in the world ever so humble. I started towards him nervously slowly brushing past the rushing pastry chefs, busboys and busgirls, who gave me hard looks because I wasn’t allowed back here.
I hesitated at first but when he looked up at me past the issue of Le Monde I cleared my throat and asked, “Excuse moi monsieur, chef Alain, but I have a question, ahm… actually a comment and a question if I may…” I began sweating as I stood before one of the world’s greatest chefs, if I didn’t mention that already. He folded his news paper and took a quick sip from his tea.
“Oui, sil vous plait, go on please.” He replied with a faint, yet welcoming, warm smile.
“Yes, thank you very much for the wonderful dinner, but monsieur, I have been coming here to this wonderful restaurant of yours for a while now and I always loved it but, for the love of God, I have never dined like today ever before. The special dish you made for the conference table earlier, what was it?” Curiosity took over my manners and I finally questioned the hands of the man himself…
“Oh, well my friend, it is traditional French Ratatouille…” He answered casually unattended to my excitement. I had to interrupt him.
“But monsieur, I know what it is, it is more than just ratatouille. I mean the recipe is prepared to perfection, the sauce is just heavenly, everything is perfectly tempered and presented… Is there any real secret to it?” I finally imploded and let everything out at once, the thousands of questions in my mind all into one breath.
“Oh I see, well that is very generous of you, but really there is no secret… Or, you know what, since you are a wonderful customer I will let you in on a ‘secret’. Back in my old restaurant in Paris I have won the Michelin star for that dish which elevated the status of my dining and my career. This dish, ratatouille. Is no ordinary recipe…”
Ducasse stood up, placed the newspaper on the chair and put his arm around me. He then walked a few paces leading me to a nearby window overlooking a great plain as the sun began to set. “It was my mother’s recipe, it’s the true color of France; the ratatouille that changed my life. It is, my friend, a little taste of home.”