Last summer, the world's reigning French chef, Alain Ducassehe of the multiple Michelin stars and the celebrated restaurants in Paris, Monte Carlo, London and Tokyoopened his first Manhattan restaurant, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. The buzz was all about how high the prices were (a $160 prix fixe) and how hard it was to get a reservation (the restaurant has a single seating each night for 65 people). It looked like the only way I would ever taste Ducasse's food was if I made it myself. All right, then. I came up with a plan: I would try to buy the same ingredients Ducasse uses, dig up his brand of pots and pans, knives and plates, pick some recipes from his books and get my wife and daughters to join me in preparing a do-it-yourself Ducasse dinner. And for the pièce de résistanceor perhaps the coup de grâcewe'd invite Ducasse over for the meal. He'd have no trouble getting a reservation chez nous.
I wasn't afraid of cooking for a culinary demigod. I've found over the years that chefs are pretty easy to please when they're off duty; after all, the reason they're in the business they're in is that they like food. The tough part, I thought, would be the same thing I find problematic with a lot of great chefs' cookbooks. The recipes are easybut only if you have a platoon of culinary-school graduates chopping hard-to-get and harder-to-afford ingredients into atoms. Would my wife and daughters be a suitable substitute?
I sat for a few days in our little cabin up in the Adirondacks, thumbing through Ducasse's books, and after much page turning and mental tasting, I began to feel a menu coming together. First, a steak: The recipe I chose, from the 1998 Ducasse Flavors of France, called for a sauce made with a reduction of sour cherries and cherry vinegar combined with an equally reduced red-wine-and-beef stock.