The Palace of Versailles is a renowned visitor attraction, but it is also a culinary draw. A living incarnation of French gastronomy if ever there was one, Alain Ducasse has established a presence in the Pavillon Dufour, a setting that oozes history and is now home to his restaurant ore, whose name means "mouth" in Latin. From the menu to the waiters' uniforms, and the venue to the table decor, nothing is left to chance in making dinner in one of the palace's salons a singular experience. And overseeing the stove is Chef Stéphane Duchiron.
Why open a restaurant here? How did the palace, its history, and the figures who made it inspire you?
During the day in this unique venue we will serve up classic dishes from French cuisine. There will also be light bites and quick snacks if you are just feeling peckish, and luxury baked goods. Come evening, when the visitors have all gone home, private dining is available in a theatrical grand banquet, with the service reminiscent of royal ceremonies. Two memorable culinary experiences in one prestigious historical setting.
Tell us what it's like to dine at the Palace of Versailles. What is on and around the table?
From the menu to the waiters' uniforms, and the setting to the table decor, nothing is left to chance in making dinner in one of the Ducasse au château de Versailles salons a singular experience. Within deliciously proportioned 17th century salons - with their taupe panelled walls, fireplaces, and mirrors - the dishes we serve are faithful tributes to those found in Choisy's menus from the mid-18th century. My role is to give them a more modern interpretation.
As Alain Ducasse himself puts it: "Inspiration not replication: the dinner that we have imagined for the Palace of Versailles is an allusion, not a replication."
And how is that expressed in the cuisine? Are the dishes and flavours of the era still on the menu?
We carried out painstaking research so that our dishes reflect the spirit of 18th century cuisine while remaining amenable to the modern palate, and only produce that was available at the time has made it onto the menu. We serve oysters - but these are practically the only shellfish - and freshwater fish like carp, trout, perch, pike and eel are very common. Veal is very frequently used but there is no mention of lamb as such. The same is true of the vegetables. Our recipes use cauliflower, artichoke thistles, green beans, artichokes, and peas, but there are no tomatoes or courgettes which, while not unknown at the time, weren't really eaten until much later.
Does dinner take place in the same palatial splendour you can find elsewhere, or is there a particular ceremony?
The tables are set with sumptuous examples of the finest 18th century decorations. The tableware's provenance is the Ancienne Manufacture Royale de Limoges: now part of the Maison Bernardaud, it has recreated for us three historical replica dinner sets for the restaurants tables.
The dining ceremony evokes the feasts of the past, while remaining tailored to contemporary mores. Some rituals have been retained, like offering guests a moist napkin with which to wash their hands before their meal. The service is "French style", which means serving numerous dishes in successive waves. We have also remained true to the structure of the menu, inspired by 18th century meal schedules which can, for example, be found in François Massialot's famous Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois (The Royal and Bourgeois Chef), published in 1693. A meat stew known as oille was originally served at the beginning of the meal, but we have made it using vegetables so that it is lighter.