After a full education across Alain Ducasse's empire of restaurants, Damien Leroux was chosen to head up the new Rivea London at the Bulgari hotel, which opened in May. Tom Vaughan finds out how Ducasse and Leroux's relationship has developed
Damien went on to work in London at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and then Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where he was educated the hard way. You need discipline and vigour as a chef - they are the absolute basics. All beautiful cuisine has to go through rigour and discipline first, then you can mix in your sensibilities.
In London he found this discipline. We needed him to have his DNA in Mediterranean cuisine but to have experienced the London market - this is why it was so good for him to go to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Two years ago I put him into La Trattoria [Ducasse's Italian restaurant in Monaco] to test him as a head chef. On his first day he was overawed and I joked that he had better improve by the next day - and he did. He knows that to get this cuisine right, you have to love it and you have to experience life in the Mediterranean and you have to be educated in it. The base of every dish is always the produce.
I see him as the perfect chef for Rivea. He has a brilliant palate and, most importantly, he listens. He manages to get the perfect balance of sweetness from vegetables. He understands the simplicity of the produce.
Rivea is an old word in Genovese for Riviera, and copying that style of cooking here in London will of course be more difficult as it is harder to find the produce. I designed the menu but it has evolved with Damien and he has fine-tuned it until we got it right. How do you express the sunshine, the Mediterranean cuisine and produce here in London? That is the question. Yesterday I tasted all the dishes here and I felt like I was in the Mediterranean. Damien has managed to recreate that cooking here in London. It is an urban version, but it is perfect.
Damien Leroux, head chef, Rivea London
I started my career working at l'Hostellerie Jérôme [near Monaco] for Bruno Cirino, who XV and I met Franck Cerutti - a chef who has been at the restaurant for over 20 years - who employed me there. It was difficult at first. With Bruno, it was a small brigade and at Le Louis XV it was much, much bigger. It
is hard as a young man to find your way in a kitchen like this - you are at the very bottom. But I'd work long hours and weekends and three years later I managed to get a position at Ducasse at the Dorchester.
I met Clare Smyth [now chef-patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay] at the Dorchester and she took me to Royal Hospital Road as a chef de partie. It was demanding but I learned organisation and discipline. From there I went to La Bastide de Moustiers [one of Ducasse's country inns in Provence]. They cook simple, local food from the vegetable garden and it was here that I began to find the real expression of my cooking. Every day the gardener brought in
the vegetables and you really don't have to do much to this food - it is at its best done simply.
When I became head chef at La Trattoria it was intimidating but I quickly found my own expression. The first thing to do is to find the best produce, then cook it as simply as possible.
One nice piece of cooking, one condiment - that is enough. I arrived at Rivea two months before it was Monsieur Ducasse's sous chef for a long time. He suggested I go to work at Le Louis opened and have been looking for local produce ever since. It is so important to me and Monsieur Ducasse to work with local produce.
Some things, like lemons and baby artichokes, I have to get flown over, but I love the lamb, the beef, the lobster, the carrots, the radishes. What is so important from Monsieur Ducasse is his feedback. He is always pushing me forward, giving me the opportunity to open my mind more. If I had my own restaurant now in France, I might have my name above the door but I wouldn't have someone telling me that I can always be better, that I can work in ways I had never thought of. He wants my expression on the plate - I take the Alain Ducasse way but add my style. He is exactly the same with every chef in every restaurant
he runs. Now I am here in Rivea to teach what Monsieur Ducasse has taught me.
Alain Ducasse on London
Rivea might be Alain Ducasse's second London restaurant, but he is not stopping there - the multi-award-winning chef freely admits that he is looking to expand in the capital. While no announcement can be made yet, it shows just how impressed he is with London's transformation over the past decade.
"It has been an amazing revolution: the diversity of the cuisine; the amount of nationalities," he says. "Paris is much less cosmopolitan and it still has an incredible range of restaurants - from informal to fine dining. But in London, there are more full concepts - restaurants that combine everything from cooking to design."
The financial situation has played a big part in shaping each city, especially since the recession, he says: "The restaurant scenes reflect the economy in London
and Paris. You will find more fine-dining restaurants in Paris, because that is our history, and lots of great bistros - but less diversity. It is London's diversity
that has grown so much."
Ducasse, who recently published a photography-led uidebook to London, called J'Aime London, is willing to namecheck a few chefs who currently wow him in London, but insists that no small group should be the sole recipients of his praise.
He says: "Ollie Dabbous, Brett Graham, Jason Atherton: these are dynamic chefs offering great experiences, but it is restrictive to name just a few. There is so much going on in London and so many great chefs."
From the menu
•Provence-style vegetable caponata £7
•Warm octopus and potato salad £8
•Sea bass carpaccio and pine nuts £11
•Artichoke and borage ravioli £9
•Casareccia pasta with raw and cooked courgettes £8
â¢ Cookpot of vegetables from our farmers £11
•Gilthead bream, baked vegetables and pesto £14
•Baked John Dory Riviera-style £14
•Sea bass, violon courgette and ï¬owers £16
•Rhubarb and strawberry, almond ice-cream £6
•Lemon shortbread, limoncello sorbet £6
•Chocolate tart £6
After a full education across Alain Ducasse's empire of restaurants, Damien Leroux was chosen to head up the new Rivea London at the Bulgari hotel, which opened in May. Tom Vaughan finds out how Ducasse and Leroux's relationship has developed.
Opened in the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, London, Rivea is a sister site to Ducasse's restaurant of the same name in Saint Tropez. Both of the restaurants aim to capture the produce-drizen Mediterranean cuisine, which focuses on small sharing plates.
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