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Behind the Scene at Alain Ducasse's

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Extraordinary pre-starter offered in top French chef Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Provence - delicious crispy toasted bread with eggplant caviar and anchovy sauce. A resounding success! See how Ducasse makes it and you can do it at home too.

Ever since I've had this gorgeous mise en bouche at Alain Ducasse's Alpes de Haute Provence inn, I dreamt about doing it at home. Nothing space age - eggplant caviar and anchoïade over croûtons with radish and butter, but the combination is so successful it immediately plunged me into Provencal ecstasy. I've been waiting for a year to go back and reverse-engineer the extraordinary simplicity of this dish. Ducasse is the richest chef in the world in Michelin stars and he now offers updated traditional French fare in a few of his restaurants. This is Ducasse at his height.

You will find countless recipes for eggplant caviar and anchoïade but this is how they make it at Ducasse - I've been in the kitchen and asked the cooks as you'll see at the end of the article. Ducasse calls this 'Croûtons Sud', a rather tacky name in my opinion.

Croûtons Provencale like Alain Ducasse
Pre-starter for 6
2 large eggplants
12 garlic cloves
A glass of the very best olive oil
10 anchovy fillets
A drop of vinegar
Half a lemon
Fresh thyme and rosemary
Sea salt and black pepper
Baguette bread, 3 days old
A bunch of radish
A nice block of butter


The morning before, start preparing the spreads - eggplant caviar and anchoïade. Try to have everything ready some time before the guests arrive. You can safely prepare this half a day before and just arrange the croûtons on a platter a few minutes before. It is very conforting to be greeted with such tempting and delicious food as soon as one arrives in a home - don't make them wait. Your guests will then leave you alone as you prepare the rest of the meal.

Slice the eggplants in two lengthwise and score their flesh crosswise with a sharp knife. Sprinkle some salt, crushed garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary on top and sprinkle about a tbsp olive oil on each aubergine half. Place them on a baking tray and tightly wrap with aluminium foil. Bake in the oven at 180°C until soft - about 50 minutes.

Spoon out the eggplant pulp into a mortar together with the browned crushed garlic we left on top.

Pound to a coarse paste with the pestle and incorporate about 4 tbsp of the very best olive oil.

Taste and rectify with a little lemon and a few peppercorns crushed under a chef's knife if needed.

Anchoïade [hench-oy-ahd] is a traditional provencal anchovy-oil emulsion much like aïoli. It is most simple to prepare if you have an electric mixer. Just soak 10 anchovy fillets in water for 15 minutes to desalt (picture) and peel 3 large garlic cloves. Strain the anchovies and add to the garlic in the mixer with 2 tbsp olive oil and a tsp vinegar.

Start the mixer and gradually add about 5 more tablespoons olive oil. When the mixture is smooth and with the mixer running, carefully add a little water to lighten the mixture. The anchoïade should not be too runny.

Much like a mayonnaise, a successful anchoïade is an emulsion of a lot of oil with a little water. If you looked up close you'd see millions of tiny drops of oil surrounded by the thinnest layer of anchovy/water. But your emulsion can fail, with visible drops of oil and a runny consistence. Don't panic if it does. Empty your mixer and add a teaspoon of water, then run it until the water is emulsified with the little anchoïade remaining on the bottom. It should become thick and firm. Then gradually add the rest of the anchoïade with the mixer running, waiting for the mix to be firm before adding more. Emulsions need to start with more water than oil. You can also add a little egg yolk to help. Good luck!


The best croûtons is made from stale bread. If none is available, just slice your baguette into thin and regular slices and put them in the oven at 85°C for 30 minutes or until fully dry.

Sprinkle a little olive oil on top either with a brush or macho-style with your finger on the bottleneck (see below a Ducasse cook doing this over eggplants).

Toast for a few minutes in a very hot oven (180°C). Please remain next to the oven and watch then carefully or you'll burn your croûtons.


Put a generous teaspoon of the anchoïade on half the croûtons and proceed with the eggplant caviar with the remaining croûtons. Do this at the last minute or the croûtons will loose their crispiness and the anchoïade will turn rancid. Lay them on a serving platter according to your taste and serve with butter and sea salt in a pot. Pictured above the finished platter and another picture. For the dish to work your guests need to feel that this is nothing special. Just serve it like you would open a pack of peanuts. Give them the feeling they are at home in Provence and just came back from the market with a bunch of radish and butter and can eat as much as they want from a shared plate.

How does this compare to the real deal at Alain Ducasse's? Pretty well I think, but see for yourself:

Ducasse serves his croûtons with a block of butter, a lovely wooden board to cut the radish, and rather bland flûtes au sel. A third of his croûtons are garnished with a concassée de tomate, fresh tomatoes peeled and crushed with sea salt and olive oil. I am not so keen on tomatoes so I left this part out. He serves one croûton of each type per person.

In the future I'll certainly add butter and a wooden chopping board (picture). It gives the meal a homey, help-yourself-if-you-please feeling. My radish bunch was much nicer than the sorry, disheveled bunch they served us that day, but I had to visit three different shops to find a good one.

You won't find this recipe in any of Alain Ducasse's cookbooks. Sure, in one of his books he has an eggplant caviar and the recipe for anchoïade is no state secret in Provence, but that's not how they make it in La Bastide de Moustiers. I know because they let me into the kitchen one morning to talk to the cooks and see how they work. The sous-chef is actually the real chef since Ducasse has long stopped cooking himself, explained me how he does his anchoïade. "I soak the anchovy fillets in water to desalt, then put them in the mixer with garlic, olive oil and a drop of vinegar, you know, just to break the oil. Then I just press the button and purée this and slowly add some water until I am pleased with the consistency".

They slice unused bread and leave it in a basket for a couple days until it is very dry. As for toasting, 'I just put it in the oven for a couple minutes - that's all it takes if the oven is really hot' the chef explained.

The preparation of the aubergine caviar is really beautiful even though nobody will see it. Delicately scored crosswise, the eggplants are covered with crushed garlic, thyme, rosemary, oil, sea salt and pepper just like I did.

Ducasse's La Bastide de Moustier is a gorgeous place. Few travelers can afford to sleep there, but at 58 Euros per person for a full menu I hope some readers of FXcuisine.com will be able to visit. The staff is lovely, with young, energetic and very nice people most probably hand picked from all of Ducasse's establishment. The cooking in itself is not space-age but to eat such high quality updated traditional Provence food in this lovely setting is just something you'll never forget.

La Bastide de Moustiers
Restaurant-Inn by Alain Ducasse
Chemin de Quinson
F-04360 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (France)
Next to the Gorges du Verdon, 80 minutes from Aix-en-Provence
Phone +33 (0)4 92 70 47 47
Fax +33 (0)4 92 70 47 48



  • #1
  • Comment by Ales from preserveless.blogspot.com
Wow! You always get these great insider tips... Who are you? Some sort of 007 of the gastro world? : )
  • #2
  • Comment by andreas
Again you surprise me. Thanks for all the great inspiration. To this recipe I would add tahini to the eggplant. then its a proper babaganoush... I could imagine it would serve better with the bread... Just a thought. I had this idea of showing you this "swedish gnoci", its quite an experience, contact me if you want some tips in Nordic and Persian cuisine... I'm you guide.
  • #3
  • Comment by Steamy Kitchen
FX- you are certainly my hero!  ::kiss!::
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Thanks a lot for your comments! I had lunch at La Bastide de Moustiers a year ago and was so taken with this starter I decided to go back and investigate. So it was a bit planned, and hanging around the kitchen they finally let me in. Cooks in fancy restaurants are usually rather happy to meet the people they cook for all day long. They don't make much and yet strive to make the absolute perfect dish every minute for people they never see. If one walks in and shows he's interested in what they do and somewhat knowledgeable, why would they not give him the warmest of welcomes? They normally do.

Babaganoush is a great dish too and I will post a spectacular recipe for it later this year. In such generic dishes (eggplant caviar) it is important, in my opinion, to be very accurate in the process and not mix too much the recipes or you'll always end up with the same. You can make eggplant caviars with 3 different recipes and end up with vastly different dishes, all very tasty.
  • #5
  • Comment by Richard Bennett
Following your directions my eggplant was watery.  Usually one salts the eggplant to remove the water or cuts it into pieces and presses the water from the flesh.  Did you do so before baking?  Next attempt I will salt it and drain the water and reduce the baking time or temperature to make a firm product.  Finally, do you have an email address for direct contact?
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Richard, you need to roast the eggplants until they are soft. Eggplants are salted before being fried, not before roasting. You would need so slice them for the salting to be effective anyway. Just leave them in the oven longer and you will be fine.
  • #7
  • Comment by Andreea
Another great eggplant recipe is salata de vinete, literally eggplant salad in Romanian. It is usually made with roasted eggplants, fresh mayonnaise, and red onion. However, it is a very versatile recipe and can be made to adapt anyone's taste.
  • #8
  • Comment by vivianne

Me encantó la forma de describir los platos, se nota que le pones mucha pasiòn.

Me gustan las propuestas de tus platos y los articulos elegidos son muy frescos y divertidos.

!Gracias por compartir estas experiencias con gente que tenemos mucho en común y a la vez, estamos en al otro lado del Mundo y tenemos otras experimcias!! Estaré esperando novedades...


  • #9
  • Comment by Endy
Ducasse also has a version of "Tartines au Caviar d' Aubergine" where he mixes the eggplant topping with some anchoïade and a little bit of tapenade. In that case the eggplants have to go to the food processor too to get a smooth texture. I like it this way a lot because the eggplants give the strong tasting anchoïade and olives a flocculent and balanced feel.
  • #10
  • Comment by Peter Zimmer
A wonderful presentation of an extraordinary dish. Thank you!

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