Rooster, the handsome and very original restaurant he opened in the Batignolles district has received rave reviews and becomes a huge hit. He also continues his prestigious gig as a consulting chef for La Compagnie, the all-business-class French airline that flies between Paris and Nice and New York City.
Just a year and a half after a triumphant four years of cooking in Manhattan, Duca has also re-established himself as one of the most talented and respected members of a new generation of chefs who are renewing Paris’s vaunted gastronomic reputation as the Western world’s preeminent culinary capital.
For my part, remembering my first meal at Rooster still makes my mouth water, because I loved the frank, earthy, southern flavours of Duca’s carefully cooked and generously served food, a superb veal carpaccio with an anchovy condiment, poutargue and Pecorino, a whole palate of umami-rich flavours, and white tuna with round courgettes, peaches, avocado and harissa, an elegant composition of tastes and textures, homemade mushroom-stuffed ravioli with sautéed ceps and an earthy bouillon, and cuttlefish sautéed with garlic and parsley with artichokes, citrus and Lardo di Colonnata and a brilliantly cooked ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) with celery, salicorne (a crunchy seaweed) and caper juice, one of the best things I’ve eaten in years! Earthy, bold, perfectly cooked, and bursting with flavour, this was, and is, food I could happily eat every day, a brilliant and very personal fusion of haute cuisine and southern French comfort food.
On a cool but sunny autumn morning, Duca is taking a break over an espresso at a table on the sidewalk just outside of this restaurant, and our chat is repeatedly punctuated by the greetings of his neighbours as they pass by.
“This is a great part of Paris,” he says of Les Batignolles, which is not only little-known to most tourists but many Parisians as well. “It’s like a friendly little village hidden in the heart of the city, and it’s a pretty cool neighbourhood, unlike many other parts of town, which are buttoned up and bourgeois.” An amiable man, and a deeply drilled and experienced chef with his feet on the ground, Duca is in a good mood. So I ask him why he became a chef. “I cook to make people happy,” he said, which is the only answer any sincere and seriously talented cook could give to this question.
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