The French Chef Joël Robuchon, who rebelled against the stuffy world of fine dining, elevated mashed potato into an art form, and built up a culinary empire across the world, has died aged 73.
Named the “chef of the century” by Gault et Millau in 1990, Robuchon was both a highly disciplined perfectionist and a kitchen rebel who became famous for cooking mashed potato so exquisitely that critics described eating it as an overwhelmingly “emotional” experience.
Robuchon went from working-class roots to young stardom in the 1970s Paris world of fine dining, where eye-watering prices, starched tablecloths and silver cutlery were the norm. But he was credited with changing the rules of French cooking and restoring heartiness to the stark dishes of nouvelle cuisine.
He believed it was not the tiny sculpted portions on platters that should matter to diners, but hearty and simple dishes – truffle tart, creamed cauliflower, langoustine ravioli – cooked without mixing too many flavours at once, and sourcing the best produce.
He did not shy away from luxury products such as caviar, but his food was described as simple because he preached the use of only three or four ingredients in most dishes, and his goal was always to show off their flavours.
During his first 30 years in leading restaurants, he built up a stellar reputation, a long list of Michelin stars and prizes in the upper echelons of fine French cooking.
Robuchon was credited with transforming restaurant tradition with his notion of ateliers (workshops) – intimate restaurants where diners sat at a counter surrounding the kitchen.
There was no dress code and no reservations, even if the queues were vast. Guy Job, who worked with Robuchon, called this “three-star food with stainless steel cutlery and glass glasses, not crystal ones”.
Over the next 20 years, Robuchon built up a multimillion-euro global empire of 39 establishments, from fine restaurants to clubs. In 2016, he held a world record 32 Michelin stars. This year, he still had 31 stars, including five three-star restaurants. He owned restaurants in cities including Paris, Monaco, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Bangkok.
He was extremely competitive, a perfectionist who asked a lot of his staff. The British chef Gordon Ramsay described working for him as like working for the special forces, accusing Robuchon of once throwing a plate of langoustine ravioli at him for not cooking it properly.
Robuchon later admitted to an interviewer that the incident took place, but insisted it was the only time he had thrown a plate of food.
Our own Guillaume Brahimi has brought to Australia the famous mashed potato he learned with Joël Robuchon
The French president Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Robuchon’s global standing as an innovative chef adored worldwide. “Joel Robuchon’s style was above all about a fundamental, almost obsessional, focus on the quality of produce,” said a statement from the president’s office, lauding the perfectionism that turned the simplicity of his dishes into “accomplished harmony”.
This tribute has been collated from various public sources,
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
A link here for our non-metric readers: