As a reporter who often writes about food and restaurants, I’ve long heard tales of “chef of the century” Robuchon.
The French chef made a name for himself at Paris’ Jamin, regarded as one of the best restaurants in history. After retiring from Jamin in the ’90s, Robuchon re-emerged with a series of restaurants bearing his name and helmed by his protégées.
I recently sat down with Robuchon at his Las Vegas Joël Robuchon location to talk about what he eats when he’s not cooking for others, his dining pet peeves, and the possibility of opening cheaper restaurants.
(Note: All responses have been translated from French to English, and have been edited for clarity.)
BUSINESS INSIDER: You’re regarded as one of the best chefs in the entire world. What is the most challenging part of cooking?
JOEL ROBUCHON: The older I get, the more I realise the truth is the simpler the food, the more exceptional it can be. And it’s extremely difficult, because to do something that’s very sophisticated that utilizes these very high quality ingredients is very easy, but to do something simple that is exceptional — that is where the difficulty is, and it’s the hardest thing to do in a kitchen. It really asks for a mastery of the ingredients and a mastery of taste.
I never try to marry more than three flavours in one dish. I like walking into a kitchen and knowing that the dishes are identifiable and the ingredients within them are easy to detect. My role as a chef is respecting the produce. Why should I change and mask the original flavours of the produce that I’m utilising?
BI: What’s your biggest dining pet peeve when you visit other restaurants?
JR: The worst thing for me is to not taste what I’m eating, to not know what I’m eating. It upsets me to no avail. And then seeing dishes that have so many additives. I don’t support that at all. That upsets me quite a bit.
BI: We’ve noticed celebrity chefs have been starting more casual, “cheap eats” restaurants in recent years. Do you have any plans to do something similar?
JR: Joël Roubchon restaurants are certainly a high price point [Ed note: $US425 a person for the dégustation menu at the Las Vegas restaurant], but at L’Atelier we have menus that are more accessible. We have lower price points in order to open the doors to a larger clientele. Right now, we are discussing other projects, but nothing is concrete as of yet.
BI: What do you think is really exciting about the fine dining world right now?
JR: I’m seeing this move towards healthier cuisine. I’m opening a restaurant in Mumbai, India because I like getting surprised by the quality of that cuisine. They use so many vegetables, and yet there are so many different flavours. For instance, a very simple dish made with lentils is extremely good. We’re meeting more and more vegetarians everyday in our restaurants, and I’m also very interested in organic produce and utilising the freshest products available. I may be wrong, but I definitely feel that that is the future — to be healthy.
BI: After retiring from Jamin, you did a series of cooking shows for 12 years. Do you watch cooking shows today?
JR: Not very much. There are different kinds of shows: shows that don’t teach anything, and then there are some where you can really learn how to be a good cook. But the rise of these TV shows is also really increasing the visibility of cuisine worldwide. At one point in time when you looked at a chef or a cook, it was considered a job that not a lot of people wanted because it was very manual, and very hard to do. These TV shows are bringing value to these jobs now. They show that in order to be a good cook, one has to be very, very good with one’s hands, but also have a strong mind.
BI: What do you cook for yourself when you’re not at the restaurant?
JR: I’m a regular person like everyone else, so I do as simple as I can. Steak and french fries, nice and French. I really do love eggs as well. I make quite a lot of omelets, salads — I do enjoy a really good green salad with very good, high-quality tomatoes with a lot of flavour to them and some burrata cheese or mozzarella. Even a roasted chicken with some oven baked potatoes, that’s something that everybody loves.
BI: You fly all around the world, splitting your time among Las Vegas, Paris, Hong Kong, and all your other restaurant locations. What is your morning routine like?
JR: Well, I begin everyday with a shower [laughs]. And then I always put a list together of what I’m going to do that day, because it’s very important to set a schedule. As a general rule, I wake up at 7 a.m, to be ready by 8 a.m., and dive into work by 9 a.m. We finish very late. We usually get out of the restaurants around 12 a.m. Last night, we got out of here around 1 a.m.
BI: Who is your favourite guest of all time at your Las Vegas Joël Robuchon?
JR: There will always be customers that we particularly like and prefer. For Las Vegas, it would be Celine Dion because when we first opened, we had some very slow days. And [Celine Dion and her husband] were the first to come, and they started sending a lot of guests our way. They really helped to popularise the restaurant within Las Vegas.
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