The culinary world has lost another maestro in Chef Joël Robuchon. He was battling cancer – a battle only brave soldiers would know to fight. And though he lost, there’s no mistaking his lifetime’s work of passion. One that could be summed up in a “Chef of the Century” award by the prestigious Gault Millau guide, 32 Michelin Guide stars – the most of any chef in the world, and countless lives touched and changed by his straightforward approach to food. It’s only proper to celebrate a maestro’s life by taking a look back at his famous words of wisdom.
“Cooking is chemistry, really”
Born on 1945 in Poitiers, France, becoming a chef was not a life Chef Joël Robuchon dreamed for himself. In fact, he entered the seminary at age 13, thinking to himself that this was a calling he was meant to partake. Clearly, God had other plans, and at the humble age of 15, he began his first apprenticeship at the Relais as a pastry chef. Six years later, he would join another prestigious French apprenticeship program that would have him travel throughout the country and enable him to learn a plethora of regional techniques to cooking. This experience of his was his first real taste to understanding the chemical makeup of food. Thus, his reverence for it throughout his storied career.
“When you cook, you take a life. When you eat fish or meat, you take a life. And you must be very respectful of the ingredients and that is very important.”
1974 would set off a series of firsts for Chef Joël. He would go on to become head chef at the Hotel Concorde La Fayette, win his first award two years after, get regular TV guestings in France, be named “Chef of the Century” by a well-renowned guide, and then the cherry on top – Jamin, his first restaurant in the heart of Paris. He championed the nouvelle approach to cooking. At best, it was characterized as one that focuses on a simpler form of haute cuisine, one that does away with the excesses. He had always been a firm believer of respecting the ingredient in the sense of allowing the true essence of its taste to come out, and not to mask its flavors by additives.
“When a dish works, it works for everyone, whether you’re Asian, European, African, American, or anybody else.”
After taking over France with Jamin, he took over the rest of Europe with four more diners, then the rest of the world. 32 Michelin stars later and we know that his dishes is one that not only brings joy to the palate, but also hits close to home, and cuts to the heart.
“I am very honoured for all the distinctions and accolades, but what I am most sensitive to is my clientele and the fact they are pleased with my food and my restaurants.”
Despite his body of work and his experience of mentoring the creme of the crop in the industry (Eric Ripert, Michael Caines, and Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsay), he has stayed grounded and extremely grateful to the people who had his back from the very beginning. For instance, his patrons who he owes his successes to. To Chef Joël Robuchon, they are the first and foremost keys to his longstanding legacy.
Bon voyage, Chef Joël Robuchon. Your memory will live on in the hearts of many.