Anna Fill Interviews
Joël Robuchon - Une grande passion pour la cuisine
To meet with any Michelin starred chef may be considered fortunate but to meet one who has 31 stars and a reputation far greater than any other chef in the world is just a dish made in heaven! Joël Robuchon is an inspiration and to also meet with his colleague of over 40 years, the acclaimed Chef Christophe Cussac was out of this world!
From the age of 15, Joël Robuchon was already drawn to the world of gastronomy. He had joined the priesthood situated close to where he was born, in the south west region of France, Vienne but his real calling and where he felt most content was working in the kitchen creating dishes for the brotherhood.
The kitchen is Joël's place of worship, his church and his true vocation. With 31 Michelin stars to his name, this Chef still strives to do better and continues to be innovative. He believes in living in the moment and being open to new ideas and food trends.
His relationship with the Hôtel Métropole in Monaco began in 2003 whilst the hotel was undergoing a major renovation. The owner Mr. Boustany and manager Jean-Claude Messant invited Joël Robuchon to be part of their new vision which was to create a Michelin Star restaurant. At first Mr. Robuchon could not see how this would work but with hard work and dedication the restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte Carlo was born in 2004. In addition Joël Robuchon also opened his first Japanese restaurant at the hotel, YOSHI, which celebrates 10 years in September 2018.
The restaurant has achieved 2 stars and the key to their success comes from the emphasis of keeping everything local. The produce is all sourced locally and Ventimiglia market is a favourite for fresh vegetables. The restaurant attracts local people who often frequent it daily. So loyal are the clients that Mr Robuchon has to reserve a percentage of tables for hotel guests and visitors.
Why do you think the restaurant in Monaco is so successful?
“The setting is wonderful and all the staff are so warm and friendly. We are very discreet so our clients feel comfortable and are able to relax. As you can imagine, here in Monaco we have some very distinguished guests. But of course it is our menu that keeps everyone coming back time and time again.”
The relationship Mr. Robuchon has with his colleague Christophe Cussac who is based at the Métropole, could be described as a marriage. They have worked together since 1977 and share the same philosophy, chemistry and work ethics. At times few words need to be spoken as they are able to know exactly how the other one thinks and operates. This perfect synergy is based on a mutual respect for the other.
Joël Robuchon draws inspiration from the produce he uses. He is fuelled by the passion he has to please people and emphasises that to be in the profession successfully: “You have to love people and love to give and love to please! This is what it means to be a chef!”
When I asked if he considered himself an artist, Mr. Robuchon prefers to refer to himself as an artisan, a craftsman.
The signature dish?
In 1981 at Le Jamin in Paris, he developed his signature dish Purée de Pomme de Terre (left). It is owing to the simplicity of the recipe, quality produce and a special technique that makes this dish so exceptional. Mr. Robuchon has a second signature dish which is somewhat more elaborate, Gelée de caviar à la crème de choux fleurs (right).
I was intrigued to know from Mr. Robuchon why French Chefs have such a high worldwide reputation going right back to the days of Pierre la Varenne in the 1600s?
“Throughout history French Chefs were always a huge part of Royal households. Geography has played a huge part in why the French have been so recognised in the world. The country has a supply of rich produce, from the vegetables and meat all grown and raised locally in France.”
It is that key word 'local' that further distinguishes the art of French cuisine. Each region in France has an identity with local specialties and where dishes and recipes have been passed on from generation to generation.
As a rule Michelin star restaurants come with a very high price tag and it was refreshing to hear Joël Robuchon explain that the experience of Michelin is the 'ensemble', the table art, the setting and what really mattered was the food and one could create the same dish at home following the recipe from one of his cookbooks and served simply on a wooden table but the taste and flavours would still be the most important factor.
This prompted the question of what does a Michelin Star chef eat when he is not creating signature dishes? “A roast with chicken and potatoes and a fresh salad” he smiles “Simple but always exceptional” he adds.
With a career spanning almost 6 decades it is difficult to imagine what Chef Joël Robuchon could achieve next?
“There is always much to do. There is always something new. Even the produce we use change, flavours change, trends change – and if we have a demand for a vegetarian dish or vegan for example, we must strive to create the best using the best produce.”
This led to a very interesting conversation about the future of Joël Robuchon... and how the world attracts new talent into the industry. Working in gastronomy is not a 9 to 5. A chef has to be driven by passion and be prepared to treat the job as a vocation. The hours are long, weekends and holidays take a back seat and this kind of commitment is difficult to find.
Mr. Robuchon is embarking on an exciting new project. He is returning to his roots near Poitiers, to create a working hotel and school where guests pay to stay but experience dishes made by apprentices under the guidance of experienced chefs. The building which was once a local hospital will cater for 1400 students who will learn A to Z of the hospitality industry. The project should be ready in 2 years time.
Joël Robuchon referred to an old African proverb: “When the grandfather dies – the library also burns”. He believes that in order to keep traditions alive one has to pass on the knowledge so it will continue and evolve.
How to recognise a future Chef?
“You have to be talented in many ways to be a chef. The hands and the head have to be synchronised, coordinated. Attention to detail is paramount and you need to have pride in your work and in yourself, so you have to be attentive to your appearance. Once again it is the passion that will make you! These are the fundamental essences of a good chef!"
It was time to ask Mr. Robuchon my signature question “With all the travelling you do, where do you call home?”
“Honestly” he says... “On a plane...I only spend 2 months in France”
So it makes me wonder how many of Mr. Robuchon Michelin stars were created in the skies with the stars...
With special thanks to Laurence Shukor, Director of Public Relations at Hotel Métropole and Head Chef Christophe Cussac and of course Chef Joël Robuchon.