Two days ago a news shook the whole culinary world. Joël Robuchon, who earned more than 30 Michelin stars in his lifetime and was once named “chef of the century” by French restaurant guide Gault et Millau, died Monday in Geneva, Switzerland after a battle with cancer. He was 73.
Robuchon’s influence on French cooking was incomparable; Eric Ripert and Gordon Ramsay were both former students. Robuchon had expanded his restaurants all over the world. Robuchon was known for his constant innovation and even playfulness in the kitchen a revelation to the hidebound world of French cuisine.
“To describe Joel Robuchon as a cook is a bit like calling Pablo Picasso a painter, Luciano Pavarotti a singer, Frederic Chopin a pianist,” Patricia Wells, a cook and food writer, wrote in “L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon,” a book about the chef and his students. “Joel Robuchon undoubtedly was an artist who most influenced the 20th-century world of cuisine.”
Though he was no stranger to the fancy world, his food was often 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, not to cover the flavors of ingredients.
He started a revolution with his “Atelier” model: small, intimate restaurants where diners sat at a counter surrounding the kitchen. It didn’t take reservations and it didn’t have tables.
His goal was to make diners feel comfortable, let them interact with the chef and, above all, put the focus back on the food. It was partially a rebuke to the Michelin star regime, which awards points not just for technique but also for the ambiance and service.
But Michelin, and just about everyone else, gobbled it up. And thanks to Ateliers around the world. Robuchon reached a total of 32 Michelin stars in 2016 (a record) and still held 31 stars this year, including five three-star restaurants.
Today the whole culinary world mourning over his demise. His loss is huge. May his soul rest in peace.