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Michelin-starred French master chef Joel Robuchon dies at 73

Michelin-starred French master chef Joel Robuchon dies at 73

Joel Robuchon, a master chef who shook up the stuffy world of French haute cuisine by wowing palates with the delights of the simple mashed potato and giving diners a peek at the kitchen, has died at 73.

A spokeswoman for Robuchon confirmed his death, with French TV station BFM and newspaper Le Figaro reporting that he died on August 6 in Geneva from cancer.

Robuchon was known for his constant innovation and even playfulness in the kitchen, a revelation to the hidebound world of French cuisine. He built an empire of gourmet restaurants across the world from Paris to Tokyo, Las Vegas and New York City.

“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 will undoubtedly go down as the artist who most influenced the 20th-century world of cuisine.”

While Robuchon was no stranger to the fancy truffles and caviar were among his favourites 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 mask, their flavours.

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.

Born just before the end of World War II in the French town of Poitiers, south of the Loire Valley, Robuchon studied at a seminary from a young age and considered becoming a priest. But hours spent cooking with the nuns convinced him that he had another calling. He got his professional start at 15 at a local restaurant and by 29 was running the kitchen at a large Paris hotel, in charge of 90 chefs.

For years, his culinary home was at Jamin, a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower that he opened in 1981. The restaurant racked up a Michelin star a year for its first three years a feat no one had ever accomplished before. The wait for a reservation was two months, even though the price without wine was $200.

Even at this classic restaurant, signs of the ways Robuchon would shake up the culinary scene could be found. For one, his most famous dish was the lowly mashed potato.

“These mashed potatoes, it’s true, made my reputation. I owe everything to these mashed potatoes,” he said once during a demonstration of how to make the almost liquid dish. “Maybe it’s a little bit of nostalgia, Proust’s madeleines. Everyone has in his memory the mashed potatoes of his mother, the mashed potatoes of his grandmother.”

The idea that a restaurant might be a warm, casual place, rather than a stuffy temple to awkward food, was taking root. It was, in part, a rejection of “nouvelle cuisine,” the movement that made French chefs notorious for small plates, exquisitely presented but often not all that satisfying.

But, as long promised, Robuchon hung up his whisk in 1996, at the age of 51.

“You have to know when it’s time to quit,” the chef told The Associated Press at the time. “A great chef has to be in great shape. Cooking is tough. It’s like being an athlete who has to stay really fit.”

And that, some say, is when his career really took off.

In 2003, he came out of retirement to create the Atelier one opened in Paris and one in Tokyo nearly simultaneously. From there, he brought them to cities all over Asia, Europe and the U.S., and the Michelin stars followed fast and furious.

Guy Job, who produced Robuchon’s cooking shows, called it “3-star food with stainless steel cutlery and glass glasses, not crystal ones.”




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