Monday, 6 August 2018

Au Revoir, Monsieur Robuchon

Culinary master Joel Robuchon has died at the age of 73
Another culinary giant has passed... Joel Robuchon. He died in Geneva today from pancreatic cancer at the age of 73.

I had heard that he had been ill for some time, and had lost quite a bit of weight. It's a terrible way for a chef to go, someone who loves to bring pleasure to people with food.

His signature foie gras dish at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Unfortunately I never had the chance to interview him, but did take a picture with him in November 2015 when the Michelin guide announcement was made in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless he has trained and influenced so many chefs around the world. His army of chefs took their skills and knowledge to Robuchon restaurants in numerous cities and in turn they trained more people to cook the master's dishes.

Interestingly when he was boy he was training to become a priest and helped the nuns prepare food in the kitchen. He recalled only doing simple tasks like peeling vegetables and cleaning plates, but he found such joy in doing that.

He also remembers his mother holding a loaf of bread to her chest and then portioning it out to each person, as if giving the food from her heart. Robuchon took that philosophy to his kitchens -- how it was important to put passion in preparing food, as diners would feel that love in the dishes.

Robuchon lost a lot of weight in the past year
His career started in the early 1980s with his Paris restaurant Jamin, named "Chef of the Year" in 1987, and then "Chef of the Century" in 1987 by Gault-Millau.

Many years ago I had a chance to have lunch at Robuchon Au Dome, the fine dining restaurant at the top of the Grand Lisboa in Macau. It was such a decadent meal, several courses, with beautiful breads, salted and unsalted butter, and not only a dessert trolley but also one for sweets. I felt like a child cooing in a candy shop.

In my work I have met several chefs who have trained under Robuchon and acknowledge the master for his demands for the best ingredients cooked perfectly. He was most famous for elevating mashed potatoes into a fine dining dish (by adding lots of butter)...

As he got older he moved away from classic French techniques and preferring simplicity of flavours on the plate.

His famous gourmet mashed potatoes were very buttery
"The older I get, the more I realize the truth is: the simpler the food, the more exceptional it can be," he said in 2014. "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 easy to detect."

Chefs who have worked under him are posting pictures of Robuchon on social media tonight and describing him as a father, mentor, teacher. He once said, "When a grandfather dies, a library burns", meaning the knowledge that person has accumulated is gone. That is why he felt it was so important to teach as many people as he could what he knew so that the knowledge would not disappear.

This year has been a terrible series of losses in the culinary world -- Paul Bocuse, Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, and now Joel Robuchon.

A bientot, chef!

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