A star in the kitchen (make that three stars): Joël Robuchonby Stuart Pallister, EHL Hospitality Insights
He is one of the world’s leading chefs and his personal brand is known around the globe. Joël Robuchon has gone from having one three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris to overseeing a business empire of restaurants globally with a combined total of some 40 stars.
Robuchon, who came to EHL at the start of December to receive an honorary professorship, is perhaps best known for his Atelier concept, whereby restaurant guests watch the chefs prepare dishes right in front of them.
In an hour-long session with EHL students, he spoke on a range of subjects including his new institute, women chefs, healthy cuisine, as well as his business plans.
The Atelier concept “was a success and there were requests from all over the world and, yes, today we are approaching a total of 30 restaurants throughout the world and some 2,000 employees,” Robuchon said.
“Many of those restaurants have three stars including the gourmet ones located in Las Vegas, Tokyo, Macau and Singapore. Hong Kong is the only Atelier to have three stars, the other Ateliers only have two stars and some still have just one star. In the end, I guess I got caught up in the excitement and even today we’re opening two restaurants in New York and Miami, with yet another slated to open in nearby Geneva in about a year’s time.”
So how does he ensure all his restaurants have the same high standards? “You know, that’s the advantage of age. I’ve trained many young chefs and they have – if I dare say it – grown old (with me). Some have worked with me for 20, 30 even 40 years. I’m not exactly on my own, it’s a team effort.”
“We need new ideas where people can feel more comfortable. It’s possible to prepare three-star meals and eat them with stainless steel cutlery instead of silver. For us, we have three-star restaurants and a one-star Atelier – where the glasses are not made of crystal, that doesn’t have tablecloths, no service, etc. – but, it’s the same cuisine sometimes for the two concepts.”
“I think the concepts of tomorrow will be casual but with exceptional food. Maybe tomorrow, even more so than today, everywhere you’ll go the food will be the same. Cuisine must have its own identity and the future will belong to those who can create a culinary culture that is clearly identifiable.”
“In the olden days, we used to go to a restaurant to eat their signature dish. For instance, people used to go to Troisgros for its signature dish, the salmon with sorrel (escalope de saumon à l’oseille). This seems to have all but disappeared. Everywhere you go the cuisine is the same, notwithstanding a tweak or two. Everywhere you go the cuisine is global.” (Robuchon himself is known for several signature dishes including cauliflower cream with caviar and potato purée).
“So, if you ask me what you should do in the future, it would be to prepare food with a genuine identity with concepts that are casual and modern. Healthy food is also very important. We are not nutritionists but I was thinking of opening a pop-up restaurant in Monaco soon, where I already have two restaurants, one French and one Japanese that would focus on healthy food only.”
“With more and more people being affected by heart problems, diabetes, etc., all over the world, we can prepare excellent food while taking into account these challenges. I’m the living proof (of that): I lost 20 kilos (44lbs) in four months by preparing and eating healthy dishes, which I had several people taste and which I believe would be worthy of three stars. Of course, you have to choose top-quality products and adapt them. I think that in the future we will have to focus more on healthy cuisine.”
“Gourmet restaurants are like Formula 1: innovations in gourmet restaurants eventually trickle down to less upscale eateries and then they find their way into households around the world. A lot of people seek to copy the cuisine and copy these restaurants. But it’s true that they will always have an influence and I think that healthy food, cuisine that promotes wellbeing, will play an important role through restaurants.”
“A lot of products are good for your health, like antioxidants, which are fabulous … For people who are stressed out there are foods for that. If restaurants continue to be interested in health food, it will of course be beneficial for individuals.”
In addition to his plans for new restaurants, Robuchon is also launching an international institute (EHL has already announced it will partner with the new training center) and says “the most satisfying for me is passing my knowledge on to others.” He had previously worked for many years with EHL executive chef and senior lecturer Philippe Gobet, who, like Robuchon, has been awarded the ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ distinction as a chef.
“Here (at EHL) we have one of the best hospitality management schools in the world with highly-qualified professors. But I hope the institute’s approach will be less based on a master-apprentice relationship rather than a professor-student one.”
In an interview later in the day, Robuchon admitted that although pedagogy is not his ‘strong suit’, he does know how to cook. “I started in this business by peeling potatoes and washing dishes at the age of 15. That’s where my formal education stopped. So for me, it is an excellent opportunity to have people with such high skill levels in teaching to help us develop the school, which will be more oriented toward the practical arts and whose doors will be wide open to the general public. It’s really a tremendous opportunity to embark on this partnership with the École Hôtelière de Lausanne. I would never have dreamt of such a fantastic opportunity.”
For more on the Robuchon session at EHL, click here.
Joël Robuchon is patron of EHL’s new Master Class in Culinary Arts which is scheduled to begin in February.
Stuart Pallister is Editor-in-Chief of EHL Hospitality Insights.
Translation by Andrew Brenner