Joël Robuchon: Secret Ingredients

The Celebrated French Chef Reveals the Formula Behind His Record 26 Michelin Stars

In-between his 20th restaurant opening in Singapore and a stop in Las Vegas for Bon Appétit’s Uncork'd food and wine festival, Joël Robuchon touched down in New York to enlighten NOWNESS on his food philosophy. The French chef presented an exquisite conversation-starter in the kitchen of his Four Seasons outpost: a delicately layered dessert called La Bulle de Sucre, comprising a "golden bubble" made of sugar and filled with champagne sabayon, mandarin sorbet, fresh mandarin supreme and lemon jam. Intricately constructed though it may be, Robuchon insists that “it’s much more difficult to make something truly simple than it is to make a sophisticated dish with lots of flavors.” We asked the culinary master to elaborate.

What do you mean when you say, "Let the ingredient be the star?"
This is real cooking: to have the products to make something very simple that you will remember for days, weeks or months after. The highest quality is what I am interested in.

What are some of your standout regional ingredients around the world?
In Tokyo, I incorporate uni into many dishes because it is exceptionally good there. In Hong Kong we serve crabs unique to the region and not available anywhere else. In Paris, my L’Atelier restaurant serves fish that thrive in, and are fresh from, France: sole, turbot and rouget.  

Which country would you say is at the forefront of cuisine?
We can look toward Japan for the future of food; Japan most honors the seasons, has the simplest ingredients and the most beautiful presentation. Also countries that use a lot of spices, like India, for the way the spices are combined with elegance and delicacy—I think we will see more of this.   

What is your opinion on celebrity chefs? 
I did 12 years of television, so I cannot say that it is bad. Television has democratized food and cooking, which is a good thing for everyone.  But the reality television shows are not good. The products are all too disposable, which upsets me. 

Of the dishes you've created, which one makes you most proud?
"Created" is a big word, but there is one dish I am very proud of having renovated, and that is the mashed potato. Potatoes are a bit magical because everything goes with them: meat, truffles, caviar, fish, vegetables. And it’s interesting because when you are a young chef, or you are learning to cook, there are many ways to cut a potato: pommes frites, pommes pailles, pommes pont neuf—they all have different tastes. These are like learning the chords in music.

What is your fondest food-related experience?
I was with Frédy Girardet, the famous Swiss chef, on Christmas morning eating a vacherin cheese and drinking a Château d’Yquem 1945. For me, that simple cheese and the fine wine, surrounded by all that friendship, was one of the best memories of my life.

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