Patricia Wells, food writer and author of the famous The Food Lover’s Guide, wrote about the revered Joël Robuchon in a book – L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – that offers a privileged view into the chef’s gastronomic workshop: “To describe Joël Robuchon as a cook is a bit like calling Pablo Picasso a painter, Luciano Pavarotti a singer, Frederic Chopin a pianist… Joël Robuchon will undoubtedly go down as the artist who most influenced the 20th-century world of cuisine.”
And how can anyone refute that since this was the man who turned a humble dish like mashed potato – with significant heap of butter, no less – into a tour de force? The elevated dish, so notable it earned Robuchon a Michelin star, was described as an overwhelming “emotional” experience by critics.
Born in Poitiers, central France, Robuchon became an apprentice chef at a local restaurant at the age of 15 and went on to helm 19 top-notch restaurants across the US, Asia, France and Britain. A highly disciplined perfectionist, the French master chef untethered himself from the shackles of stuffy fine-dining rules, choosing instead to give simple dishes such as creamed cauliflower, truffle tart and his signature pommes puree – which famously uses a 1:2 butter to potato ratio – top billing.
His first restaurant, Jamin (where Gordon Ramsay started his professional career), was given one Michelin star in its first year before it climbed to a three-star ranking while Robuchon was still in his late 30s. According to The Guardian, Ramsay has described working for him as “like working for the special forces, accusing Robuchon of once throwing a plate of langoustine ravioli at him for not cooking it properly”.
Robuchon was not the only chef who wishes to recast French haute cuisine into an art form that stresses on flavours and precise techniques. But nobody personified the idea of perfection like this classically trained chef, whose wide repertoire and skills led the Gault-Millau to name him one of its “chef of the century”, alongside Paul Bocuse, Frédy Girardet and Eckart Witzigmann.
Heartbroken, chefs around the world have taken to social media to express their grief and pay tribute to this culinary icon:
Chef Gordon Ramsay
Chef Gaggan Anand (Gaggan Restaurant)
Chef Kirk Westaway (JAAN Restaurant)
Chef Michael White (Head chef and owner of the Altamarea Group)
Chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry Restaurant)
Chef Anne Sophie Pic (owner of Dame de Pic)
Writer and The Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner
Chef Jacques Torres (master pastry chef and chocolatier)