Master of his universe
Having conquered the restaurant world, Michelin maestro Joel Robuchon shares with Robb Report his ambitious next step, Michelin’s Singapore debut and what he thinks we’ll all be eating tomorrow.
I’m opening a new cooking school because it has always been very important to one day transmit all the knowledge I’ve received. I don’t want it to be very formal. What I want is for this school to offer a transmission of sorts between master and disciple. It will show the reality of the day-to-day operations behind a restaurant and hotel. The hotel will have 22 suites designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon, who designed all of my restaurants. These will be the most exclusive suites you can find – very high quality ones for a school and something you won’t find anywhere else. There’ll be a gastronomic restaurant, a brasserie-style restaurant and a trendy restaurant like L’Atelier.
It’s a huge project with an investment of around €65 million (S$99 million). The school will receive 1,500 students per year. It’s not a traditional one in the sense that there’s someone standing at a blackboard explaining things. Instead, you’re surrounded by very skilled people who will help you learn.
The school will be in Montmorillon, in the monastery where I studied to be a priest. I was supposed to continue my studies there but I decided to quit and become a chef. Bordeaux has become a beautiful city with a new dynamic. It’s always had a very bourgeois atmosphere but was missing a top level restaurant for many years. When (French wine magnate) Bernard Magrez offered me the opportunity in La Grande Maison, I saw the chance to create one of the world’s best restaurants here. Bernard is a real aesthete and can spend a lot buying beautiful paintings from Jean Dufy and many other famous painters. He also bought a 2,000-year-old olive tree and placed it in the garden. It’s not everywhere I can have such an environment to receive my guests in. The maison only has six suites but we’re planning to open five or six more in a nearby extension.
French cuisine has always been a cycle and evolution of flavours. We had nouvelle cuisine in the 1970s and 1980s, then fusion in the 1990s, and thereafter it was molecular cuisine. I think we’re going back to our roots and focusing on getting all the flavours out of good ingredients – I believe this will be the future too.
I’ve experienced Michelin’s arrival in a new country many times. People may not understand the guide when it’s first published. Famous restaurants may not be highly ranked while lesser known ones may do very well. After a while, people will trust the quality of Michelin’s selection. For example, I remember when the guide was introduced in Hong Kong and Lung King Heen, the Cantonese restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, was ranked three stars. At first, the locals were very surprised but after five or six years, if you ask where to enjoy very high quality Chinese food in Hong Kong, everyone will suggest you go to the Four Seasons.
There’s no perfect guide but Michelin certainly is one of the most serious and has considerable influence. When I opened my restaurant in MGM Grand in Las Vegas, it was difficult to attract customers. But after it received three stars in the guide, it was full the next day, and has been full since. Although the guide is just one part of Michelin’s business, I find it the most honest and accurate.
My most iconic dish is my mashed potato. Everybody asks me for it, no matter where I am in the world. It’s very difficult to enjoy such renown and impact with such a simple ingredient and dish.
Acclaimed French chef and restaurateur Joel Robuchon leads the world's fine-dining scene with over a dozen restaurants in leading cities of the world, with 25 Michelin stars shared among them. He is most known for pushing for more authentic French cuisine, making sure that each ingredient retains its taste.