Remembering Robuchon: 10 quotes from the man with the most Michelin stars in history

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

On August 6th, 2018, the world said farewell to legendary chef Joël Robuchon.

One of the pioneers of modern fine dining, his approach broke the codes of Nouvelle Cuisine in the eighties and nineties, calling on a sense of nostalgia for the regional terroir food of his youth, using inexpensive ingredients usually banished from kitchens of the era.

Jamin Joel Robuchon
Joël Robuchon at Jamin in 1981

In 1976, Joël was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a prestigious competition celebrating the country's most talented craftsmen. Famous French critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau called him  the "chef of the century" in 1989.

His programme, Bon Appétit Bien Sûr, ran on French television for over a decade, defining a generation's understanding of gastronomy. 

At one point in time, the chef held 32 Michelin stars across his 26 Ateliers and his flagship restaurant, Restaurant Joël Robuchon (formerly Jamin).

Though he enforced military-style codes of conduct on his brigade - famously once throwing a plate of langoustine ravioli at Gordon Ramsay - Robuchon spearheaded a stripped-down style of service, replacing pomp and glitz with counter top service, stools and open kitchens. 

To celebrate Joël's legacy, Here are ten quotes which we think sum up his ethos, and the lasting impact it had on the culinary world. 

 Robuchon believed that no dish was ever so complete that it couldn't be improved on.

1 - “There’s always something that could be done better.”

In fact, he was a renowned perfectionist, and accepted nothing short of the best from his team.

2 - "As a chef you take certain measures to ensure that when you are cooking for someone important, maybe your mother or your girlfriend, that you don't make mistakes - when you cook for other people, whether it is strangers or not, you have to make sure it is absolutely perfect."

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Though he professed honing technical skills as a chef - and was once known as "the competition beast," he believed the  emotional appeal of food was just as important. 

4 - "As a cook, you have to know how to awaken all the senses. Emotions are stirred through visual stimuli as well as touch, smell, and taste... Everything must be developed."

Joël Robuchon's culinary prowess was unquestionable, but he drew a distinction between what it means to be a skillful cook and a good leader. 

5 - "You can be a good cook and a bad chef. The chef runs a brigade - while in the mind of the general public, the chef is a cook."

Robuchon was no snob - he believed that taste is developed by the diversity of products one can sample. 

6 - "I'm not against fast food. My son is 30 years old now and my daughter is 24, but when they were children, they went to McDonald's. I think that is good. My children also had the chance to come to my restaurant when they were younger, with their friends. They were soon able to perceive the differences. The more one eats and the more one tastes, the more one begins to appreciate." 

The chef agreed with most of the world when he said: 

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Though he said that French cuisine was his favourite, he broke the codes that defined it, deploring the heavy, sauce-drenched dishes of the past and preaching lighter, more balanced food, using just a few good ingredients.

8 - "Apart from a few interesting experiences, Great French cuisine bores me."

9 - "The simpler the food, the harder it is to prepare it well. You want to truly taste what it is you're eating - that goes back to the trend of fine ingredients. It's very Japanese: Preparing good ingredients very simply, without distractions from the flavour of the ingredient itself."

His love for the industry was boundless - he tried to retire aged 51 but returned shortly thereafter with l'Atelier in Paris, continuing to open restaurants around the world until he lost his battle with cancer on August 6th 2018.

Perhaps an indication as to what drove him, in November 2017, he told Le Figaro: 

10 - Image 2019 08 07 at 14.00.42 (1).jpeg

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 4th August 2020

Remembering Robuchon: 10 quotes from the man with the most Michelin stars in history