"At his birth April 7th, 1945 in Poitiers, nothing compelled this bricklayer's son to walk off with all those titles and rewards," proclaims chef Joël Robuchon's website biography. "He once thought about entering the service of God, but he finally found his way in the gastronomy by becoming at first an apprentice then a companion." As one of the world's greatest living chefs you have to wonder, if he could have achieved the same success in the clergy as he has in the culinary world, what the world might have looked like.
Robuchon is affiliated with some of the world's most respected restaurants, holding 26 Michelin stars. That many of them are in Asia (Hong Kong, Macao, Taipei, Nagoya, and Tokyo) speaks to this chef's affinity for its techniques and cuisines. But for Robuchon, culinary greatness started far away from Asia.
Robuchon started as pastry chef at the Relais de Poitiers hotel at age 15. He was made head chef of the Hôtel Concorde-Lafayette in Paris at the age of 28 and in 1989 named Chef of the Century by Gault Millau. After succeeding with his own Parisian restaurants, Jamin and then the eponymous Joël Robuchon, he decided to retire at age 50 in 1996.
If only every chef could retire with such success. More than ten new restaurants followed in the next five years, many recognized by Michelin for excellence — though the chef has said that he is not sure the guide is "so impartial," and that he has no interest in being mentioned in it as long as it "remains stuck in the past."
Robuchon has been praised for an ability to amplify the ingredients at the center of a dish, and to emphasize its two or three flavors. In recent years he has also been known for the proliferation of his L'Atelier, or workshop, concept, a closer, a counter-service approach to haute cuisine that marries the concept of Spanish tapas with the experience of a Japanese sushi bar.
Where does a "retired" chef go from here?
Restaurants: 25 restaurants
DID YOU KNOW? Gordon Ramsay, in his autobiography, talks of Marco Pierre White, his former mentor, looking like a "f@#ing pussycat" compared with Robuchon, adding that working in his Paris kitchen was like being in the SAS.