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Insights from Chef Joel Robuchon

Chef Joel Robuchon, hailed as the “Chef of the Century” and the only chef in the world who has had a total of 26 Michelin Guide stars, was once asked what he prefers, “a perfect kiss, or a perfect meal?” The interviewer did not get a straight answer, but an answer nonetheless: “those two are delicacies that both move in the same place.”

In a separate incident, though, he did say that there is no such thing as the perfect meal – a chef can always do better.

Chef Joel Robuchon has always been known for the relentless perfection of his cuisine—a master chef in a superior chefs clothing who pays attention to details. He was once observed in his kitchen, and was found to be especially different when it comes to seasoning his food. As the food critic related, “he took a pinch of salt and leaned over closer. And with absolute focus sprinkled the salt over the food evenly, almost like he was aware of where each speck of salt would fall. He did the same with the hot chili. He is quite intense.”

The world renowned chef was born on April 7, 1945, in Poitiers, France. He became a cook in a French seminary when he was very young, and at age 15, he was employed as a pastry chef apprentice at a hotel in Poitiers. By the time he was 21, he travelled across the country as Le Tour de France’s official chef, which permitted him to discover various distinct, regional cooking techniques. Seven years later, he became top chef at the Harmony Lafayette Hotel. The following years earned him a reputation of being an exceptional chef and France’s best craftsman in culinary arts, having mentored several famous chefs like Eric Ripert, Michael Caines and Gordon Ramsay.

Robuchon became the catalyst that led French cooking away from the extras and excesses, as well as the excessive reduction, of the new era’s approach to cooking, the nouvelle cuisine. He introduced a cuisine that is more focused on bringing out the original taste of an ingredient, allowing its own taste to emanate rather than be hidden by other flavors. He drew inspiration from the Japanese cuisine’s simplicity, leading the way in creating menus that have a finer style, those that respect the beauty, taste and lack of complexities of food ingredients that are natural.

The famous chef bases his preparation of the food on the ingredients themselves, and on careful, detailed preparation of the fare, rather than covering the flavor with loads of sauces. As he once said, “the simpler the dish, the harder it seems to prepare it well. People want to truly taste what it is that they are eating.” He tends to prepare good ingredients very simply, without disruptions from the flavor of the ingredient itself.

He oversees his international restaurant empire with the same exactness. One of his supposedly French magic’s is his open kitchen. His exposed kitchens allow chef and diners to interact, and customers love it, combined with the restaurants’ style and elegance, charm and precision. He manages his people well, making sure they are happy in his kitchen. He also provides insights on how to succeed in a cooking career.

“A chef has to like people. When new cooks come to work in my kitchen, they make mistakes at first, becomes messy in the presentation. What I always remind them is: ‘if you are preparing food for your girlfriend, or your mother, would you allow it to be messy?’ he once said in one of his interviews. “You would always see to it that the food is perfect because you love them. This is how chefs in their distinguished chefs clothing should see every client who comes to their restaurants. That’s how I do it. I love people, and I respect the produce, the food,”

Another thing is cleanliness. “I used to be asked how come my jacket remains spotless when I cook. I keep everything clean in my kitchen.”

“It’s not about where you place the utensils—here or there,” he continues. “When people come to my restaurants, I want them to feel my DNA. That is the most important part.”