Joël Robuchon, the most Michelin-starred chef in the world, has died at age 73. Robuchon, who collected Michelin stars the way some people collect rare stamps or coins, having amassed a total of 32 at his restaurants spanning three continents, had been battling cancer.
Unlike so many other restaurateurs of the time he believed that what should matter to diners was getting fed, not being amused by tiny sculpted morsels of food at the center of a large plate. His focus was thus on hearty dishes, though he was not shy about incorporating luxury ingredients into a preparation, with prices that reflected as much. L’oeuf de poule, featured among the appetizers on the menu at his New York restaurant L’atelier de Joël Robuchon, combines a crispy organic poached egg with imperial caviar and smoked salmon. The price is $125.
Yet in a very real sense, his food could be described as simple, with dishes seldom featuring more than three or four ingredients. His approach to restaurateuring was the same. He deplored the stuffy, raised-pinky temples in which haute gastronomie was served through the 1980s, preferring casual surroundings with no dress codes or reservations. Hence, his choice of calling several of his restaurants ateliers, or “workshops.”
Perhaps no dish is more in keeping with Robuchon’s philosophy than the lowly mashed potato, which according to The Guardian he “elevated into an art form.” He is quoted as once having said during a demonstration of his recipe, which remarkably used four (and only four) rather common ingredients — Yukon golds, cold butter, milk, and salt:
These mashed potatoes, it’s true, made my reputation. I owe everything to these mashed potatoes. Maybe it’s a little bit of nostalgia, Proust’s madeleines. Everyone has in his memory the mashed potatoes of his mother, the mashed potatoes of his grandmother.