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Joël Robuchon: What Are His Passions Beyond the Kitchen?

A Conversation with Chef Joel Robuchon
A Conversation with Chef Joel Robuchon
Geeta Bansal

Chef Joël Robuchon was dubbed the "Chef of the Century" as early as 1989 by the Gault et Millau guide in France. Robuchon has been credited with guiding modern French cuisine to a simpler yet delicate form as we see it now, being very respectful of the product and making it the star in his cuisine.

Numerous accolades and awards have been bestowed upon him during his career pre and post his retirement. He created waves in the culinary world by announcing his decision to suddenly retire in 1996 at the height of his career, closing up a three-star Michelin restaurant in pursuit of what he found missing in his life at that point. Chef Robuchon re-entered the world of gastronomy to set up an immense restaurant empire spanning many continents and has since earned 25 Michelin stars between his 17 restaurants in 8 countries, an incredible achievement indeed. During a conversation about various aspects of his life at his Joel Robuchon restaurant in the MGM Grand Las Vegas, we discussed his other passions besides cuisine and travel.

You have a fondness for Spain and Japan, but is there another culture that interests you as much?
I appreciate the Chinese culture a lot and especially since they attach a lot of importance to flavor and they have mastered the cooking techniques that enable them to do this. When you walk into a kitchen with wonderful aromas, you might think that they must eat very well here, when in fact the cook did not manage to save those flavors in the dish and they escaped into nature. To save the flavor is one of the most difficult things in cuisine. Very few chefs master that art.

What else is striking about Chinese cuisine?
I appreciate the textures and how both texture and flavor are incorporated in a dish. Other Asian cultures do this too, but the Chinese have really mastered this art. I saw shrimp immersed in water and cooked for a long time and thought they must have lost their flavor, but later I tasted them after they were cooked and found that they brought a completely different texture to the palate. To respond to your initial question, what I love in the Chinese kitchen is the way they associate the two elements of texture and flavor and incorporate them in a dish it creates something beautiful.

Since we have spoken so much about travel and you travel to all the countries your restaurants are located, how about some packing tips? (He was really amused at that but answered in great detail)
I am very organized in my packing. First you must have the right luggage that has enough space for all your stuff and can transport everything in good condition. It is important to select the right clothes. If you look ("Regarde!") at my clothes you see they maintain their crease and are never wrinkled. So I like clothes that travel well and have discovered by trial and error that TUMI makes the best luggage that is light, easy to pack.

I love shopping and I find the best lightweight clothing in Hong Kong, in fact you can find anything you want there. (He held out his arm for me to touch the fabric of his black jacket that was custom made for him there)

So what are your other hobbies besides shopping?
Other than being in the kitchen my other hobby is shopping for electronic gadgets. (Who knew this revered chef was a tech junkie?)

Latest gadgets you have purchased? (His eyes lit up!)
Last I added, what always tells me where I am, is my carbon iPhone. I have 5-6 iPhones but this one (I got to hold the carbon iPhone) is made entirely of carbon, not just its case. I have several iPads, 2-3 small ones, 2-3 big ones. I have many computers and every time I travel I find something I have to add to my collection.

I have an adapter that takes six cables from an iPad, iPhone, a Blackberry, and just about anything else. I admit I am a little crazy when it comes to gadgets and spend a lot on purchasing them. It is truly my passion, and outside of electronics not much interests me other than work. I work every day except, the months of July to August when I am in Spain. Truthfully I work every day even during that time in the Costa Blanca.

What made you venture into the field of home decor with the candles etc?
I have worked closely with this industry. I search for products that deal with odors, one of biggest challenges in restaurants. So I asked perfumers what can you use in restaurants negatively impacted by odors and all of them came back time and time again with the same answer. They said the only true perfume that we should ever use is vanilla. (He asked for Bernard to bring some from the restaurant so I could recognize the aroma). So we use vanilla-scented candles in the restaurants to deal with odors. Then they suggested chocolate and other flavors and so we kept adding.

He is celebrating a birthday on the 7th of April. Bon Anniversaire Monsieur Robuchon!