After nearly six storied decades in the kitchens and countless accolades in his toque, revered chef Joel Robuchon has passed away. The 73-year-old succumbed to pancreatic cancer, according to French morning paper Le Figaro.
The world’s most Michelin-starred chef started out his culinary journey in seminary, initially resolving to become a priest. But the then 15-year-old gravitated towards helping the nuns in the kitchens instead, after observing the joy that good cooking could bring to people. This was a philosophy that would guide his momentous rise to the top of esteemed restaurant guides and lists around the world.
I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Robuchon once, as a fledgling journalist feverishly hammering out a report on Singapore’s inaugural Michelin star recipients, three years ago. A perfumed arm found its way onto my shoulder, and there he was, fresh off his 5-star yield for his (now-shuttered) restaurants at Resorts World Sentosa.
“What are you doing?” he inquired gently. The younger me gestured, starstruck, to my laptop screen. In place of exercising journalism, I blurted: “Well, writing about you, chef.”
“Ah.” The arm withdrew, and the most decorated chef in history dipped into near-genuflection. “Thank you.”
Humility, joy, and love – softer virtues less extolled, but quintessential to the most august and venerated men. Below, five quotes that frame what he cooked – and lived – for.
“(You have to respect) the produce for what it is – knowing that you are taking a life in order to prepare certain dishes, such as a Dover Sole or Lamb – and respecting this life that had to be taken in order to allow us to create a dish for someone you love.”
“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, and you have to love people.”
“My cooking philosophy what I try to do is to make a cuisine where the produce and the product shines compared to some current trends that are maybe more adding additional things like molecular cuisine with a lot of additives and chemicals which are now showing that they could be bad for your health.”
“Taste is developed by the diversity of the products one can sample. I think our children today may be missing an education about food. We must teach them to know their cuisine and to know the equilibrium of nourishment. That is very important for health. Taste is developed by the diversity of the products one can sample. I think our children today may be missing an education about food. We must teach them to know their cuisine and to know the equilibrium of nourishment. That is very important for health.”
“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 and places like that. But I think that is good. My children also had the chance to come to my restaurant when they were younger, with their friends. And they were able quickly to perceive the differences. The more one eats and the more one tastes, the more one begins to appreciate. “
Rest in peace, chef.