With 26 Michelin Stars under his belt, Chef Joël Robuchon is at the pinnacle of the global cuisine game. In February, the 70-year-old chef will make a rare South Beach Wine & Food Festival appearance hosting a sold-out $1,500-a-seat dinner. Miamians wanting more of Robuchon are about to get it in the form of three restaurants: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, La Boutique and Le Bar that will be opening in the Miami Design District by year’s end.
How did you get your start in the culinary industry?
Well you know, I began cooking not because of a love of cooking but because my parents told me that if I learned to cook, at least I would never go hungry! Growing up in post-war France, we did not have access to what a lot of families have today. I started cooking in a seminary, working with the nuns to prepare food for everyone there; this was by no means the type of cuisine that is now seen in my restaurants. I peeled potatoes, tomatoes, etc. but it was during this time that I learned that I wanted to cook – that I wanted to make something that could make people happy.
How did you decide upon the Design District for your restaurants?
The Design District neighborhood is full of life and creativity with art galleries, architectural and design firms, clothing stores, and of course, restaurants. It seemed to be the perfect location to put my Atelier de Joel Robuchon concept as well as my café, La Boutique.
How does this work well with l’Atelier’s sensibility?
I wanted to reinvent the idea of fine dining with L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon by putting the kitchen in the heart of the restaurant, surrounded by a counter, providing guests with a lively atmosphere and direct access to the creative process. I think this is in line with the atmosphere of the Design District
Did stripping away the “pomp and circumstance” that traditionally surrounds Michelin-starred restaurants create the success of L’Atelier?
This certainly explains in part, the success of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon worldwide. I [do] think that customers were tired of what they had come to expect at formal fine dining restaurants.
How will the three restaurants be set up?
L’Atelier is an open-kitchen concept where friendliness is the key word. One can try dishes in large or small portions while watching the chefs work. Beneath L’Atelier, there will be a more casual bar and lounge area called Le Bar. The bakery, La Boutique, located across the plaza in a separate building, will offer a varied selection of sweet and savory pastries, light dishes and of course, breads. In the same building upstairs, we will have an outdoor dining area called La Terrace.
How do you keep up quality when you have multiple restaurants all around the globe?
Three weeks a month, I visit my various restaurants across the world to create new recipes and train the teams. I have certainly trained a large number of chefs in my career because I believe that transferring my knowledge and teaching other chefs is an essential part of this business.
You famously “retired,” taking time to travel the world before returning to open the first L’Atelier. What did you learn?
I learned a lot about different cultures and the various products of the countries I visited. I’m really curious about everything and always in search of new flavors and new [cooking] techniques.
Do the Michelin ratings still matter to you?
We cannot ignore the stars awarded by the Michelin Guide, which is truly an independent guide. This is an award that really recognizes the work of our teams in all of our restaurants that have won awards. The Michelin stars can have influence on a restaurant’s business. For example, Restauarant Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas was not full before the Michelin guide awarded it three stars. From the moment it was awarded three stars, it was immediately full and has remained full ever since. We can not minimize the impact that the Michelin Guide can have on the customer. It’s a given that it will not be ignored.
You’ve been at the top of the culinary game for some time now. How do you feel about that?
To stay at the top, one must constantly challenge himself and always work harder and do more.
Tell me about your Bordeaux restaurant. Is that your “piece de la resistance”?
Yes, I think it is an embassy showcasing the excellence of French gastronomy.
Americans see you as a huge “grand chef” but in France, you were very accessible, doing easy dishes on TV for years on “Bon Appetit Bien Sur.” Do people in different parts of the world have a different perception of you?
I have always wanted to pass on my knowledge: whether with my staff or with a larger audience through television. This has opened up the kitchen to a much larger number people. In my restaurants, I’m always listening to customers and I love meeting them. This is also part of cooking. For me, cooking is an act of love.
What inspired you to curate the Joël Robuchon collection of wines, and what makes this collection unique?
As you know, the marriage of food and wine is an absolute necessity – whether enjoying the 16-course degustation menu or a simple selection of cheeses with friends. I have made some very close friends, namely Bernard Magrez, who produces very high-quality wines. I believe that quality needs to be promoted, and I chose some great selections and present them in my restaurants around the world.
What celebrities have you cooked for and how do you usually cater to them?
I’ve cooked for many celebrities over my career – my favorite ones in Las Vegas would have to be Celine Dion and David Copperfield. They have both been great friends to me and the restaurant since we opened. Celine was the first person who really spoke about my restaurants when we opened, bringing her friends and helping the success of the restaurants when we first started in Las Vegas.
What haven’t you done yet that you would like to do?
To create new concepts and new challenges for myself!