Joël Robuchon: 'The best gauge of success is still the number of guests who keep coming back'

Joël Robuchon: 'The best gauge of success is still the number of guests who keep coming back'

The world's most decorated Michelin star chef is not fussed about his stars but he is fussed about respecting the ingredients
A sweet ending: The sphere coated with ivory chocolate and tangy raspberries.

Some chefs work a lifetime to be awarded one Michelin star, Joël Robuchon has 26 (and counting) to his name.

In April, the superstar chef became the latest celebrity chef to set up in Singapore, opening L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa –- his first restaurants in Southeast Asia –- with a tea salon to follow later this year.

For his Singapore outposts, the “Chef of the Century” –- named by guide Gault Millau in 1990 -– has not tweaked his magic formula of perfection too much.

Similar to the other Ateliers in Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, New York and London, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon keeps the chain’s signature sleek-and-sexy red-and-black theme with a painstaking eye to detail: the beautifully julienned and mandolined vegetables displayed in clear glass vases are prepared every morning, and the signature mashed potatoes are hand-whipped for 45 minutes by one individual.

The more formal Joël Robuchon Restaurant is a feast for the senses.

Done in an art deco style in mainly beige tones, the room is anchored by a grandiose chandelier, and the restaurant has not one but two main talking points: an indoor winter garden with a huge tree and skylight, and a 16-course degustation menu that has been described by many food critics as magic for its signature dishes such as the Le Caviar Oscietre (Oscetra caviar with a smooth cauliflower gelee) and the Le Turbot (panfried turbot with lemongrass and stewed baby leeks).

And to think the culinary world nearly lost Robuchon to a seminary.

The 66-year-old chef sat down for a chat with CNNGo and to reveal what he’s done differently for the Singapore restaurants, his favorite hawker food and what he really feels about the Michelin Guide.

Joël Robuchon: Some say he's the best in the business. CNNGo: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

Joël Robuchon: When I was 13, I entered the seminary in the hope of becoming a priest.

But I often found myself helping the nuns in the kitchen and thus discovered my passion for cooking. I began to cultivate my skills and aspirations at the age of 15, when I embarked on my first apprenticeship at Relais de Poitiers [hotel].

CNNGo: Why has it taken you so long to come to Southeast Asia?

Robuchon: If I had opened my restaurants here in Singapore 10 years ago, I know they will be doing well.

But today, it’s an even better time for me to set up my restaurants in Singapore because it’s blossomed into a vibrant financial hub. With so many other world famous chefs also opening their restaurants here, no doubt this further cements Singapore’s status as a culinary capital and will draw more gourmands to this part of the world.

CNNGo: What do you think are the characteristics of Southeast Asia food?

Robuchon: Southeast Asia food uses many different types of spices which are quite new to me, like the curry leaves which I saw at the Kreta Ayer wet market in Chinatown.

With such spices used in cooking, this usually imparts a strong aroma to Southeast Asian food, which appeals to the senses. I was also very intrigued with the variety of spices found in India when I visited the last time.

With Chinese cuisine, I’ve discovered the importance of having different textures in a dish, like how the prawn becomes crunchy when soaked in iced water.

Free-range quail filled with foie gras and infamous hand-whipped mashed potatoes.CNNGo: Have you had to adapt certain dishes for the Singapore restaurants?

Robuchon: Yes, because I’ve discovered that Singaporeans don’t like salty food but they like spicy dishes.

Take for example, the Le Boeuf -- beef ribeye, wasabi spinach and a medley of bell peppers. I’ve made it slightly spicier by adding a little more wasabi to the dish.

CNNGo: Have you had a chance to try Singapore's hawker food?

Robuchon: Yes, I tried some local breakfast favorites the last time at Kreta Ayer market, including fried carrot cake and fishball noodles. I actually quite liked the yam cake, which was delicious.

CNNGo: Do you know what a durian is?

Robuchon: I know what a durian is but I haven’t tried it.

CNNGo: What do you look for when hiring a chef for your kitchen?

Robuchon: The candidate must be passionate about cooking and find cooking a joy.

He must also demonstrate a profound respect for what he’s doing and the ingredients he’s working with.

He must remember that he’s taking a life every time he cooks. Even from the way he seasons his food with salt, he must do it meticulously and with care.

A signature dish of the fine dining Joël Robuchon restaurant: oscetra caviar, smooth cauliflower in gelee.
CNNGo:
What is your favorite meal?

Robuchon: I like a well-roasted rotisserie chicken and eggs cooked various ways, like sunny-side up or scrambled. It’s comfort food for me.

CNNGo: Your restaurants have been awarded a total of 26 Michelin stars, do you feel Michelin is an accurate measure of a restaurant?

Robuchon: There are many different restaurant guides, like the Zagat and Gault Millau.

But the Michelin Guide is the one that’s most highly respected because it is independent of any commercial affiliations and there’s a panel of inspectors who rate the restaurants to deliver a non-bias assessment based on a fixed criteria which the restaurants have to fulfil.

The ratings given by the Michelin Guide is also widely supported by the public.

However, with that said, the best gauge of success for my restaurants is still the number of guests who keep coming back.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon/Joël Robuchon Restaurant

Hotel Michael Level 1– 101/103 & 104/105 Resorts World Sentosa,
8 Sentosa Gateway,
tel +65 65778888

In between sunning herself in the Caribbean, Bali and other exotic locales, Charlene Fang keeps her feet (and fingers) grounded as the managing editor of inSing.com. She blames her wanderlust on the years spent working as the editor of CNNGo Singapore and Time Out Singapore. Her ramblings have also been published by the likes of Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Wallpaper*, ELLE and The Australian.

Read more about Charlene Fang