A few weeks ago, i was on a coffee break when i received a call from Bren Herrera of Flanboyant Eats. “I’m doing an interview with Joël Robuchon. I need you to translate.” she said. I poured the coffee over myself. “You, you.. want me to talk to God!?” i think was my answer. Needless to say, i quickly agreed.
The two-hours interview and cooking demo was filmed at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York City a few days ago and this post is a behind-the-scene sneak peek. Look for the footage on Bren’s blog (and here too) in a few weeks and possibly on NBC daytime. I’m very grateful to be part of this unique experience. Thanks Bren!
Joël Robuchon operates eighteen restaurants in cities worldwide, in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, New York City, Paris, and Tokyo, with a total of 25 Michelin stars among them – the most of any chef in the world. He’s considered by many the most influential French chef of our generation for his work post-nouvelle cuisine era which earned him the accolade in the media of Chef of the Century. A Meilleur ouvrier de France himself he has mentored distinguished chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Eric Ripert and he still employs some of the finest chefs on the planet.
When we met, Mr Robuchon had just received the news that the much-respected Miele guide, which reviews 450 fine restaurants in 16 Asian countries, voted L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Hong Kong the number one restaurant in Asia, while his Macau and Tokyo venues came in at number 3 and 20. Does your head spins yet?
I admit i was a little bit nervous. I have never done live translation before but i was quickly put at ease by Mr Robuchon’s hospitality and by Bren’s infectious energy. The camera started rolling while my friend Marc of No recipes took pictures (all the photos on this post) and the relaxed conversation started in front of the bar and covered topics ranging from Cuban food to the aesthetic of Japanese food.
Mr Robuchon invited us to the kitchen to demonstrate a quick recipe, a langoustine wrapped in brick pastry with basil, deep fried and served with a basil puree. Bren was put on the spot and asked to prepare a langoustine on her own. She did so well he jokingly offered to open a Cuban restaurant with her: “You don’t mind partnering with me as long as i bring the money, right?”. You’ll see the great chemistry these two have on the video.
You can tell a master chef from looking at the small details. And fine cooking is a succession of masterfully executed small details. Joël Robuchon doesn’t season the same way the rest of us mere mortals would. He takes a pinch of salt and leans over closer and with complete focus sprinkles it over the surface evenly, almost like if he was conscious of where each grain of salt would fall. He repeated the same operation with hot chili. I don’t know if i’m the only one to notice but he’s intense.
The seasoned langoustine was wrapped in brick pastry (like filo, but finer and more crepe-like in texture) with a basil leaf. “If the basil leaf is too big you should remove the central vein”, noted Mr Robuchon. He wrapped it up and secured it with a toothpick.”The toothpick should always go sideways”, he said.
The little langoustines packets were deep fried in grapeseed oil, or any neutral oil at 180’C (that’s 350’F). “You should pay close attention to color, when it’s the lightest shade of golden brown, it’s ready”, he said.
And ready it was, the langoustines had the perfect mother of pearl shine when cut into. Bren was put in charge to sauce the plate with the basil puree. ” I’m gonna do little dots because i know you like little dots, Mr RobuchON!” She said with her warm latin accent. To which Mr Robuchon answered with a big smile: “C’est Robuchon, pas du Reblochon!”
Bren surprised everybody when she said she wanted Mr Robuchon to try a flan she had made a day earlier in DC and brought with her. The delicate operation of unmolding a flan had to be done in front on nothing less than the Chef of the Century, two of his trusted chefs for more than 15 years (one of them is a MOF) and the filming crew with camera rolling. Bren is fearless.
The operation went without a glitch. As you can see the flan came out beautifully and Mr Robuchon and his crew digged into it, pushing each other for the bigger portion.
Mr Robuchon complimented the fact that it was extremely smooth and creamy and without any air bubbles in the middle. “A sign of a very good flan!”. He was even more impressed by the fact it was cooked in a pressure-cooker. I told Bren afterward she should start a mail-order flan business. It was really that good.
We sat at the bar and got into a long conversation with topics ranging from what he thought about being called the Chef of the Century to mentoring his chef Takeo Yamakazi at his restaurant in Monte-Carlo, whom Bren had met a few months earlier. We talked about his feelings when he closed the legendary restaurant Jamin in Paris in 1996, his semi-retirement and what inspired him to start over again.
He gave us his opinion on fusion food and told us how much he dislike molecular gastronomy. He talked about his food purveyors and the relationship he has with them. He showed us a plate of fresh, tiny porcini mushrooms he had received that morning and talked about respecting the food we cook and eat.
Joël Robuchon struck me as someone passionate about his craft who gained stardom status in spite of himself. He’s a discreet character who doesn’t care much for the showbiz side of the business but who attracted fame anyway simply because genius doesn’t need trumpets. Quite a refreshing encounter in a midst of a generation of chefs with tattoes and over-inflated egoes. He was modest and even spiritual at times, so much in fact that i couldn’t help think to myself: “He’s way more zen than you, dude.”
More than anything, Mr Robuchon seemed at a very good point in his life. The fabulous 3 star Michelin restaurant that made his reputation in Paris in the 80’s and 90’s also kept him prisoner of his own fame until he decided to break the chains. And he never looked back. Now he’s traveling the world, learning about different food cultures while reigning over his restaurant empire. And wherever he is, you’ll find him cooking on the line. Even after a long flight.
Bren went for the photo-op and what a photo-op! On Bren’s right is Philippe Braun. Mr Braun is Mr Robuchon’s 23 year business partner and executive chef of the Paris restaurant. On her left is Mr Bouchenoire, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, who’s also the executive chef of La Table de Joel Robuchon. Both are incredible chefs.
Mr Robuchon who had already been very generous with his time took a few more pictures with the crew and signed cookbooks. And we said goodbye. What an afternoon!
Special thanks go out to Michelle and Dana who were both terrific assistants, Marc of No Recipes for pulling off great photography without proper lighting. Without him there would be no preview for you to see. And thank you Mr Cameraman for forgiving me for forgetting your name. And of course a big thank you to the Star of the show, Bren of Flanboyants Eats who made this memorable experience possible for all of us.
Et biensûr un grand merci a vous, Mr Robuchon!
Tags: Famous chef