When Joël Robuchon decides not to make something from scratch in his multi-million dollar Las Vegas kitchen, there must be a very compelling reason. Were Robuchon to discover, for instance, a former French chef at arguably the launching pad of fine French dining in L.A. (L'Ermitage -- John Sedlar is an alum) was turning out phenomenal smoked salmon and trout, it might convince Robuchon to give up in-house smoking. Might. But if, and only if Michel Blanchet of Michel Cordon Bleu was willing to tweak the house recipe for smoked Chinook salmon to satisfy the notoriously exacting Robuchon. Which is exactly what Blanchet did, and still does, in his small Jefferson Park smoked fish factory.
The 60-something owner of Michel Cordon Bleu is a jolly-looking fellow who doesn't speak all that much -- except when it's time for lunch. Blanchet has an impressive pantry filled with ingredients for daily staff meals, which the master chef cooks for his lucky work crew (four longstanding employees) and his two office staff (his operations manager and his wife, Margarita, who is the office manager). It's a pretty great place to be right around 1:00 when Blanchet starts tossing pasta with a simple fresh tomato sauce that he just whipped up, or seasoning the lamb with new potatoes or slow-braised beef that have been roasting all morning in his cassoulet pan. And of course there's always an amuse-bouche (smoked fish) for last-minute drop by guests like us. Turn the page for a photo tour.
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