If you truly love food, Joël Robuchon is a man who likely needs no introduction. His restaurants span the globe, with locations in Paris, Monaco, Londres, Las Vegas, New York, Tokyo, Nagoya, Hong Kong, Macao and Taipei. In 1989, the prestigious French restaurant guide Gault Millau named Robuchon "Chef of the Century". He currently holds more Michelin Stars than any chef in the world.
On Tuesday night, Squid Ink had the pleasure of dining at his truly stunning 3 Michelin Star Las Vegas outpost, Restaurant Joël Robuchon, in the MGM Grand. The following morning, chef Robuchon and his translator took the time to sit down for an interview to discuss his passion for food, his career and perhaps most importantly, his desire to open a restaurant in Los Angeles.
Squid Ink: You're in town to oversee the seasonal menu change, is that right?
Joël Robuchon: Yes, four times a year, I visit Las Vegas for about a week or more in order to change the menu, experiment with new recipes and implement new dishes throughout the week. Currently we are working on the spring menu.
Changing the menu is something that might be normal today, but five years ago when we opened the restaurant, that was not the case. It would be the same year round. So when we opened, we said we would be changing the menu all the time. Now, you see that all the time, but five years ago, that wasn't the norm. When we did it, I was asked "why would you want to change the menu so often?" But it's simple. You have to follow the seasons.
Another thing that five years ago was a little bit different was when we were talking about opening a restaurant, was that I said I wanted to open a small restaurant. At the time, at most of the casinos, that was very unusual. There were not so many small restaurants. Five years ago, that was very different and unusual.
SI: Do you personally adjust the menu for all of your restaurants around the world?
JR: Yes. All of the restaurants. Of these kind, there are only three in the world. Here, Tokyo and Macau. I do travel to all the restaurants, but they are not all the same. I make creations that are unique to some of the locations. We also try as often as possible to use local ingredients, which are different in different parts of the world. Pretty much ten months out of the year is traveling. They are not all the same, but they do follow the season.
One thing, before opening, that I was a little worried about was sourcing the product. I'd heard from colleagues that I wouldn't be able to find quality products in the U.S. and in Las Vegas. So I sent chefs nine months before, to look at products, and they found some amazing vegetables, seafood and meat. Things from California were of great quality. I was told I would never be able to make good bread, that we could not find good flour. But now we have a baker here in the basement, and French people tell us that they find better bread here than they do in France. And without the produce, we would not be able to do that.
Veal, also. You have to look for it, but you can find some milk fed veal that is one the best that I have anywhere. Small farmer, small producer, they exist. You just need to find them.
SI: The veal was excellent.
JR: I had some in the kitchen last night. It was exceptional.
It is important that I find such good product to work with, because 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. My philosophy is very different from that. An ingredient, prepared simply, is the best.
I have been working to use more products that are proven to be good for your own health. No additives, but also ones that are known to be good for your health.
For example, turmeric, has been known to be very good for you. Thyme honey is another. It is known in medicine that honey can actually be good to heal wounds. There is actually a hospital in Paris that kind of specializes in that. If there are wounds that have a hard time healing, they put thyme honey on it.
Rosemary and white tea also. People talk about the benefits of green tea, but also white tea. So I have been incorporating those ingredients into some recipes. Like a gelée that is made with white tea. And sea urchin and turmeric, which is to flavor the carrot. It is really what my cuisine is moving toward. Cuisine of the produce, but you must have exceptional ingredients.
SI: You spoke before about the excellent produce of California, so I must ask-- would you ever consider opening a restaurant in Los Angeles?
JR: Los Angeles is somewhere that I am extremely interested in. If there is one city in the world that I would like to be, it is Los Angeles. What I am really looking for and waiting for is a good space. I am really looking for the right space, the right location. And waiting to find the location and the right partner for a L'Atelier space. So I am opening the door to interested parties, for anybody out there reading this.
Originally, I only knew Los Angeles for LAX, on the way to Las Vegas. But about a year and a half, two years ago, I was in town for an event [with Wolfgang Puck]. But it is new to me and I really fell in love with the city. Los Angeles is a magical city. Malibu and Beverly Hills especially. I really fell in love with the city.
There are actually three things that motive me to do a restaurant there. First of all, I enjoy the city. Also, I know I will be able to find the produce. And the third, I know that Los Angeles has great potential. We see a lot here in Las Vegas, a huge clientele from Los Angeles, and a huge repeat clientele. I know the potential is there, the clientele is there. There are people that know of my restaurants there. I know L'Atelier would do great.
SI: Well we would absolutely love to have you. When you were in Los Angeles were there any restaurants that you particularly enjoyed?
JR: Yes. A couple of days ago, actually Wolfgang Puck had dinner here. He is a great colleague and a great friend. And actually he is pushing me to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. So yes, I really enjoyed his restaurant Cut, also Providence and the pizza place, Mozza, I really enjoyed.
SI: You've achieved massive success as a chef and restaurateur. In fact, when you really look at it, you are one of, if not the most successful and acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs that has ever lived. For most people, that level of success is impossible to comprehend. Are you personally able to fully comprehend what you've achieved?
JR: I am very honored for all the distinctions and accolades, but what I am most sensitive to is my clientele and the fact they are pleased with my food and my restaurants. Clearly, it is great to receive the accolades, and you can't not be touched by all that. But it comes to the passion that I have, and the best compliment that I can receive is someone that comes back. So when I am in town I get to meet many of the clients, and I have met some guests, just some average people, and I have been around celebrities that are my clients. There was a guest who comes a lot, that came last night, and he couldn't stop thanking me for the emotion that he received for his dinner. So you cannot not be touched by that. But being told by any of those people of the amazing experience that they have is the most important.
One thing that I try is for the people that have dinner here to feel my DNA. Because the restaurant is part of me. It is my DNA. It is amazing when people are leaving and they feel that.
SI: You spoke earlier of your passion and your excitement for food. Has that changed at all over the years? Is it possible to be as excited about a particular dish or ingredient now as it was when you were younger?
JR: One thing that is extremely important is that my cuisine itself has changed. When I started working in a kitchen, the first thing I learned was the technique. So I really wanted to showcase my knowledge of technique. So my food was very technical, sophisticated. It was what I really wanted to show. To show my mastery of the technique. So now I have moved more toward a simpler cuisine. Not so much the technique, but the produce. One thing that is extremely difficult is to take something simple and make it exceptional. If you do something very complicated, it is easy to impress. With something simple, it is more difficult. If you can make something simple into something exceptional, that is what my cuisine is now.
I don't have an idea of what new dishes I will make before I arrive. It is more spontaneous. It is about seeing the produce, what is good at the moment, and then things fall into place as the creation process starts. When you cook, you take a life. When you eat fish, or meat, you take a life. And you must be very respectful of the ingredients and that is very important.
SI: What do you believe is the most important skill for the home cook to master?
JR: One of the first things that you have to have is passion. To be a great cook, you need to want to please people. You have to like people. That's the first thing that you need. One thing that I tell my cooks very often is, if you cook for you mom or if you cook for your girlfriend, would you do the dish that same way? So the first thing you must have is your heart.
After that, there is the whole technique. What is most important is precision. You have to be very organized and precise. You are dealing with produce and ingredients, and if you are precise, that is the most important thing.
Again, you have to respect, because again, you destroy life to feed somebody else. Fish, meat, and when you start thinking like that, when you have that philosophy you become a better cook, a better chef. I truly believe that.
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One of the worst things that can happen for me is if you're not able to tell what you're eating. If you are killing a chicken and cooking a chicken, it has to taste like chicken. Veal has to taste like veal. You have to be able to identify what you're eating. One of my worst experiences is when I can't tell what I'm eating. It is a waste. Care for products is extremely, extremely important. I'm not saying I'm right, but it is how I feel. I'm not trying to impose it, it is just how I feel.
SI: Thank you very much, chef Robuchon, for taking the time. Hopefully you will open a restaurant in Los Angeles soon.
JR: Yes. [Smiles] Maybe someone will read this and help that to happen.
Restaurant Joël Robuchon, Hotel MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas Nevada, (702) 891-7925., L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Hotel MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas Nevada, (702) 891-7358.