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August 27, 2014

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Talking shop with Joel Robuchon

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Courtesy of MGM Resorts International

Joel Robuchon’s food weakness isn’t what you might guess.

To use a cooking term, Joël Robuchon’s attire is “blackened”: black smock-like jacket, black slacks, black shoes, black-faced watch with a matching band and an array of faces.

“Do you speak French?” the chef in black asks upon meeting.

“No. I’m still struggling with English” is the response. Thus, questions and answers will be translated by Emmanuel Cornet, Robuchon’s director of restaurants. The site is the darkened bar at L’Atelier, one of two exquisite Robuchon restaurants at MGM Grand.

We boiled the conversation down to a four-course Q&A with the legendary chef:

What are your guilty pleasures?

I am a gourmand. I like to eat. When I have something that I like, I tend to have too much of it. That is a guilty pleasure (laughs). A good steak frites, if it is done well, is something I get a lot of enjoyment out of. But one of my biggest guilty pleasures is from a region in France [Poitou-Charentes] that is very well-known for its dairy products, particularly the butter. This region makes the best butter in France, so I like to eat raw butter from there. A couple of things maybe I should not mention are ketchup and Coke.

What do you think of vegan dieting, and would you ever be able to eat an exclusively vegan diet?

As a chef, you need to respect your guests and their needs. If they decide that they want to eat certain things and not eat others, if for religious reasons or [they] just decide they don’t want to eat certain ingredients, you have to respect that. In our restaurants, our menus are very creative. Always changing dishes and bringing new things. It’s important to keep people’s food restrictions in mind. I’ve never followed a vegan or vegetarian diet in the past, but I think I could do it. It would not be easy. I have worked with nutritionists who have said a vegan diet is not necessarily all positive for your health, because you need nutrients you only find in meats. I believe in a balanced diet.

Do you consider yourself a very meticulous person, in and out of the kitchen?

Since age 12 I was educated in a seminary, so I was around nuns and priests all the time. It was extremely important to pay attention to detail, and that self-discipline has followed me all my life. I travel a lot. If you look at my suitcase, everything is extremely well-packed and well-folded; people who travel with me are impressed at how organized I am. Some would refer to me as a maniac for this.

Do you remember the moment that food preparation became your calling?

While I was studying, there was a tough time in my family when my parents separated and I had to find a job to make some money. While studying I woke up every morning, early, said prayers, studied, then [celebrated] Mass. You couldn’t talk much and it was very strict, so the way for me to escape was to be in the kitchen with the nuns preparing meals. At that moment I was out of that very strict authority and was very relaxed and I could express myself. I could have been a lot of different things, but because of those moments in the kitchen, I said, “I am going to cook.” I have met a lot of passionate people in the kitchen, who were passionate just like me. Because of that, it has become more a passion than a job.

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