The chef of the century has passed at the age of 73. We look back at his insatiable appetite for growth and his plans to nurture the next generation

Even as he grew his empire with openings in New York, Miami and Geneva, this legendary French chef was laying the groundwork for his most ambitious legacy project opening in 2019. Before his untimely death on August 6, 2018, at the age of 73 (due to cancer), there seemed to be no stopping the“chef of the century”, Joel Robuchon.

Long before holding the most Michelin stars under his group of restaurants, Robuchon was renowned for his rigour, professionalism and creativity in the kitchen, earning the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsmen of France) in Culinary Arts at age 31 in 1976.

Singapore was one of the chef ’s favourite stops, where he would visit at least three times a year to oversee the menus at three-star Joel Robuchon Restaurant and two-star L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Unfortunately, he had decided to close both restaurants. Their location away from the city in Sentosa could be a challenge Robuchon conceded, yet both had been a success due in part to the draw of the Michelin guide and the strong culture of the restaurant group.

Adjustments, it appeared, were necessary in this ever competitive industry. Arriving from New York after opening L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Manhattan in November last year, the imposing chef looked fresh and alert—and 27kg lighter—something he attributed to his organic, healthy new eating habits on which he managed to shed the weight in 2013, leading him to co-author a book with his doctor, Nadia Volf, called Food & Life. “Food has to be more and more healthy; this will be very important to diners,” he emphasised, noting that his restaurants were incorporating more organic and healthful ingredients such as turmeric and pomegranate.

(Related: It's Goodbye To Joel Robuchon In Singapore This June)

In the spirit
Robuchon took great paternal delight in talking about his young head chefs, most recently 35-year-old Kim Joinié-Maurin and 26-year-old Vianney Massot, previously at Joel Robuchon Restaurant Singapore and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Singapore respectively.

The latter, said Robuchon, was like his baby. “He started with us so young, and for the last 10 years had picked up the spirit of Robuchon.” Robuchon also had plenty of praise for chef Joinie-Maurin, noting that when a Michelin guide inspector was known to have dined in the restaurant, it was chef Joinie-Maurin who cooked that night.

In reference to the Robuchon DNA, the spirit of his cooking, he declared, “My chefs have the liberty to express themselves even while some classics stay. The Robuchon DNA is so strong in them that they know and cook in the same philosophy that I cook. Their techniques are so similar to mine, you won’t be able to taste the difference.”

(Related: 5 Of The Best French Restaurants In Singapore)

The grand scheme
It is with a view to his legacy that Robuchon had envisioned the grand project of the Institut International Joel Robuchon, in collaboration with Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne (EHL), an upscale Swiss hospitality school. It’s slated to open in 2019. The site of the project will be in Montmorillon where he was from, taking shape in the imposing 11th century monastery-hospital, Maison Dieu, a classified historical monument. The purchase of property, rehabilitation, design and build, and other costs is estimated to be around 65 million euros.

“The main purpose of this school is to transmit my data,” elaborated Robuchon. “To achieve this, I didn’t want to make a traditional catering school. My wish is to have a school like a living hotel and restaurant, where you can find the restorations of real life—a bakery, patisserie, wine shop, even a bar. From self-service to the highest level gastronomic restaurant, the premises will give students the chance to train as though it is the real world.” Ultimately, it comes down to respecting the best ingredients, and enhancing their quality.

(Related: The Restaurants That Made It Into The Michelin Guide Singapore 2018)