Celebrity chef Joël Robuchon, who passed away on August 6, 2018 at the age of 73, had earned more than 30 Michelin stars — and was also known for having tutored Gordon Ramsay (and famously thrown a plate at him). Robuchon was described as an “artist who most influenced the 20th-century world of cuisine”, by cookbook author and critic Patricia Wells. Wells even went on to compare the French chef to artists like Picasso and Chopin. “To describe Joel Robuchon as a cook is a bit like calling Pablo Picasso a painter, Luciano Pavarotti a singer, Frederic Chopin a pianist,” she wrote.
Robuchon discovered his love for cooking when as a student he was working at a seminary. He wanted to be a priest and had entered a kitchen for the first time at the age of 15. One of his most enduring dishes remain mashed potato — a seemingly simple dish that the chef elevated and gave an iconic status. Robuchon’s recipe departed from the traditional way of making mashed potato by including steps that were unheard of — boiling the potato with the skin on, to stirring cold butter with hot steaming potatoes.
Born to a mason and a stay-at-home mother in Poitiers, France, 1945, Robuchon was known for being a perfectionist. He opened his first restaurant, Jamin, at the age of 36 and won a Michelin star within a year. He later went on to amass 31 of them, the most by any chef. In 1989, he was called the ‘Chef of the Century’ by the French restaurant guide, Gault Millau. During his decades-long career, he opened restaurants in Hong Kong, London, Las Vegas.
“The older I get the more I realise the truth is: the simpler the food, the more exceptional it can be. I never try to marry more than three flavours in one dish. I like walking into a kitchen and knowing that the dishes are identifiable and the ingredients within them easy to detect,” he had said to Business Insider in 2014. The best way to remember Robuchon is of course to whip up his mashed potatoes.
Recipe from The Complete Robuchon
Preparation: 15 minutes | Cooking: 35 minutes| Serves: 6
1kg— potatoes, preferably rattes or BF 15, scrubbed but unpeeled
250g— butter, diced and kept well chilled until use
250ml — whole milk
Salt and pepper
* Put the potatoes in a saucepan with 2 litres of cold water and 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until a knife slips in the potatoes easily and cleanly, about 25 minutes.
* Drain the potatoes and peel them. Put them through a potato ricer (or a food mill fitted with its finest disk) into a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and dry the potato flesh out a bit by turning it vigorously with a spatula for about 5 minutes.
* Meanwhile, rinse a small saucepan and pour out the excess water but do not wipe it dry. Add the milk and bring to a boil.
* Turn the heat under the potatoes to low and incorporate the well-chilled butter bit by bit, stirring it in energetically for a smooth, creamy finish. Pour in the very hot milk in a thin stream, still over a low heat, still stirring briskly. Keep stirring until all the milk is absorbed. Turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper.
* For an even lighter, finer purée, put it through a very fine sieve before serving.