French Chef Joel Robuchon Dead At 73 After Cancer Battle

At one time, the French chef had more Michelin stars than any other living person.

joel robuchon died of cancer
Shizuo Kambayashi / AP Images

At one time, the French chef had more Michelin stars than any other living person.

Joel Robuchon, the famed French chef who at one time held more Michelin stars than any other living chef, has died at 73 from cancer, BBC News is reporting.

Robuchon was known as much for defying the conventions of French cuisine as he was for celebrating them. When he began rising to prominence in the 1970s, the French cooking scene was dominated by Nouvelle Cuisine (“New Cooking,”), an exacting and delicate style of cooking that valued presentation as much as taste and technique. Robuchon eschewed that: He valued simple dishes that used no more than three or four ingredients, with his signature dish being the humble mashed potato.

“These mashed potatoes, it’s true, made my reputation. I owe everything to these mashed potatoes. Maybe it’s a little bit of nostalgia, Proust’s madeleines. Everyone has in his memory the mashed potatoes of his mother, the mashed potatoes of his grandmother.”

As ABC News explains, he wanted his dishes to celebrate the flavors of the core ingredients, not mask them.

“The older I get, the more I realize the truth is: the simpler the food, the more exceptional it can be.”

That’s not to say that his “simple” dishes didn’t employ fancy ingredients: like many French chefs, he loved caviar and truffles.

His style of restaurants also shook French cuisine to its core. Rather than serve his patrons in grand, opulent dining rooms, he served his food in what he called “Ateliers” (“workshops” in French). In Robuchon’s business model, diners sat at counters surrounding the kitchens; he didn’t take reservations and, in some restaurants, there weren’t even tables.

Born in Poitiers in west-central France (about 200 miles southwest of Paris) in 1945, Robuchon was working in the kitchen of a nearby seminary before the age of 15. Indeed, at one time he considered a career in the priesthood but instead chose a career in cuisine.

By the middle 1970s, at the age of 29, he was appointed head chef at Paris tony Hôtel Concorde La Fayette. And in 1981, according to his website, he earned his first Michelin star for his Paris restaurant Jarmin. A year later he earned his second, and the following year, his third; his was the first restaurant in the history of the guide to achieve that feat.

Unfortunately, Robuchon developed a pancreatic tumor, for which he underwent treatment in 2017. He died 12 months later in Switzerland.

2018 has seen the deaths of at least two other famous chefs, including Paul Bocuse in January and Anthony Bourdain in June.