You would be forgiven if you didn’t know about French chef Joel Robuchon, who died of cancer Monday at age 73. He was not the most famous chef in the world, if we’re judging fame by household recognition. But for fine-dining chefs who aspire to Michelin-star status (the Michelin Guide being the pre-eminent restaurant recommendation book published annually), there was Joel Robuchon and then there was everyone else.
I beg your pardon if I’m oversimplifying this: If you’re a chef and you want to cook the type of haute cuisine seen in Ratatouille (yeah, this is our cultural reference point for luxury French cuisine), then Joel Robuchon was your savior. His name adorns two dozen restaurants around the globe from New York to Tokyo to Paris. His standing in the culinary world and his native France was so large that French president Emmanuel Macron marked his passing with a statement: “His name and style embody French cuisine all over the world, they symbolize a lifestyle, a demand for a job well done, and convey the richness of our traditions.”
Even if Joel Robuchon’s name is unfamiliar to you, do know this: His most famous dish is mashed potatoes.
Colloquially known as Robuchon potatoes, it’s been described by The Guardian as an “almost liquid dish” and the BBC as “the world’s best mashed potatoes.” It’s been described as “a near religious experience.”
What Robuchon did with potatoes was both extravagant and simple: By combining potatoes with warm cream and a whole lot of chilled butter, then “scraping” the mash through a fine sieve, he created the silkiest potatoes imaginable. And therein lies Robuchon’s ethos: Use the fewest possible ingredients possible and pursue the perfect technique to create the apotheosis of a dish. Robuchon took a pedestrian spud and spun it into almost-liquid gold.
Over Christmas, I was inspired to create my take on Robuchon potatoes. It combined his technique, along with a few tricks from Cook’s Illustrated. It was, in fact, the best mashed potatoes I’ve tasted. So here’s to you, monsieur Robuchon: I may have never dined in one of your three Michelin-starred restaurants, but your cooking made me feel like a king.