Food, Art, Flavour – Joel Robuchon

Joël Robuchon was a French chef and restaurateur. He was named “Chef of the Century” by the guide Gault Millau in 1989, and awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (France’s best worker) in cuisine in 1976. He published several cookbooks, two of which have been translated into English, chaired the committee for the Larousse Gastronomique, and hosted culinary television shows in France. He operated more than a dozen restaurants in Bangkok, Bordeaux, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, Montreal, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, and New York City, with the highest record of a total of 32 Michelin Guide stars among them (31 at the time of his death), the most of any chef in the world.

Robuchon was born in 1945 in Poitiers, France, one of four children of a bricklayer. He attended the Châtillon-sur-Sèvre seminary in the Deux-Sèvres briefly considering a clerical career. The French master chef Joël Robuchon, who rebelled against the stuffy world of fine dining, elevated mashed potato into an art form, and built up a culinary empire across the world.

Named the “chef of the century” by the Gault et Millau cooking guide in 1990, Robuchon was both a highly disciplined perfectionist and a kitchen rebel who became known for cooking mashed potato so exquisitely that critics described eating it as an overwhelmingly “emotional” experience.

Robuchon went from working-class roots to young stardom in the 1970s Paris world of fine dining, where eye-watering prices, starched tablecloths and silver cutlery were the norm. But he was credited with changing the rules of French cooking and restoring heartiness to the stark dishes of nouvelle cuisine.

He believed it was not the tiny sculpted portions on platters that should matter to diners, but hearty and simple dishes – truffle tart, creamed cauliflower, langoustine ravioli – cooked without mixing too many flavours at once, and sourcing the best produce.

He did not shy away from luxury products such as caviar, but his food was described as simple because he preached the use of only three or four ingredients in most dishes, and his goal was always to show off their flavours.

After he turned 21, he joined the apprenticeship “Compagnon du Tour de France”, enabling him to travel throughout the country, learning a variety of regional techniques. At the age of 29, Robuchon was appointed as head chef at the Hôtel Concorde La Fayette, where he managed 90 cooks. In 1976 he won the Meilleur Ouvrier de France for his craftsmanship in culinary arts. While working as an Executive Chef and Food and Beverage manager of the Nikko hotel in Paris he gained two Michelin stars.

In 1981 he opened his own restaurant, Jamin, which holds the rare distinction of receiving three Michelin stars in the first three years of existence. In 1984, Jamin is named “Best Restaurant in the World” by International Herald Tribune. Between 1987 and 1990, he became a regular of cooking shows on French television.

In 1989, prestigious restaurant guide Gault Millau named Robuchon the ”Chef of the Century”. He mentored many famous chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Eric Ripert, and Michael Caines.

Robuchon’s food style, might be described as a synthesis of cuisine classique (traditional French fare, featuring meaty and fat-laden sauces), nouvelle cuisine (a rejection of that classic cooking which popularized lighter, vegetable-forward flavors), and influences from Japan and Spain. He didn’t just follow Escoffier’s systemization of culinary technique, he built upon it by demonstrating how highly technical dishes (featuring luxurious, and often temperamental ingredients) could be reproduced in multiple places at once, thanks to careful product sourcing, a nearly compulsive obsession with perfection, and extensive training.

Today, Robuchon’s quail with foie gras, deviled egg with caviar, uni with lobster gelee, and mashed potatoes are taught in culinary schools, replicated in a dozen different L’Ateliers, and mimicked by chefs around the world. This guarantees his place in French culinary history, but it also created a whole new kind of luxury diner. Frequent fliers with expense accounts tend to chat each other up at each L’Atelier, comparing the lobster they had in Hong Kong to the one they had in London, recommending a special bottle of scotch they tasted in Las Vegas, or the chocolates that came at the end of their meal in Macau.

Regional variations exist at even massive chains like McDonald’s or Burger King, but the most popular items — sort of like Robuchon’s own Big Mac and Whopper — make an appearance on every menu at some point no matter where they are in the world. Every powerhouse chef has a list of greatest hits, signature menu items that outlive them, inspire generations of cooks, and at least attempt to further the craft of cooking.

Robuchon has been known for the relentless perfectionism of his cuisine; he said there is no such thing as the perfect meal – one can always do better. He was instrumental in leading French cuisine forward from the excessive reductionism of nouvelle cuisine toward a post-modern amalgam of the nouvelle, international influences – especially Japanese cuisine – and even select traditions of haute cuisine.

Food, Art, Flavour – Joan Roca

A family kept together by cooking. This is one of the main themes in the career of Joan Roca, head of El Celler de Can Roca. His family encouraged his first steps in the kitchen and today continues to be one of the keys to his culinary activities.

Joan Roca, and his brothers Josep and Jordi, were brought up in a setting in which the main stars were traditional Catalonian recipes, in the Can Roca restaurant owned by their parents. None of them could have imagined as they played in the nearby streets, that gastronomy was to keep the family so close over the years.

Joan, the oldest, was the first to show interest. He used to enjoy shopping with his mother in the market and watching her in the kitchen. He came to love the aromas, smells and sounds coming from the pans. “It was a small kitchen, but our hearts were in it”, he says.

After his early, family-focused beginnings, he went to study at the Hospitality School in Girona, where he learned other ways of cooking and serving food that complemented what he already knew about Catalonian cuisine. Then he spent short periods with prestige chefs – first in Spain under names such as Ferran Adrià, with whom he developed the famous “deconstruction” methods, and Santi Santamaría with whom he learnt new versions of standard Catalonian dishes, then in France with George Blue, who taught him the “French” way of organizing a top-level kitchen.

On returning from France aged 22, he decided to open a new establishment, El Celler de Can Roca next to that of his parents. That was when he started to develop his own personal approach to gastronomy – starting out with tradition and adding know-how learned on his travels and from personal reflection.

Joan Roca and his team take their inspiration for new menus from three sources – the search for the perfect way to cook food, the roots of regional cuisine, and the aromas provided by nature. On a technical level, Joan Roca has studied the ins-and-outs of sous-vide cooking, his aim being to preserve the maximum original flavour by carefully controlling temperatures. Sous-vide cooking is much less aggressive than traditional cooking, and guarantees texture while altering foods as little as possible.

This technique first appeared on the menu in 1995 with a dish that was to bring him fame, Warm cod with spinach, cream of Idiazabal cheese, pine nuts and a reduction of Pedro Ximénez. He subsequently perfected the technique further, bringing out creations such as Foie gras with honey, citrus fruits and vanilla and saffron-infused milk, and Breadcrumbed dewlap of pork with green pepper samfaina.

At El Celler de San Roca, while the main emphasis has always been on the quality of the raw materials used, technical innovation has also played a star role. In parallel with research into vacuum cooking, R&D activities also took place in other areas of interest, such as the use on the desserts menu of the aromas to be found at the high-end of the perfume market (“Adaptation”, in 2002), how to obtain distillates and use them as flavour enhancers (Oysters with the aroma and flavour of earth, 2004), how to use smoke in recipes (Baby octopus with green pepper perfume, 2005) and cooking with wine, going to the extreme of offering bites of red wine (2006).

Joan Roca participates in everything that goes on at El Celler de Can Roca. He is convinced of the importance of the synergies created in the kitchen with the work done by his brother Josep as sommelier and maître, and the sweet delicacies devised by younger brother Jordi at the head of the desserts station. The three boys who used to play at the door of their mother’s restaurant have now joined forces, creating a fine-tuned operation. And mention should also be made of their sister Encarna, who deals with the banqueting division at the Mas Marroch establishment.

In September 2007, they transferred the El Celler de Can Roca operations to the Torre de Can Roca, just 200 meters away, to gain more space in the kitchen and in the dining area. More space, and more freedom to work with quality. And, above all, says Joan Roca, “I want to cook like my mother, with my heart”.

One of the features that best defines the work of the Roca brothers and their restaurant El Celler de Can Roca is their zeal for culinary research. They actively collaborate with the Alicia Foundation (Science and Food) and one of their research projects has enabled them to carry out an in-depth study on issues such as cleaning oysters under high pressure. They published their research at the Barcelona Vanguardia conference (as part of the Alimentaria 2010 fair), where the entire Roca family received a heartfelt tribute for their dedication to the food profession. In 2013 Roca brothers launched two establishments in Barcelona’s stylish Hotel Omm. On the one hand, there is Roca Moo, a re-launched version of the hotel’s Restaurante Moo. Although the Roca family has consulted on this former establishment for some ten years, they have now reopened with a new concept.

The new re-vamp includes an open kitchen, a bar for dining or watching the chefs in action, and the following three tasting menus based on modern Catalan cuisine: Vegetarian, Seasonal and the special, eight-course Menu Joan Roca. Despite the ongoing involvement of the Roca family, the force behind the three-Michelin star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (Catalonia), the Roca Moo kitchen is under the command of chef Felip Llufriu.

In April 2013 El Celler de Can Roca was named Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant Magazine.

Food, Art, Flavour – Cristina Martinez

Cristina Martinez is a Mexican chef and immigration activist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Martinez is a native of Capulhuac, Mexico. She found a job in Philadelphia as a pastry chef in an Italian restaurant, where she met and married Benjamin Miller, a U.S. citizen.

As demand grew for Martinez’s home-made barbacoa, she and Miller began selling tacos from a pushcart on weekends. In 2015, they opened a permanent restaurant, South Philly Barbacoa. In 2016, Bon Appétit magazine named it one of the top ten best new restaurants in America.

Her mouth-watering, slow-cooked lamb “barbacoa” has catapulted Cristina Martinez into culinary elite status.

Martínez has achieved national fame for her Mexican-style barbecue restaurant she in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called South Philly Barbacoa.

In the ten years since she arrived from Mexico — she’s from Capulhuac — Martínez has been featured in the fifth season of the award-winning documentary series “Chef’s Table” on Netflix and was a 2019 finalist for the James Beard Award, the food world’s most prestigious American prize. Martinez was also nominated for the Basque Culinary World Prize in 2019.

In 2016, Bon Appetit magazine ranked her restaurant number 6 on a list of 10 best new restaurants.

South Philly Barbacoa serves barbecued lamb, pancitas, and consome on weekends and Mondays. The tortillas are made with corn from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

But aside from cooking succulent dishes, Martinez and her husband Ben Miller host food events with other chefs and organizations to advocate for restaurant workers and trying to find ways to connect them to legal experts or other resources.

“What motivates me is to leave a legacy. We need to learn to educate people and set an example,” Martínez said.

Food, Art, Flavour – Jamie Oliver

James Trevor “Jamie” Oliver, born on 27 May 1975, is a British chef and restaurateur. He is known for his approachable cuisine, which has led him to front numerous television shows and open many restaurants.

Born and raised in Clavering, Essex, he was educated in London before joining Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant as a pastry chef. While serving as a sous-chef at the River Café, he was noticed by Patricia Llewellyn of Optomen; and in 1999 the BBC aired his television show, The Naked Chef. This was followed by a first cook book, which became a No. 1 UK bestseller. His television work included a documentary, Jamie’s Kitchen, which gained him an invitation from Prime Minister Tony Blair to visit 11 Downing Street.

In 2005 he opened a campaign, Feed Me Better, to introduce schoolchildren to healthier foods, which was later backed by the government. He was the owner of a restaurant chain, Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, which opened its first restaurant, Jamie’s Italian, in Oxford in 2008.

Oliver’s first job was a pastry chef at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant, where he first gained experience at preparing Italian cuisine, and developed a relationship with his mentor Gennaro Contaldo; later in his career Oliver employed Contaldo to help run his collection of high street restaurants, Jamie’s Italian. Oliver moved to The River Café, Fulham, as a sous-chef. He was noticed there by the BBC in 1997, after making an unscripted appearance in a documentary about the restaurant, Christmas at the River Cafe.

In 1999 his BBC show The Naked Chef debuted, and his cookbook became a bestseller in the United Kingdom.

After three series of Naked Chef programmes (The Naked Chef, Return of the Naked Chef & Happy Days with The Naked Chef) for the BBC, Oliver moved to Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, where his first series was a documentary, Jamie’s Kitchen which followed the setting up of Fifteen restaurant in London.

In December 2009 Oliver received the 2010 TED Prize. He hosted Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals on Channel 4, which aired for 40 episodes in 2012.

Oliver is the second-best-selling British author, behind J. K. Rowling, and the best-selling British non-fiction author since records began.

In June 2008, Oliver launched a restaurant, Jamie’s Italian, his first high street business venture, in Oxford, England. At its peak, there were 42 Jamie’s Italian restaurants in the UK. Oliver began a formal campaign to ban unhealthy food in British schools and to get children eating nutritious food instead. Oliver’s efforts to bring radical change to the school meals system, chronicled in the series Jamie’s School Dinners, challenged the junk-food culture by showing schools they could serve healthy, cost-efficient meals that kids enjoyed eating. His efforts brought the subject of school dinners to the political forefront and changed the types of food served in schools.

Oliver’s Ministry of Food campaign began in 2008 with the Channel 4 series of the same name and the opening of the first Ministry of Food Centre in Rotherham.

In December 2009, Oliver was awarded the 2010 TED Prize for his campaigns to “create change on both the individual and governmental levels” to “bring attention to the changes that the English, and now Americans, need to make in their lifestyles and diet”.

Food, Art, Flavour – Nobu Matsuhisa

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa trained in traditional sushi establishments in Tokyo, Japan before traveling to Peru, Argentina, and Alaska. He opened his restaurant Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills in 1987, which soon became a favourite of celebrities and connoisseurs alike. Today, there are 28 Nobu restaurants around the world.

When Robert De Niro first ate at the Beverly Hills hotspot Matsuhisa, he was so taken by the inventive cooking that he made it his mission to strike up a friendship with the chef. A native of Saitama, Japan, Nobuyuki Matushisa had spent time living and working in South America, and he found ways to seamlessly fold bright Peruvian flavors into the food of his homeland. He didn’t know it at the time, but his brazen approach to fusion was about to alter the meaning of Japanese cuisine in America—and turn “Nobu” into an international brand name.

In 2004, Matsuhisa joined forces with De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent to open his eponymous flagship in NYC. Twenty years later, in a city dotted with indistinguishable Japanese joints, the Tribeca institution remains a destination for classics like jalapeño-accented yellowtail and Chilean sea bass with miso. It has also spawned a global empire, with Nobu restaurants in far-flung locales like Turkey and Hong Kong, and even became a favoured point of reference for rappers (“I might walk in Nobu with no shoes,” warns Kanye in “See Me Now”) boasting about their lavish lifestyles.

I could never have predicted how far I’ve come. The greatest lesson is patience.

His father was killed in a car accident when Nobu was just a child, but the tragedy fostered a close-knit relationship with his mother, grandmother, and brothers, often revolving around the kitchen. “My mother and grandmother taught me about traditional Japanese food as a young boy,” he recalls. “They also told me food was not just cooking, but a way to show care. My love for food originated from them. Just like them, I put in my heart when I cook. “

His first big break came in the form of an apprenticeship at Matsuei in Tokyo, where “continuous effort” eventually helped him to become sushi chef. “I always remember the first time I went to a sushi restaurant in Japan. My brother brought me when I was around eleven years old. There was a lot of energy, with sushi chefs welcoming guests and yelling out names of fish and food. I was very taken by the experience, and I knew at that moment that I wanted to become a sushi chef,” he says.

When he moved from Japan to Lima to open a restaurant with his business partner, Nobu discovered that Japanese ingredients were scarce. Being forced to experiment with South American ones proved to be serendipitous, as it eventually led to creations like miso-anticucho sauce and the reimagining of raw, spicy tiradito—all hallmarks of his distinct culinary imprint.

“I could never have predicted how far I’ve come. Everything I do is step by step. The greatest lesson is patience. I’ve made mistakes in the past and have had big obstacles in my career,” he admits. “But I remained passionate and dedicated to cooking and making others smile with my food. “

Hamachi with Jalepeno, Tiradito, Whitefish with Dry Miso, Soft-shell Crab roll, Rock-shrimp tempura, Sashimi salad – are some of his signature dishes.