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    ‘Pope’ of cooks Joël Robuchon dies aged 73

    Joël Robuchon, the world’s most Michelin-starred chef and who revitalised French haute cuisine with his take on such simple dishes as mashed potatoes, has died at the age of 73. The celebrity chef, known to some as the “pope” of cooks, built up a global restaurant empire bearing his name. He died on Monday in the Swiss city of Geneva. Robuchon was one of the most influential chefs of the post-nouvelle cuisine era, with more than 20 restaurants spread across three continents, which at one point saw him holding a record 29 Michelin stars. The son of a bricklayer, Robuchon was born in the western French city of Poitiers just before the second world war ended in Europe. As a child he wanted to become an architect but also once considered joining the church before training to become an apprentice chef at the age of 15. At 29, he took over the kitchen of Paris’s Concorde Lafayette hotel before moving to run the restaurant at Hotel Nikko, where he gained his first two Michelin stars. In 1976 he was named the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” — France’s best artisan — and in 1981 he opened his own restaurant, Jamin, where three years later he earned his third Michelin star — something that had not been done before. In 1990 he was named “Cook of the Century” by Gault et Millau, a French restaurant guide.  “The days I was awarded Meilleur Ouvrier de France and my third Michelin star were two of the best days of my professional life,” said Robuchon in an interview with the Financial Times in 2011. In 1994 he opened a restaurant bearing his name, which in the same year was hailed as the “Best Restaurant in the World” by the International Herald Tribune.  At the age of 50 Robuchon retired from the kitchen, saying he wanted to escape the stress that is piled on professional chefs. For the following 10 years he hosted a television show that aimed to bring cooking to the masses
    It was not until 2003 that Robuchon returned to the front line by opening his “Ateliers de Joël Robuchon” in Paris and in Tokyo. Robuchon had always prized authenticity and a simplicity of flavour and his Ateliers, or workshops, set out to disrupt the world of haute cuisine by making dining more intimate, informal and refocused on the food. He described his Ateliers as his smartest business idea. “The idea came to me in the tapas bars, where I appreciated the friendliness. I was looking for a formula where something could happen between customers and cooks,” said Robuchon in an interview with French magazine L’Obs in 2003. Tributes from within the French government poured in for Robuchon. In a statement from the Elysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron said the Michelin stars earned by the chef “shone brightly in the constellation of modern gastronomy” and that his style was “the embodiment of French cuisine in the whole world”. Mr Macron noted that Robuchon was the second top French chef to die this year after Paul Bocuse. “French gastronomy is in painful mourning this year,” he said.
    Gérard Larcher, president of the Senate, said: “The best chef of the century has just bowed out. Joël Robuchon, a multi-star chef, put his perfectionism at the service of French cuisine, a brilliant ambassador around the world, whose famous mash has become an icon.” Jean-Dominique Senard, president of the Michelin group, said Robuchon had been an “extraordinary chef who revolutionised French cuisine and trained and inspired a whole generation of chefs”. At the time of his death Robuchon had 13 restaurants with Michelin stars, including three-starred establishments in Macau, Tokyo and Hong Kong. In his FT interview in 2011, Robuchon said his job had been about “sharing, passion, love, respect, generosity, highest standards, refinement, precision, transmission”. He said his inspirations had been “the three French chefs Charles Barrier, Jean Delaveyne and Fredy Girardet” and that he wanted to be remembered “as a good chef who passed on what he knows to others and who promoted French haute cuisine globally”.

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