10 questions with Joël Robuchon

Joël Robuchon is one of the most respected chefs in the world. Entitled “Chef of the Century,” by Gault Millau in 1989, Robuchon has won numerous awards and has achieved world-wide success since. Robuchon’s restaurants are across the globe, including locations such as Hong Kong, London, Macao, Monaco, Paris and two in Las Vegas: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and the three-Michelin star fine-dining restaurant, Joël Robuchon.

I recently had the chance to speak with Robuchon in his beautiful Skyloft at the MGM Grand, where both his restaurants are. We talked about his new book, his successes and failures and recent dining trends. Here’s what he had to say.

Tell me about your new book, “Best of Joël Robuchon.” 

The book is a part of a collection, which several chefs have done. At the moment, I think five or six different chefs have done it including Paul Bocuse.

The idea is to find 10 recipes. Not new recipes, some of the classic ones, that were most requested by the clients and guests. The idea is not to be innovative but to really go back and try to find recipes that represent each of the chefs’ cuisine.

What do you cook at home? 

I don’t really get to cook at home much because I’m not at home much.  But when I do, I like to cook simple things. One of my favorite things is a roasted hen, you put it in the oven with potatoes.

There are vacation times and during those times I could cook, but I usually find myself dining with friends or eating at restaurants so I don’t do that much cooking.

How is the restaurant doing here in Vegas?

We’re extremely satisfied with how well the restaurants are doing at the moment. What makes us the happiest is from the beginning, the restaurant has shown continuous growth and increases in covers, so that is something that makes us all very proud. It was a little bit more difficult for the fine dining restaurant, the beginning was a little more difficult, but if you look at today, when it’s almost full every night, we’re very happy about it.

With L’Atelier, it’s a little more difficult because the success was much faster. We’re almost at the point where we can’t do that much more. Maybe here and there by a few covers, but there is not that much room for growth there, but overall we’re very happy.

Are there any recent dining trends that have interested you? 

One trend that I see in Las Vegas is less fine dining restaurants and more concepts open to larger volumes, able to turn over a lot of people, in a price range that’s a little lower and quality that’s a little lower. There aren’t so many fine dining restaurants around anymore in Las Vegas.

It’s actually a trend  I see worldwide, where we look for things cheaper and maybe a little lesser quality.

I think [fine dining] is a chance for people to have a very unique and luxurious experience because they are able to be different and offer something unique and people still want that.

If you look somewhere in France, the industry of artisanal brands like Hermès, Chanel, Bacarat and Louis Vuitton, the very luxurious brands are extremely successful right now because they offer a bit of a niche and they offer something that nobody else is able to offer.

At a [fine dining] restaurant, they are going to offer something very unique, that craftsmanship and artistry that a lot of restaurants don’t offer anymore. A lot more  people are going to go to that concept, because they still need it and they still want it.

A lot in restaurants in Asia, Macau and Singapore. It’s funny to see the trend is a little bit inverse. The trend over there is going more toward quality, the ultimate quality and level of luxury. In restaurants, but also in hotels and in casinos, they are really, really going for the high end.  It’s interesting to see how fast they’re growing and how much revenue they are able to generate.  Because it’s really a conscious effort for them to go to that ultimate level and quality product.

It’s going to be interesting to see it and experience it — it will be interesting to see how it goes in the next few years. It’s changing. Las Vegas is going more toward mass and popular markets and Asia is going more toward luxury. For me, it’s fascinating and interesting to see what’s happening now and also looking forward to how it goes.

What is the future of fine dining?

There’s a good future for high-end restaurants, but they really need to become unique experiences–very high-end, luxury experiences.

I was in New York last week and, for example, Masa is extremely unique, expensive, but extremely successful. You really need to give your clients that unique and luxurious experience and people will come — that will make the difference.

A gastronomy trend is incorporating healthier food. Fine-dining food has not always had a reputation of being good for you. I see that changing by including some ingredients that are healthier and good for you.

Today, the easy way is to do mass, large volume of popular food. That’s the easy way to do it. Going to that very fine dining, high-end experience, not everyone is able to do it so if you can do it you’ll be able be successful. But not everyone is going to be able to do it.

How important is it for a hotel to have a good restaurant? 

I travel a lot around the world and usually stay in nice hotels. Hotel owners are paying more attention to the quality of the restaurant that they are bringing into their hotel.

You know, hotel rooms, at some point, hotel rooms they all start to be similar–they all have luxury, comfort, amenities, but it’s to a point where you can’t do more. Hotels are turning to restaurants and chefs as a way to differentiate themselves.  For example, in Hong Kong at The Four Seasons hotel is extremely successful and part of the reason is because they have two three-Michelin star restaurants. The French restaurant is three stars and the Chinese restaurant is three stars. People see that and think it must be a quality place.

It influences people’s decision on where to stay when picking a hotel. That is why I think high-end gastronomy is definitely the future.

On the restaurant end, is it important to be part of a well-branded, luxury hotel?

Being part of a hotel can be bad for you. But it’s funny because it changes from country to country and over time. A few years back, people were trying to avoid hotel restaurants by all means. The reason why is that their reputation was, they weren’t offering anything that good. They were just another amenity [at the hotel]. People would go out of the hotel at night to eat at a nice restaurant.

But this changed as hotel operators recognized the importance for having an excellent restaurant in your hotel. So now, it’s much more natural for people to stay in their hotel and have dinner at the restaurant that is there.

What can be very positive for the restaurant are the other services at the hotel that might not be at a free-standing restaurant. For example, valet parking, a nice lounge and bar, all the supporting departments around the hotel that also support the restaurant and can help the overall service of the restaurant. So there are definitely advantages to being in a great hotel.

I really think tomorrow, the reputation of the restaurant will set the reputation of the hotel.

How do you think you’ve achieved such success in your life? 

It all starts with self discipline and being rigorous with yourself, because that is what brings quality to consistency.

There are so many places that open great, but because the people behind it might not have discipline and might not question themselves on a regular basis, “What am I doing? Am I doing it right? Is my product still where it should be?”  If you don’t ask these questions, after a few years, they can decrease in quality.

I’ve enjoyed 30 years in the restaurant industry, and it’s because of discipline.

You can’t have success without having failure. Can you talk about your successes and failures?

Order comes from chaos and you do have errors and mistakes in your life that help you.

For example, there have been dishes that I’ve created that I strongly believed in and they end up not being successful. So, you learn from it and you progress from it.

Luckily, we’ve never had any major failure in our restaurants and that is something to be thankful for. But, you do have to be conscious of what people say about you so you don’t find yourself in difficult situations.

Luckily, the restaurants have been successful but there were some mistakes and errors there.

How do you stay on top of the culinary world for so long?

It’s not for me to say if I’ve been on top of the culinary world. But it goes back to discipline.

It’s questioning yourself and never being satisfied. You never achieve perfection, but the moment you stop trying to reach for it, this is when things get lost. I never think I’ve achieved it.

It comes from my personality and who I am. Sometimes, I can be a little extreme and it can turn into something a little bit negative, but this is what has driven me all these years.

And then there is passion–you need to have passion for what you do because if you don’t have the passion, you don’t have the drive. So you won’t achieve success.