Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sushi, sake and soy: star chef’s love affair




Sushi, sake and soy: star chef’s love affair

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Joel Robuchon poses at Yoshi, his first ever Japanese restaurant, in Monaco in 2008. VALERY HACHE/AFP

Sushi, sake and soy: star chef’s love affair

Foie gras paired with wasabi, Japanese-style open kitchens and a fierce work ethic: Joel Robuchon, hailed as “chef of the century” on his death this week, drew great inspiration from Japan, where 10 establishments now bear his name.

The world’s most-starred Michelin chef developed an immediate love for sushi, sake and Japan itself after arriving for the first time in 1976, his luggage bulging with “forbidden or unknown produce like shallots, tarragon and chives,” he once recalled.

Yosuke Suga, who worked with the famously perfectionist Robuchon for 17 years, told AFP that he would often talk fondly of his first impressions of Japan.

“He arrived at Narita airport and saw how [the handrails] of the escalator were cleaned meticulously. And he said to himself, ‘Japan is somewhere I can work’,” said Suga, now 41 and running his own restaurant.

Kenichiro Sekiya, head chef at Robuchon’s “L’Atelier” restaurant in Tokyo, says the French master quickly became inspired by Japanese ingredients and surprised his hosts with the way he used them.

“He used wasabi, soy sauce, yuzu citrus and shichimi [a blend of seven spices with chili] to give accents to various food,” said Sekiya, 38, recalling his amazement when Robuchon added wasabi cream to foie gras terrine.

“Japanese have fixed ideas for the spices so it’s hard to break them. But Robuchon did his own interpretation and used them in his own way, which Japanese wouldn’t normally do,” he said.

And one of Robuchon’s most famous innovations – the concept of the “Atelier” [or “workshop”], where customers dine in close proximity to the chefs, perched on high stools at a bar counter – was also inspired by Japan.

“He really wanted a connection with customers over a counter. Sushi chefs in Japan make sushi in front of customers and communicate with them,” said Kazutoshi Narita, a pastry chef who worked for 10 years at Robuchon restaurants in Tokyo, New York and Taipei.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The restaurant L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is seen in Tokyo in August. Martin BUREAU/AFP

In 2003, Robuchon opened his first Atelier restaurant in the central Tokyo district of Roppongi and his photo still overlooks the chefs there, dressed all in black as they prepare meals in full sight of the diners.

He would fly to Tokyo at least three times a year to oversee his restaurant empire and would rarely miss the opportunity to enjoy his beloved sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro, where US president Barack Obama dined with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.

Sekiya said Robuchon, who at one time held 32 Michelin stars, at first underestimated how hard it was to make sushi.

“Apparently sushi was just sliced fish placed on rice to him at first,” he said. “I heard he became fascinated by sushi after learning that it was actually something more delicate.”

Robuchon also fell in love with sake, a fermented drink made of rice, and recently opened a shop to promote the drink in Paris.

Champagne and camembert

Like most chefs, Robuchon was known to drive his staff hard and the famous Japanese work ethic appealed to him.

“He was very demanding in terms of quality but we liked that a lot. We respected that and were happy to work with him. We’re maybe a bit masochistic,” joked Suga.

After his death from pancreatic cancer in Geneva on Monday, Narita went to Robuchon’s three-starred chateau restaurant in the trendy Ebisu district to honour his memory in his own way – with champagne and cheese.

“Chefs at Robuchon restaurants used to get together at the kitchen counter for champagne and camembert after work,” said Narita.

“That was my most peaceful moment with him. It was a moment in which I felt a sense of achievement.”

And Robuchon leaves more than just recipes and inspiration in Japan – his 30-year-old half-Japanese son now runs a wine business in the southern city of Fukuoka.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped

  • Kingdom, China rebut basis for US sanctions

    The Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Tianjin Union Investment Development Group Co Ltd (Tianjin) have responded to US sanctions on Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG), a Chinese-owned company currently developing the sprawling $3.8 billion Dara

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • Influenza breaks out in eight provinces

    Nearly 600 people have been infected with influenza in eight provinces in the past month, Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said. The ministry is advising extreme caution. A report released by Vandine on Saturday said the Ministry of Health observed transmissions of influenza between August 15