The arts of every epoch can each claim a master who transforms all that has gone before. For the cuisine of our century, that master is the French chef Joël Robuchon. With a single-minded passion for perfection, he has taught the world about both the purity and the marriage of flavors, the harmony of ingredients, the subtleties of creating a menu and the dignity of every ingredient no matter how grand or how commonplace.
Having started out at a small restaurant in the town of Poitiers, in central France, Robuchon had reached the top of his profession by 1984, when he was 38 and his first Paris restaurant, Jamin, won the coveted Michelin three-star rating. If food were fashion, then Robuchon would be Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior rolled into one, and in the Eighties, he changed the way we think about what we put on our plate. He lured us with the most mundane ingredients, elevating the potato to new heights at a time when grand Paris restaurants seldom served the lowly tuber, bringing newfound honor to crusty sourdough bread when it was unusual for restaurants to bake their own, sending our senses into overload with masterly green salads accented with sage, dill, chervil, tarragon, basil and mint. His sublime and simple pure chocolate tart is still copied throughout the world.
I first met Robuchon in the winter of 1981, shortly after he opened Jamin. His style was already shockingly modern--food with lots of dots and rounds and little vegetables infinitesimally cubed--and his flavors were as pure as a clear blue sky. Over the next dozen years, that style evolved dramatically, growing to include French comfort foods--long-braised leg of lamb from his Poitiers childhood, slow-roasted goat showered with fresh spring garlic and parsley, a simple roasted pigeon served with shoestring potatoes.