Walking into Joël Robuchon at The Mansion was a struggle for me in my shimmery Lanvin dress (it's tight around the knees) and teetering pumps (the heels kept getting caught on the spongy casino carpeting). But once I was settled on a plush purple banquette beneath the Swarovski crystal chandelier, in the 1930s Moderne dining room that looks more like it belongs in a Parisian town house than in the MGM Grand, I felt perfectly comfortable.
I had come to Las Vegas to meet Robuchon, considered by many to be the greatest chef on the planet. I wanted to know how he would redefine luxury in a city where superstar chefs like Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are better known for opening brasseries and steak houses than ambitious restaurants.
Throughout his career Robuchon has created new paradigms for luxury. In 1984, Robuchon, then 38, was awarded a third Michelin star at Jamin in Paris for his startlingly modern food with its pure flavors (no more than three to a dish) and geometric garnishes (tiny balls and cubes of zucchini and carrot, and miniscule dots of vegetable puree). He was idolized for his daring, buttery potato puree; haute restaurants didn't serve lowly potatoes in the '80s. In 1996, Robuchon famously closed Joël Robuchon, his second Paris restaurant. He felt trapped by his own celebrity, unable to change and grow.