The chef with the most Michelin stars in the world is returning to NYC on November 1

Lane Nieset
October 31, 2017

Boasting the most Michelin stars in the world (a whopping 31), celebrated French chef Joël Robuchon is back after a five-year break from New York City. For the rebirth of his second U.S. L'ATELIER de Joël Robuchon, the chef is switching shifts from Midtown to the Meatpacking District.

“Midtown was a bit of a powerhouse with a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants and many of them are still there,” said Robuchon’s business partner, Alex Gaudelet of Invest Hospitality. “The first time I told Mr. Robuchon we weren’t going to do a L’ATELIER in Midtown, his question was, ‘Are my customers from Four Seasons going to come to Meatpacking?’”

A mélange of Japan’s interactive sushi counters, Spain’s tapas-style service and fine French cuisine, the laid-back tasting menu concept L’ATELIER, which means “workshop” in French, first debuted in 2003 in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood before spreading to the States at MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Four Seasons New York.

Courtesy of L'ATELIER de Joël Robuchon

After a six-year stint in the city, Robuchon shuttered his two-starred New York eatery in 2012, despite the fact that it was busy every evening. The team began looking for a new locale and quickly settled on a spot in Brookfield Place, but once they played with the numbers, they realized the location wasn’t the best in terms of business. Scouring the market once again, Gaudelet, who worked with Top Chef star Tom Colicchio at Craftsteak Las Vegas, started chatting with the chef while dining at his Miami restaurant during Art Basel. That’s when Colicchio revealed he was downsizing in New York and his Meatpacking location would soon be up for grabs. With its floor-to-ceiling windows, brick walls and steel columns, the former Colicchio & Sons space was the perfect fit for L’ATELIER’s signature 34-seat dining counter.

The neighborhood is home to a cluster of big-name eateries like Morimoto and Buddakan, but convincing 72-year-old Robuchon to shy away from some of the more traditional parts of town took a bit of work. Once the team walked him across the street to Chelsea Market, however, he was immediately sold. He described it as walking through a museum and was excited about the wealth of produce and poultry.  

As Robuchon has shifted his own way of eating to become more health-conscious—losing 60 pounds in the process—so have the offerings at his restaurants. Case in point: One of the tasting menus at L’ATELIER will be vegetarian, featuring dishes like eggplant confit and celery root al dente tagliatelle. “New York clientele are more receptive to vegetarian items than in France,” Robuchon said in an e-mail statement. “In addition, the access to high quality organic vegetables is much wider here than anywhere else in the world.”

Robuchon first rolled out the vegetarian tasting menu in Paris where it accounts for only 2 percent of sales, but he anticipates better success in New York since the city is more advanced in terms of dietary requirements and requests like gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan are the norm. Since he can find organic produce more readily and widely available here than in France, the ingredients are what’s really going to make this menu shine. His current obsession: organic peas from California.

Courtesy of L'ATELIER de Joël Robuchon

Even for iconic staples like the pomme purée, or mashed potatoes, Robuchon’s team taste tested half a dozen local butters before landing on just the right one. The same goes for his much-loved quail dish. Since locally sourced quail was half the size in New York than in other places, they had to change the preparation for this dish, deciding to caramelize and stuff free-range quail with foie gras.

On the nine-course tasting menu “Le Menu Découverte de Saison,” diners will notice a few other New York-influenced items like Long Island spiced duck, as well as signature dishes like the beef and foie gras burger infused with local ingredients. The Meatpacking L’ATELIER will also feature five types of bread (as well as a gluten-free version) baked in-house daily by head baker Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who has worked at the chef’s restaurants around the globe for the past 20 years. 

In addition to the two tasting menus, L’ATELIER will offer à la carte tapas and Veuve Clicquot Champagne pairings, which will be performed in two private 10-seat dining rooms. The front room walk-in LE BAR, which parallels the bar at Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo in Monaco, will offer upscale spins on French bistro staples like croque-monsieur sandwiches. The low-key bar will also serve up an extensive Champagne menu with namesake Veuve Clicquot cocktails like the Robuchon Spritz.

While the chef has strategically set up restaurants across the globe in prominent and emerging culinary capitals from Macau to Montreal, he feels as if he’s just starting the story in the States. “New York is the capital of the world,” he said. “Being in New York is being amongst great professionals, both young and more established. There is a lot of energy and competition which brings a lot of passion to my work.”

L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon will open November 1.

85 10th Avenue, New York City, 212-488-8885