Few chefs bear the moniker,“Chef of the Century.” Joël Robuchon was one of them. In 1976, he was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (France’s best worker) in cuisine, and in 1989 the influential Gault Millau guide anointed him “Chef of the Century.” In 2016, he held 32 Michelin Guide stars, more than any other restaurateur, and operated more than a dozen restaurants throughout France, Asia, Canada, and the United States.
Steve Benjamin, the Executive Chef at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills since 2017, started working with Joël Robuchon as a sous chef at the Astor Hotel in Paris in 2000. The Benjamin-Robuchon working relationship proved long and fruitful. In 2003, Robuchon recruited him to open L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris. In 2005, Benjamin moved to Las Vegas to open L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand as Executive Chef.
Benjamin shared a few memories of his mentor, who died on August 6, 2018.
Santé Magazine: How long did you work with Chef Robuchon and where?
SB: I started with Chef Robuchon in 2000 at L’Astor hotel in Paris where I worked for four and a half years on the Robuchon team. I was part of the Chef’s Team for the first Atelier opening in Paris. We opened the L Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas in 2005, and I was the first executive chef moved to the United States to open the third Atelier restaurant in the world (one in Paris, one in Tokyo, and one in Las Vegas). I stayed in Las Vegas for 14 years with Chef Robuchon in partnership with MGM Grand.
Santé Magazine: What was some of the best advice Chef Robuchon gave you?
SB: “He told me to ‘Keep learning every day; always push yourself to a higher level. Perfection will always be difficult to achieve, but if you work hard, you will achieve a part of it. Every day you will need to do better than yesterday!’ I continue to keep his advice in mind now that I serve as Executive Chef at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills working alongside another respected chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, overseeing foods operations for Jean-Georges Beverly Hills and The Rooftop by JG.”
Santé Magazine: How did Chef Robuchon help you become the chef you are today?
SB: “Chef Robuchon helped me to understand and control my stress. He used to say we can always do better, there is no limit to perfection, and always stay humble so you can concentrate on your achievements and creations.”
Santé Magazine: Would you share a favorite memory working with Chef Robuchon?
SB: “The one that touched me the most was in 2004 when he approached me during the service at L Atelier in Paris. I was in the middle of cutting the Spanish ham, Iberico de Bellota, and he asked me to leave Paris to open the L Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas and to be the Executive Chef there. I was only 26 years old at the time.”
Santé Magazine: What dish comes to mind when you remember Chef Robuchon and why?
SB: “La Langoustine en Papillote. We did over 100 demonstrations and cooking classes for that dish. It is very difficult to find that special Langoustine.”
Santé Magazine: What would you like for younger food professionals to know about Chef Robuchon?
SB: “Joël Robuchon was the chef of the century; he had that vision of what gastronomy would be in the future. He always said, ‘Chefs are always behind the scene (in the kitchen), but one day they will be recognized like celebrities and artists.’ His concept of L’Atelier (the workshop) was designed to have an open kitchen with all chefs working in front of the guests as the central focal point; at the time that was unique to do so.
“The last version of the Larousse Gastronomique Book (the culinary encyclopedia) was written by Chef Joël Robuchon. I encourage younger food professionals to take a look!”