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Robuchon Raised The Bar For Strip Cuisine

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

In this Sept.7, 2014 file photo, French chef Joel Robuchon poses for photographers during a photocall for the movie "The Hundred-Foot Journey", in Paris, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. French master chef Joel Robuchon has died at the age of 73.

On almost any major street in Las Vegas, you’ll find a restaurant inspired by a chef inspired by the late Joel Robuchon.

Robuchon had opened his first American restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip in the early 2000s. And sure, Las Vegas had celebrity chefs before him, but Robuchon forced everyone to up their game.

“One of his legacies is when he came to town he elevated all the cooking in town because what was considered ‘okay’ in 2003 and 2004 suddenly wasn’t good enough,” restaurant critic and Desert Companion contributorJohn Curtas told KNPR's State Of Nevada.

Curtas said chefs and restauranteurs in town could no longer offer B class food and service when an A-plus guy was here.

It was that pursuit of perfection that made Robuchon a master and a terror in the kitchen for many new chefs, restaurant critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Al Mancini said.

“You have to be gold. Everything has to be done perfect," Mancini said. "There is no second best. He took that to everything from making an egg to mashed potatoes to whatever.” 

Mancini said chefs who worked with the legendary chef have moved on and are now making incredible food on and off the Strip with the same exacting standards.

“His roots have spread out and are in every type of food here in Las Vegas, including casual dining,” he said.

Robuchon opened his first restaurant here during an era when casino operators knew they had to start offering a different experience beyond just gaming. 

Curtas credits Steve Wynn when he opened the Bellagio and Sheldon Adelson at the Venetian for bringing in top fine dining restaurants. He said they realized people from around the world with more sophisticated tastes were visiting our city. 

However, the fine dining experience that took four hours in France was not going to work in Las Vegas, Mancini said. Fine dining restaurants cut down the experience to two hours for visitors who also wanted to see a show, go to the casino or head to a nightclub.

Curtas wonders if the fine dining era Robuchon and others ushered in is gone. 

“I think the real question is: Is this era in eclipse?" he said, "Not just with the death of Joel Robuchon but are things fading. Is there going to be a regression to the mean where restaurants become a little less luxurious and a little more for Joe Average.”

He believes people are more interested in casual restaurants but Robuchon's L'Atelier at the MGM Grand does offer a more casual vibe with the same push for perfection in the food.

Mancini recommends going to L'Atelier to see the chefs there working to create perfection even in a casual setting. 

He said Robuchon didn't make food with dozens of ingredients but rather took simple ingredients and elevated them like his famous mashed potatoes, which are simply potatoes, milk and butter.

“He was just such an amazing chef because it was that classic French thing – just add butter and just keep adding butter. Those mashed potatoes are the richest mashed potatoes anybody I’ve ever known has ever had,” he said.

Curtas agrees and it goes the heart of great French cuisine.

“Elegant simplicity really personifies great French cooking and extraction and intensification of flavors and that was what his cuisine was about,” he said.



John Curtas, food writer, Eating Las Vegas; Al Mancini, food writer, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.