Five years after the closing of his famed restaurant, Joël Robuchon, the world’s most decorated chef, is returning to New York. L’Atelier, a high-end dining establishment influenced by Japanese sushi counters, is set to open in Lower Manhattan on November 1.
Mr. Robuchon has been planning his return ever since the original L’Atelier, which was located at the Four Seasons hotel in Midtown Manhattan, shut down in 2012. “We didn’t leave as a failure,” Mr. Robuchon said in an interview on Saturday. “I loved that space and the clientele, but we left because we were stuck in the middle of tensions between the owner of the hotel and the management company.” Although he is used to operating out of hotels in other cities, notably the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the French chef did not renew his lease in New York.
He intended to find a location to reopen immediately but that process has taken five years. “It took a little longer than we thought,” Mr. Robuchon explained. “Although there was nothing obligating me to come back to New York, I have always wanted to return. It’s incredibly difficult because there’s so much competition, young chefs are getting more and more competent, and the city is unforgiving. If something doesn’t work, it’s finished.”
Robuchon’s establishment was originally intended for a space in Brookfield Place, a luxury shopping center near the Financial District. However, negotiations fell through and the 11,000-square-feet location became a Saks Fifth Avenue. The French restaurateur eventually set his eyes on the Meatpacking District. L’Atelier sits at 85 10th Avenue, a prominent location to catch the crowds of shoppers and tourists who visit the nearby High Line and Chelsea Market.
“Roasted baby artichoke, chickpea emulsion, curcuma”
Like the 11 L’Atelier locations Mr. Robuchon owns in Las Vegas, Montreal, Paris, London, Shanghai, Singapore or Tokyo, the New York restaurant features an open kitchen inspired by Japanese restaurants and a menu that takes after Japanese small plates and Spanish tapas. Expect to pay “in the upper $200” to sit at one of the 34 crimson chairs overlooking the kitchen and enjoy a tasting menu that includes “King crab, avocado, citrus”; “Roasted baby artichoke, chickpea emulsion, curcuma”; and “Caramelized free-range quail, foie gras, potato purée.” Guests can also order a more affordable lunch or dinner at the adjoining Le Bar, a casual café-like space.
Mr. Robuchon has other plans to expand his reach in the United States. A L’Atelier is set to open in Miami later this year and the French restaurateur recently acquired the first two stories of a residential building at 100 East 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan where he is planning to open a Le Jardin de Joël Robuchon and a Joël Robuchon Restaurant by 2018.
Mr. Robuchon never really retired. He left the kitchen in 1995 at age 50, hosted several culinary shows on French television, and returned to the restaurant business in 2003 by opening the first L’Atelier in Paris. He currently owns 33 restaurants and boutiques in 14 cities around the world which hold, in total, 31 Michelin stars. This is the largest number for any chef in the world. At a time when certain chefs are questioning the guide’s relevance and giving their Michelin stars away, Mr. Robuchon has great respect for the distinction. “The day that the Michelin Guide awarded three stars to my Las Vegas restaurant, the dining room was instantly filled and has remained full ever since,” he explained. “Michelin may not be perfect but they take their work seriously and it has great importance. They create the spirit of competition that makes everybody better.”
More vegetarian dishes on the menu
By travelling around the world, the chef-turned-entrepreneur is able to explore new cultures and dining habits. “I want to go to India,” he confided. “I would love to explore the spices they use and the popular culture of vegetarian dishes.” The emphasis on vegetarianism is part of the 72-year-old chef’s new focus on his health. The website Eater reported that Mr. Robuchon lost 60 pounds since his last foray into New York and has been increasing the use of organic and wholesome ingredients in his cooking. The New York L’Atelier will offer a vegetarian tasting menu as well as 8 à la carte vegetarian options.
Mr. Robuchon, who was named the “chef of the century” by the Gault & Millau restaurant guide, has turned to thinking about his legacy. “When I thought about opening the L’Ateliers, I wondered if it would be better to let the younger generation take over instead. But many young chefs have been with me for a long time and will lose a lot if I stop working.” To “prepare tomorrow’s gastronomic elite,” Mr. Robuchon will open a cooking school in the small town of Montmorillon, in the Poitou-Charentes region of France. Next year, the Institut International Joël Robuchon will rise inside an old 11th-century monastery just 30 miles from the city of Poitiers where the French restaurateur grew up. “I know of great chefs who died with their knowledge, but my ambition is to transmit everything I have.”