Featured image: (from left to right) Éric Bouchenoire, Julien Tongourian, François Benot and Tomonori Danzaki
Home to Macau’s most exquisite epicurean cuisine, Robuchon au Dôme is a fascinating gem that sits perched at the top of the Grand Lisboa with alluring views of the magnificent city. Surrounded by a beautiful blend of old-world charm and contemporary design, this restaurant might have been around for more than a decade in the industry but continues to be at the forefront of forward-thinking culinary concepts. This dining jewel carries the name of legendary chef Joël Robuchon who has left an empire that spans continents with Robuchon au Dôme a shining star amongst his most stellar achievements.
A haven of art, wine and fine food, Robuchon au Dôme with executive Chef Julien Tongourian at the helm for the past five years and his team takes pride in the consistency of being awarded the coveted three-Michelin stars for eleven years. More than just its stars, this creative space offers a dining journey that unlocks the imagination, ignites the palates and fuels the spirit. And what exactly are the key facets that have made this location one of the top attractions in the region placing Macau on the global cuisine map? We spoke to the trio of top-class chefs and driving force behind the Joël Robuchon restaurant group, Éric Bouchenoire, Tomonori Danzaki, and François Benot. Albeit a hectic schedule leading the brand around the world, they sat down for a few hours filled with nostalgia and discussions on the future of food. We were humbled to be in the presence of remarkable culinary artists of our time as we rediscover the iconic dining destination.
A name to be reckoned with, Joël Robuchon is renowned in the history of culinary triumphs. Hailed as the “Chef of the Century” by the Gault Millau guide in 1989 and awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France in cuisine in 1976, his countless recognitions have left a lasting imprint on the world of dining. He also published several cookbooks and hosted television shows in France. On top of that, his greatest feat was expanding his restaurants to Bangkok, Bordeaux, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Macau, Monaco, Montreal, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo, and New York City. No chef in the world in this lifetime has acquired the highest record of a total of 32 Michelin stars other than Robuchon. His influence as a French chef of the post-nouvelle cuisine era is the epitome of excellence in the field of gastronomy. The role he played in leading French cuisine forward was significant as he embraced international influences especially Japanese cuisine–and even select traditions of haute cuisine. Robuchon led the way in creating a more delicate style respectful of natural food ingredients and that’s probably what true food connoisseurs will always remember about him.
THE ASCENT OF ASIA
The mere presence of a Robuchon restaurant in Macau cements its prominence in the region. But what made Macau an appealing location? Éric Bouchenoire reveals Joël Robuchon’s love for Asia, the flavors and ultimately the people. He says, “It’s the warm and welcoming vibe here and wherever you go, people are open-minded and adventurous–they are always eager to learn. It may seem that the torch of the brand has been passed onto us and while we do feel the pressure, as a team we feel like we can do anything. I have Mr. Benot and Mr. Danzaki and that’s an incredible alliance.”
Éric delves deeper as he tells us how Macau’s development has been fast-paced through the years. He exclaims, “It’s easy to be captivated by the rise of the dining scene where everything seems possible. In keeping with many of Robuchon’s ethos, the focus on quality is of paramount importance because that’s what truly keeps diners impressed. A few years ago, products were hard to access and there were certain products that we had to bring ourselves from France. Nowadays, it’s easier with just a phone or the internet. One funny story that has stayed with me was a gala dinner in Macau around 18 years ago. I personally carried caviar in my luggage but my bag got lost in Hong Kong. It’s safe to say no one had caviar for the gala dinner. Two days later it arrived but it was too late. The rapid change in the dining scene here is indisputable”.
The three men travel to 16 restaurants annually which translate to being on the road for almost six months a year. A rigorous part of their roles, Eric insists, “Motivation is also a significant part of ensuring that all members of the team always have respect, not just for their work but also for Joël Robuchon. It’s even more heartwarming to see that the overflowing respect has been more present since his passing. We all strive to honor Mr. Robuchon’s legacy that will no doubt prevail for a long time”.
PASSING THE TORCH
Éric Bouchenoire who holds the title of Chef du Laboratoire de Creation et Coordination talks to us about lessons in and out of the kitchen. He says “The best lessons I learned were to be modest and stay humble. We are here to carry on the values of Mr. Robuchon that are essentially hard work and respect. Looking back, there are two dishes that made Joël Robuchon famous. It was his Gelee de caviar, which was caviar based and Puree de Pommes de Terre, where the main product is a potato. The art of cooking is an act of love and to create the best out of simple ingredients is a real passion. We respect the caviar just as much as we respect the potato in our kitchen.”
As Chef Conseil, Tomonori Danzaki reveals his humble beginnings and the power of persistence. He never gave up on the pursuit of his dreams. Recalling how he landed his first role with Mr. Robuchon in Paris, he admits that he forced his way into the group with a great desire to work for the iconic figure. He exclaims, “Time truly flies. It was just a succession of events. I worked in a lot of different restaurants for Mr. Robuchon and he made sure we were at the top of our game. There was pressure but it was like magic really. I always learned something new”.
François Benot is the Chef Patissier Conseil of the group. He reflects on his best memories with Mr. Robuchon and emphasizes the value of hard work. Reminiscing on his first memory of a cherry tart and exploring his culinary skills at an early age, he attributes his triumph to diligence. He reveals, “One of my most memorable moments as a chef was when I worked at a restaurant in the 16th arrondissement that Mr. Robuchon later bought, which was the La Table de Joël Robuchon and that we closed when we opened one on the Champs-Élysées. I was working in the kitchen at the time as a pastry chef and I made a caramel soufflé that Mr. Robuchon tried and said was the best soufflé he ever had.”
PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY IN THE INDUSTRY
Sustainability is one of the most talked-about topics in the evolving scene of gastronomy. The Joël Robuchon group has been collaborating for more than 30 years with Fleury Michon based in Vendée which is the leading French agri-food business in France.
Éric Bouchenoire reiterates that they have always been advocates of reducing the number of additives used when producing food. Joël Robuchon himself demanded decades ago that Fleury Michon grow local carrots instead of importing frozen ones. It was aimed at reducing the freight and transportation of products by air. He recalls how the chef was personally involved with the issue of sustainability because of general wellness and how important food is for the body. Éric insists, “There are more organic and high-quality products involved in the kitchen nowadays. By continuing to make sustainable options even in simple ways such as using recycled cardboard as the takeaway packaging and the Robuchon as a brand encourages suppliers to do the same. It helps that the younger generation is much more sensitive to this issue and more involved and concerned with sustainability and environmental issues. It’s safe to say that the path of which this movement is carving is the same as every member of the Robuchon team”.
CULINARY EXCELLENCE & LABORS OF LOVE
All three chefs agree that the Michelin Guide continues to play an integral role in the global dining scene. This recognition motivates chefs from around the globe to do better and break barriers. It has made a huge impact worldwide pushing quality, creation, and innovation in the kitchen. With French cuisine at the center of Robuchon’s excellence, there are many reasons behind it. According to Éric, the French territories showcase bountiful high-quality products that provide great opportunities to French chefs when it comes to creating dishes. He also explains how “compagnonnage” is a valuable aspect because it echoes tradition and heritage. He says, “It’s very similar to how a parent passes on wisdom or an heirloom of knowledge to their children. This form of bond and values exist in all types of craftsmanship and disciplines and it certainly exists when it comes to cuisine. It’s highly revered in French culture and one of the many factors that sets it apart maintaining the essence of every generation”.
It was easy to discern from the words and wisdom of the three highly prominent master chefs that no stars or any kind of accomplishments come without hard labor, loyalty, and teamwork. Robuchon au Dôme’s role as a paradigm of excellence comes down to hard work and talented teams that are very motivated. And as a result, it’s the perpetuation and consistency in upholding the Joël Robuchon standard that has made Robuchon au Dôme an iconic dining destination not just in Macau but in Asia.