Chef Joël Robuchon launched what he described as a "game-changing" menu Thursday at his namesake Las Vegas restaurant. But don't worry: His celebrated mashed potatoes will remain.
"With the creation of this menu, I think I'm presenting my DNA to my guests for the first time," Robuchon told me as the kitchen staff busily prepared for opening night.
"It is the most difficult that I've ever put out," he said of the menu, which offers guests a choice of one to three "services," each consisting of three small plates, before the arrival of a main course.
One of the services features these three items: plates of black truffle tart with confit of onions and smoked bacon; pan-fried egg with pearl rice and black truffle; and frog leg fritters with garlic purée and parsley coulis.
A second service includes carpaccio of foie gras and potatoes with black truffle shavings. A third includes a seared scallop served with kumquat and caviar.
The featured main course could be Chateaubriand topped with foie gras. The dish is roasted before being carved tableside into portions (for two) weighing nearly 3 pounds. (Other dishes are available for those who prefer something other than beef.)
"It gives a visual appeal to the guests because they get to see us working with the food in the dining room," he said. "To explain it doesn't do it justice. One has to come to experience it."
The full menu costs $435 per person. But, Robuchon said, "we don't only cater to millionaires."
He is particularly gratified when working-class people save for a Vegas vacation that includes dinner at his restaurant.
Robuchon, who has 25 Michelin stars, understands working-class. He's the son of a construction worker and a housekeeper from Poitiers, France, and began working full time in a small restaurant in his hometown when he was 15.
"When you were an apprentice, you did everything," he said. "I had to be there by 7:30 in the morning to turn the oven on. I had to mow the lawn in the afternoon."
When the chef called in sick one day, the young chef found himself having to cook a dinner of stuffed rabbit. During return visits, customers clamored for the meal.
"I have no regrets about that time," he said. "You learn every thread of the work when you start at that level."
By 1981, Robuchon had his own restaurant in Paris. Business skyrocketed after an American food critic sang the praises of his purée de pommes de terre: mashed potatoes. At the core of the simple dish is a tasty French potato called ratte.
"It almost has a taste of chestnuts to it," he said.
Guests won't spot the spuds on the menu, but Robuchon assured me they're served with every main course.
"They're known throughout the world,"; he said. ";I will never be able to have a restaurant without the mashed potatoes."
Joël Robuchon, the restaurant, opened in 2005 in Las Vegas and remains his only North American outpost—for now.
In September, he plans to open a restaurant in lower Manhattan overlooking the Statue of Liberty.