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Features 3 minutes 21 December 2018

Look Back 2018: The Loss Of Top Chefs

It has been a gloomy year in the dining scene as chefs around the world mourn the untimely loss of a clutch of esteemed chefs.

celebrity chefs Joël Robuchon in memoriam

It may have been a bumper year for gut-friendly fermented food and hyperlocal menus in the dining scene this year. However, one topic that got chefs from Hong Kong to the Netherlands talking was the demise of one too many culinary luminaries this year.

The MICHELIN Guide Digital got more than 10 chefs around the world to reflect on this year’s most significant happening in the culinary sphere and the most common thread that popped up was the loss of restaurant heavyweights that made them reflect on their cooking journey.

The string of departures included legendary French chef Paul Bocuse, who died on 20 January, the suicide of multi-hyphenate American chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain on 8 June. Barely two months later, the death of renowned French chef Joel Robuchon, who ran more than 10 restaurants that have garnered more than 20 Michelin stars, on 6 August sent shockwaves through kitchens around the world. The deaths of these food heroes have spurred chefs to work harder in order to pay tribute to their mentors and predecessors and remember their contributions.
Richard Ekkebus, culinary director of the two-starred contemporary French restaurant Amber in Hong Kong, has vivid memories of Robuchon
Richard Ekkebus, culinary director of the two-starred contemporary French restaurant Amber in Hong Kong, has vivid memories of Robuchon

Richard Ekkebus, culinary director of the two-starred contemporary French restaurant Amber in Hong Kong, says: “2018 is a sad year for me; Gualtiero Marchesi, Paul Bocuse, Joel Robuchon all left us in one year. Think about the knowledge that they have brought to the world.”

Ekkebus was particularly saddened by the death of Robuchon. “I cooked his breakfast every morning when he stayed at The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental,” he recalls. “He was very particular about what he wanted, such as having pomegranate juice.”

Ekkebus reflects that the demise of great chefs this years has pushed him to step up his game to give back to the culinary world. “I'd be very happy if I can contribute as much as half of what they have done.”

Robuchon's death has also driven him to re-look at his approach to eating. Ekkebus, whose restaurant will re-open by May next year after refurbishment, says: “Eating is not only an enjoyment, but also a way to nourish your body. Amber is not going to becaome a vegetarian restaurant but we will definitely pay more attention on vegetables. While we think the protein kingdom is big, we haven't explored the herbs kingdom, the vegetable kingdom enough. There's so much potential waiting for us to discover."

For Seiji Yamamoto (left), chef-owner of three-starred contemporary Japanese restaurant Nihonryogi Ryugin in Tokyo, the passing away of these chefs has made him question his work-oriented lifestyle.

He says: “I have too much stress, I always have questions to think over in my head. Over the past 20 years, I always worked till 2am before having supper and sleep at 4am, and always went on work trips. I have no private time, I have no personal life. If I continue like this, I would shorten my life by 10 years.”

These days, Yamamoto, whose Tokyo restaurant moved to Hibiya in August, has adopted a more balanced approach. "I want to prolong my life as a chef. Therefore, I have

shortened my restaurant's opening hours and scuba dive on my off days." Yamamoto says. "Now I am happy to see swimming fish and make friends who are outside the food circle."
Besides Robuchon, Bocuse and Bourdain, Richie Lin, chef-owner of contemporary European restaurant MUME in Taipei, also singled out the death of American food critic Jonathan Gold on 21 July.

Gold, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times and Gourmet magazine, was the first food critic to clinch a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. “It is sad to see all these great people pass away,” says Lin. “They had a huge impact on the culinary world.”

Over in Europe, Richard van Oostenbrugge, chef-owner of one-starred Restaurant 212 in the Netherlands, was struck by the death of Robuchon. Van Oostenbrugge (right), who used to helm one-starred Bord’Eau Restaurant Gastronomique in Amsterdam, will open his first overseas outpost table65 in Singapore next year

Diners can expect his signature contemporary European dishes such as Os a Moelle veal tartare with smoked herring, bone marrow and cockles, and his widely Instagrammed Green Apple dessert. The Dutch chef says: "He was one of the greatest chef and a visionary who brought the possibility of casual fine dining to the world. This is something I am very inspired by and something that we are aiming for in our own restaurant.”

Roberto Cerea of three-starred Italian restaurant Da Vittorio in Bergamo, Italy, who is is going to open two Da Vittorio restaurants in Shanghai and Macau in 2019, also mourned the passing of the great chefs, including Gualtiero Marchesi, who helmed Italy’s first three-starred restaurant. Marchesi died last December.

Roberto Cerea (first from left, with his brother Enrico) mourned the loss of many note-worthy chefs this year. (Photo: Da Vittorio)
Roberto Cerea (first from left, with his brother Enrico) mourned the loss of many note-worthy chefs this year. (Photo: Da Vittorio)

He says: “Marchesi is best in Italy, Bocuse and Robuchon are best in France, so their deaths are not a happy thing. I know Marchesi and Robuchon personally and I saw Bocuse a few years ago.”

Other high-profile deaths in the dining world this year include Belgian chef Pierre Romeyer and Pakistani chef Tahir Chaudhry. 

Although the passing away of these great chefs has cast a shadow over the dining industry, gourmands can take comfort that many protégés of these late chefs, who have gone on to helm restaurants around the world, are determined to ensure that the culinary legacy lives on. Their spirit will stay with the culinary world and continue to inspire chefs for many years to come. 

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