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FOOD & DRINK

French ‘chef of the century’ to be honoured at public ceremony

The multi-starred French chef Joel Robuchon, who died on Monday aged 73, will be honoured with a public ceremony next week near his hometown in central France, a spokeswoman for his family told AFP on Tuesday.

French 'chef of the century' to be honoured at public ceremony
Photo: AFP
Accolades have poured in for Robuchon, a classically trained perfectionist whose revolutionary idea of stripping fine dining of its more elaborate trappings became a template for up-and-coming chefs around the world.
   
At one point he held a record 32 Michelin stars at the same time for his galaxy of Atelier (“workshop”) restaurants, with people lining up for seats at establishments from Las Vegas to Tokyo.
   
While his funeral will be private, the public will be able to pay their respects at a ceremony in the Vienne region, where he was born in the city of Poitiers in 1945.
   
“His wife, his children Eric and Sophie, his grandchildren, along with the rest of his family ask that their privacy be respected,” the statement said.
 
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World's most Michelin-starred French chef dies at 73Photo: AFP  

Robuchon, who was hailed as one of four “chefs of the century” by the Gault & Millau industry bible in 1990, announced his retirement a few years later, saying he wanted to slow down and enjoy his family after years of long days in the kitchen.
   
But it didn't last long, with his daily cooking shows on French television, a series of books and consulting work for food companies.
   
In the early 2000s he returned to the forefront of French dining with his Ateliers, a no-reservation concept where diners could watch chefs in action while perched on stools around a U-shaped bar.
   
Inspired by the sushi bars of Japan and the tapas of Spain, he bet that a new generation of food fans did not want the ultra-elegant linens and fancy silver of traditional starred restaurants — and the sky-high prices that went with them.
 
Building on the success of his first Atelier in Paris in 2003, he expanded the restaurants around the globe, in particular Asia, where he had five establishments with seven stars between them in Tokyo alone.
   
Robuchon died of pancreatic cancer in Geneva, where he was planning to open his latest restaurant, his friend Gilles Pudlowski, a noted food critic, told AFP.
   
“Joel Robuchon has put his mark on French cuisine, by always taking his own course and his mix of freedom and rigour,” fellow globetrotting chef Alain Ducasse told AFP.

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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