Updated June 17, 2021 - 5:40 pm
Fans of the late Joel Robuchon’s legendary cuisine: Your patience is about to be rewarded. MGM Grand’s Joel Robuchon restaurant is scheduled to reopen July 1, followed by L’Atelier Joel Robuchon on July 15.
Jonathan Doukhan, executive chef of the more casual L’Atelier, acknowledged that there had been rumors of the restaurants’ permanent closures — fueled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered them since March 2020 and in part by the death of the culinary lion in August 2018.
“There was a lot of fake press,” Doukhan said. “That wasn’t backed up by anything. We’ve been planning all along.”
In fact, Christophe de Lellis, executive chef of Joel Robuchon, said he largely kept working while the restaurants were closed.
“I’ve been working at The Mansion the whole time,” de Lellis said. “I was helping out and taking care of guests. I did some Robuchon dinners as well and special requests for our guests at the resort.”
All the while, his eye was on the prize.
“I’ve been working on the reopening,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s a little challenging, with the supply issues, but it’s an exciting time, too, because everybody’s super happy to come back.” De Lellis said 80 to 90 percent of those who were on staff last March have returned.
“Compared with other venues, we are really lucky,” he said. “It’s a statement, as well: They miss the place and they want to come back.”
Doukhan isn’t quite as lucky.
“The staff is going to be the biggest challenge, definitely,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’re really picky, but we’re looking for people who really want to learn, people who are about the culture that we’re doing.”
Attitude is particularly important, he said, because of the open kitchen that’s uniquely visible.
“We have to look like we’re having fun, and we have to actually have fun while we’re doing dinner service,” he said. “If the atmosphere is heavy, the guest is going to feel that.”
Which is not to say they’re not extremely serious about the food and about honoring the legacy of the late chef. Doukhan said most of the signature dishes remain on the menu, although they’ve been working to lighten things up a bit. Menu highlights include John Dory a la plancha on a sambol of tomato, confit lime zest and cilantro puree, and caramelized frog legs on creamy spelt risotto.
“The restaurant’s been open for 15 years, and we wanted to give our guests a good amount of freshness in terms of the menu items,” Doukhan said. “We don’t want them to come back to the same old thing. Toward the end of his life, (Joel Robuchon) was going toward lean cuisine. “People don’t want to eat heavy food anymore. We think about that when we make menu changes.”
And he said they’ve made other shifts.
“We’re going to change the atmosphere of the restaurant a lot,” Doukhan said. “Before, you walked in and you had very classical French music playing, we weren’t allowing people who were wearing hats to eat inside the restaurant. It has totally changed. We’re trying to attract a younger crowd.”
Doukhan said they also made “dramatic” changes to the prices. The eight-course degustation menu, he said, which formerly was $200, now is $140. And the other menus have followed suit, with one priced at $79.
At Joel Robuchon, de Lellis said things will seem very familiar to regulars although, like L’Atelier, they initially will be open only Thursdays through Mondays, from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
“The plans are pretty simple,” he said. “We’re going to go where we left off before. The plan is really traditional. We had a successful model, and all of the people who are excited to come back want the same things; they want the langoustine ravioli, they want the caviar.”
The price of the 15-course degustation menu at Joel Robuchon, which includes the mignardises cart with small plates, remains at $445. Menu highlights include Osetra caviar atop king crab in a crustachean gelee dotted with cauliflower puree and truffled langoustine ravioli with simmered cabbage and foie gras sauce.
Doukhan said Robuchon’s legacy will endure because he had such a distinctive style.
“It’s a very unique style of cooking,” he said. “You can see a random picture and you can tell right away that that’s Robuchon’s food. It’s the elegance of the dish. Everything we put in place has to be pleasing to the eye.”