The mayor of the palace

Interview with Francky Semblat, the faithful squire in Shanghai of Mr 35-stars Joël Robuchon

27-09-2016
Since last spring, Francky Semblat is Joël Robuch

Since last spring, Francky Semblat is Joël Robuchon’s executive chef at L’Atelier. The restaurant has just received two Michelin stars from the first edition of Michelin Shanghai. "I do what our maestro requires", he tells our reporter Claudio Grillenzoni (photo by hk.on.cc)

 

In a recent piece Paolo Marchi focused on the theme of militarised kitchens. We like to follow this topic, following a meeting on the occasion of the L’Atelelier de Joël Robuchon in Shanghai, starting from a battle.

During the battle of Poitiers, in 732, the Franks pushed back to the Spanish burning heat the troops of the Moors of Berber Al-Andalus. Charles Martel was a “Mayor of the Palace” or “majordomo” (a role that may sound subordinate but in fact meant he was the executive chief, just below the Merovingian king). Yet in order to become a “simple” Mayor of the Palace he went places considering that that battle in Charente not only led him to the sceptre but also allowed him to begin what would later become the Carolingian dynasty, which would revive the Holy Roman Empire with Charlemagne.

Joël Robuchon and Francky Semblat also come from Poitiers. The first is the king of Charente and the entire Gallia, with more (Michelin) awards than a general emeritus; the second, his “Mayor of the Palace” who in 2001 opened for him Au Dome in Macao, who allowed at the first attempt – since the birth of the “Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan” Michelin Guide in 2008 – the three stars (until toda) and who is now managing the launch of the new L’Atelier in Shanghai, opened last spring at the famous Bund 18, the same building where Paul Pairet works with his Mr. & Miss Bund.   

Joël Robuchon from Poitiers, France, born in 1945, here portrayed at L’Atelier in Shanghai, opened last spring. With 35 Michelin stars, he’s the most awarded chef in the world. And there’s more: he’s planning to open in Montreal, Geneva, Miami and New York

Joël Robuchon from Poitiers, France, born in 1945, here portrayed at L’Atelier in Shanghai, opened last spring. With 35 Michelin stars, he’s the most awarded chef in the world. And there’s more: he’s planning to open in Montreal, Geneva, Miami and New York

Speaking with Semblat a question came natural: how do you relate to such an important chef and for so many years? And how can you shine, even more so when you also have three stars weighing on your shoulders, though partially living of a reflected light? In other words, how do you live as the Mayor of the Palace and is there space inside a dynasty for new regal branches?

Let’s start from the beginning, though: “I started to work with Robucon like everyone else” says Semblat “by sending a cv”. All normal. “At the time, there was a queue to work with him. I was a young man of 19 and had plenty to learn. Who knows, perhaps he hired me because we come from the same place: he’s from Poitiers, I’m from Poitiers Charente, a few kilometres away”. Since then Francky Semblat never deserted. “I learnt basically everything from him: his genuine obsession with details. His technique, the philosophy behind our work”.

You’ve just opened a new restaurant. How do you handle the recipes, who chooses them, who changes them? “When we create a menu” continues Semblat “we don’t select things only 5% of the guests will like. Including “cameos” makes no sense. We include in the list things 95% of the guests like. Cooking è fashion, so we follow the fashion people love. Think about French cuisine in general: until a few years ago it was heave, soaked in creams, lots of butter. Today people want lighter food, therefore the cooking is lighter. Indeed in our list we have a totally vegetarian menu, and the entire concept at L’Atelier is halfway between sushi and tapas bar, in every city where it may be. People want to eat easy, and the concept is that of a place with an open view kitchen, with many seats around the teppanyaki, with food and aromas that blurt out in front of the eyes of the guests, through the architecture, the kitchen, and obviously the food”. 

Caviar jelly with cauliflower cream, one of Joël Robuchon’s greatest classics, good at every latitude (photo by Andrew Harper)

Caviar jelly with cauliflower cream, one of Joël Robuchon’s greatest classics, good at every latitude (photo by Andrew Harper)

And if one night you think of a new recipe? “I work for Robuchon and do what the maestro asks me to. I certainly do make suggestions, I test and fix, but the decision is made by the group. These are the rules of the game. After all, Robuchon knows Asia very well. He opened in Tokyo almost twenty years ago. “Since then” ends Semblat “we’ve had restaurants working in every big city, from the capital of Japan to Singapore, from Bangkok to Taiwan, from Shanghai to Hong Kong. And next year we’re opening in p Montreal, Geneva, Miami e New York”.

Indeed we’re about to eat some great classics from the maestro: Caviar jelly with cream of cauliflower; Foie gras roll with emulsion of truffle and vegetable medley, or the Emulsion of sea urchin with crustaceans and anise. Al this ends with the classis dessert Raspberry and litchi jelly and the Sequel of pineapple mille feuille with coconut mousseline and exotic fruit sorbet. Always following a tradition that led Robuchon to collect 29 stars around the world.

And last Wednesday the first (mainland) Chinese edition of the Michelin guide was presented. Mayor of the Palace Semblat, just like in 2008 in Macao, collected two stars at the first attempt. Making the star-total reach 35. Who knows if in the future the regal branch will not start a new dynasty.


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China Grill

Tasty reports from China and the Far East from our collaborator Claudio Grillenzoni