The fuss and criticism around Montreal’s new Joël Robuchon restaurant has made it out of Quebec, with three big articles in four days about the blockbuster project in the Casino de Montréal.
For the unaware — if there are any still out there — L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has drawn no shortage of anger from local chefs, personalities, and citizens for spending millions of dollars to bring a foreign chef’s brand to the province.
The big one is the New York Times, headlined with the declaration that chefs are “fuming” over the restaurant. It’s reportage, not an opinion piece, and in some ways, it’s a summary of much of the fuss so far: quoting Joe Beef’s Dave McMillan, Gazette critic Lesley Chesterman, and Toqué’s Normand Laprise.
For his part, McMillan again highlights the restaurant as a disservice to others in the food industry: “a slap in the face to very many young people who have made a life decision to work in our restaurant community.”
Yet again, the government agency that operates the casino (and subsequently, the restaurant) Loto-Québec refused to comment, although L’Atelier’s executive chef Éric Gonzales does offer some thoughts: “I think Montreal now is more interesting because Mr. Robuchon has come into the city,” he said. “It is a very huge endorsement. I think what they needed was the big name.”
Much harsher on the restaurant was food columnist at national magazine Maclean’s Jacob Richler, whose views are pretty damn clear from his op-ed headline: “Why Loto-Québec never should have bankrolled a Robuchon resto.”
Again, there’s more silence from Loto-Québec to the point where it works against them: Richler writes that it’s unknown whether Robuchon will ever even have to visit: “Loto-Québec will not even confirm whether Robuchon is obliged to ever visit, never mind take a whirl through the kitchen.”
Richler is also critical of the restaurant’s casino location, suggesting L’Atelier’s location is to its disadvantage. He writes that the casino “has really only succeeded in pulling poor Quebec retirees out of their bingo halls to plug them into government-owned slot machines instead.”
On top of that, Toronto critic and writer Chris Nuttall-Smith also has a takedown of the restaurant, written for culture magazine The Walrus. Nuttall-Smith actually ate at L’Atelier, and similarly paints a bleak image of the casino, saying that to get to L’Atelier, “you must clear the Casino de Montréal’s barely clothed go-go dancers, who writhe impassively for retirees in salt-rimed winter boots.”
Like critics before, Nuttall-Smith is impressed with the food, but with one pretty rough caveat:
Save for the odd local ingredient, however, the food says little about the city. Much like your average Applebee’s, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon is a chain restaurant with chain-wide recipes, minutely proscribed from several time zones away.
It’s not all bad for Loto-Québec though: late last Friday, Journal de Montréal critic Thierry Daraize, whose opinion on the restaurant had seemingly wavered before, finally gave something of a nod of approval for Robuchon, labelling him a culinary superstar without an equivalent.
But his support is heavily qualified: he notes that the multi-million dollar pricetag is ridiculously large, and that it’s tough to make any restaurant fly when dealing with a hybrid casino-minefield like the one on Île Sainte-Hélène. He also says (in summary) that Loto-Québec’s financing of the restaurant has been too opaque.
So now that the issue has gotten more attention, will any figures come out? Let’s wait and see.
- Joël Robuchon's Montreal Restaurant Received $11 Million In Government Funds [EMTL]
- Montreal Chefs Are Fuming Over a Casino’s French Import [NYT]
- Why Loto-Québec never should have bankrolled a Robuchon resto [Maclean’s]
- The Restaurant that Cost Quebec Millions [The Walrus]
- The First Review For Joël Robuchon’s Casino Restaurant Is In [EMTL]
- Voici ce que je pense de l'affaire Robuchon [Le Journal de Montréal]