It's tough to know which accolade to list first: that Joël Robuchon was dubbed "chef of the century" in 1989 or that he won a record-setting 32 Michelin stars in 2016. The French chef, regarded as one of the world's best, has died of cancer at age 73, reports the BBC. His Monday death in Switzerland came a year after he received treatment for a pancreatic tumor. The AP quotes Patricia Wells, who authored a book on Robuchon, as putting it like so: "To describe Joel Robuchon as a cook is a bit like calling Pablo Picasso a painter, Luciano Pavarotti a singer, Frederic Chopin a pianist. Joel Robuchon will undoubtedly go down as the artist who most influenced the 20th-century world of cuisine."
As for why, the AP explains that while the chef counted delicacies like truffles and caviar among his favorite things, he embraced recipes made from just a few ingredients and was famous for his mashed potatoes. At Grub Street, Alan Sytsma describes them as "made impossibly smooth and elevated through Robuchon’s use of small fingerling potatoes and a quantity of butter that still seems astounding." Robuchon retired at age 50, citing the physical effort it took to be a top chef, but emerged more than 15 years later, in 2003 to launch his Atelier (French for workshop) concept in Paris and then cities across the world. The small restaurants seated diners along a counter next to the kitchen and eschewed reservations, and the Michelin stars began flowing. (Read more obituary stories.)