Joël Robuchon, an endlessly inventive French chef who earned a record number of Michelin stars by recasting French haute cuisine in a personal style that emphasized intense flavors and precise technique, died Monday in Geneva. He was 73.
The French government announced his death. A friend, David Khayat, who said he was with Mr. Robuchon when he died, told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the cause was complications of pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Robuchon, best known in recent years for the chain of small restaurants he called ateliers, dazzled the French culinary world with his first Paris restaurant, Jamin, which earned three Michelin stars in record speed, a mere three years after opening in 1981.
Classically trained and deeply influenced by nouvelle cuisine, he played with the language of classic French cooking, turning out dishes remarkable for their intoxicating flavors and their beauty on the plate.
At one time, Mr. Robuchon’s many restaurants had accumulated more than 30 Michelin stars, a tally unequaled by any other chef. In 1990, the Gault-Millau guide named him one of its “chefs of the century.”
“He personified perfection for a generation of chefs,” the three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire told The New York Times in 2002, shortly before Mr. Robuchon came out of retirement to start a new chapter with his casual atelier restaurants, which extended his reach to cities around the world.
Mr. Robuchon was born on April 7, 1945, in Poitiers, in western France. His father, Henri, was a mason, and his mother, Julienne (Douteau) Robuchon, was a housemaid. At 12 he entered the junior seminary in Mauléon-sur-Sèvre, northwest of Poitiers, with the intention of becoming a priest. But he found a new vocation while helping the nuns prepare meals.
In 1966 he married Janine Pallix, who survives him, as do their children, Sophie Kartheiser, who manages a restaurant in the Dordogne, in southwest France, and Louis, who recently opened a wine bar in Japan.
At the height of his fame, Mr. Robuchon abruptly retired, haunted, he said, by the example of Alain Chapel and Jean Troisgros, great chefs who died early from the exertions of the trade. (Both died in their 50s.) He turned to broadcasting in France, appearing on “Cook Like a Great Chef” and “Bon Appétit, You Bet!”
After a period of doing consulting work and traveling, Mr. Robuchon came up with a concept, influenced by the tapas bars of Spain and the sushi counters of Japan. The idea, he wrote in his cookbook “L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon” (2006), was “a little place, with 15 or 20 seats, one or two people at the stoves, with a spontaneous, healthy cuisine based on what the chef finds at the market every day.”