Normandy-born chef Jacky Robert is continuing his family traditions in Boston. Starting out alongside his late uncle Lucien Robert, he helped make the restaurant Maison Robert into a showcase for French gastronomy, popular with Julia Child and the Kennedy family. Since 2005, the French chef has delighted the Boston smart-set with his own restaurant, Ma Maison, which will be taking part in Restaurant Week from March 5 to 17.
France-Amérique: What made you decide to join your uncle in the United States?
Jacky Robert: I lost my father when I was ten years old. My uncle Lucien was an important male figure in my life. He had been living in the United States since the 1950s, and offered me a job at Maison Robert, the restaurant he had just opened in the former city hall in Boston. At the time I didn’t know the first thing about cooking, so my uncle first found me a job as a commis chef at Maxim’s in Paris, where the American chef Wolfgang Puck became my mentor. I then went to work at Prunier, just next to the Arc de Triomphe. After three years of training, I joined my uncle in 1973. Working as a chef at Maison Robert, I designed the restaurant’s first gourmet menu.
Maison Robert was the most fashionable French restaurant in Boston between 1971 and 2003. Can you explain why it was so successful?
We were the only French restaurant in Boston when we opened! A successful restaurant also needs a good chef and a good front-of-house manager. My uncle Lucien headed up the kitchens while my aunt Martha took care of the dining room. They were both very well connected politically. The Kennedy family were regulars! The then senator of Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, even helped me apply for my green card! Julia Child was also a customer at the restaurant. She was partial to the roast rack of lamb and the Dover sole meunière.
You opened your own restaurant, Ma Maison in 2005. Why did you choose this name?
Ma Maison was the name of the restaurant owned by my mentor, Wolfgang Puck, in Los Angeles. It is also an homage to my uncle [who passed away in 2014], who loved traditional cuisine. My creations revisit French gastronomy using local products such as lobster and clams — Massachusetts specialties. The Boston climate also means I can offer a variety of flavors. I serve home-made cassoulet in winter, and lighter dishes in summer such as salmon and ratatouille.
The Boston Restaurant Week is taking place from March 5 to 17. What dishes would you recommend?
I suggest the salmon rillettes as an appetizer, followed by the duck leg confit with braised cabbage for the entree. The season is perfect for this dish! I would recommend the chocolate mousse for the dessert, to finish on a sweet note. Joël Robuchon gave me the recipe, and I often eat in his restaurant when I am in Paris.
272 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114