(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)
Chef Jacky Robert is the owner/chef of Petit Robert Bistro, with three locations (two in Boston and one in Needham). Born in France, Chef Robert has a very impressive culinary resume, having worked all over the world in some of the best restaurants. Locally, a number of other famous chefs owe some type of culinary debt to Chef Robert, including people like Lydia Shire, Lee Napoli, Susan Regis, Tony Ambrose, Bill Poirier, Frank McClelland, Gordon Hamersley, Jeff Fournier and Marc Orfaly.
Petit Robert Bistro is a delicious French bistro, with many traditional dishes, as well as other French-influenced cuisine. I am a fan of the restaurant and recommend it to my readers as well.
Now onto the Interview--
How important is culinary creativity to you, and why?
Extremely. Without creative thinking in the realm of food, there would be no noodles, no puff pastry, no sauce Bearnaise, no Pekin Duck. Chefs contribute their creativity to cuisine the way other artists have done in music and painting. On a personal level, being the author/creator of a great dish provides great professional fulfillment.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I find inspiration in just about everything that I taste, see, smell, touch. Ben & Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream gave me the idea for my Scrambled Quiche Omelet. Duck confit, sushi and kimchee evolved into my Crispy Duck Confit and Kimchee Maki Rolls. Oriental carpets inspired the Black and White Woven Pasta with Shrimp that I often served at Maison Robert.
What's the process you use for creating a new dish?
There needs to be an initial spark. If I think there is some future for my idea, I pursue it by experimenting and trying the same dish with different ingredients. When the dish is harmonious and make sense, only then do I serve it to my restaurant customers.
Do you do it alone or with a staff?
You cannot make love by proxy. Creativity is personal, and no one but you knows what the end product is supposed to be like.
How do you rest new recipes?
I write the idea down as soon as it comes (frequently in the middle of the night). If the idea is genuine, I test it in the morning, wherever I am. Most likely, recipes will require some kind of kitchen equipment in order to be executed, so the restaurant is often the best bet for a successful result.
What's the most difficult part of being creative?
To make sure that your wildest food ideas are actually palatable. That's the most difficult thing. In my opinion, many chefs serve garbage just for the sake of being different.
Do you ever experience an inability to be creative--like writer's block--and if so, how do you deal with that?
Facing the unknown is stressful. It is inevitable to have that feeling. It is similar to how an actor must feel just before going on stage. I have a glass of Bordeaux.
Relate one unusual anecdote about a new dish you've created in the past.
I once attended to a caviar demonstration, conducted by Monsieur Petrossian himself. In his remarks, he was adamant that caviar should never be served with onions. On the way back to my restaurant kitchen afterwards, I was in the mood to challenge his opinion, so I developed a special nightly appetizer: Onion Ring Blinis with Caviar and Onion Bavarian. It was a huge hit, and quickly became one of my signature dishes.