French restaurants and Valentine’s Day go together. So do interesting Valentine’s Day gifts. If you’re looking for a unique gift idea that will also help a great cause, consider tickets to one of the next Petit Robert Bistro’s demo series.
On March 1, Petit Robert Bistro Chef Jacky Robert will do a late-morning demonstration In the basement level of the Kenmore Square restaurant showing how to whip up three classic soups: potage cultivateur, bouillabaisse, and a fruit soup with passion fruit quenelle. The demonstration lasts more than an hour, with a video screen nearby showing what he’s doing on the counter, recipes to take with you, and an opportunity to enjoy the soups in a three-course lunch, for an added fee.
This March’s demo is the third in Chef Jacky’s series. The first one focused on Normandy. I went to the second demo, with cheese as the featured ingredient, in January, and Chef Jacky is a treat to watch — plus his food is délicieux. Held downstairs in the bistro, it was roomy and comfortable as we watched the demo on a nearby TV screen while he chatted with us about cooking with other chefs, shared tips and tricks, and talked about his charity.
Chef Jacky walked us through how to make what would seem to be intimidating dishes, but with his friendly manner and confident hand, he convinced me, at least, that it’s not exactly easy, but very doable to make:
He started with the soufflé. While chef was preparing the dish, he told some humorous stories and threw in some tips/tricks for each recipe. For example, he pointed out at what point you could make this recipe in advance if you’re making it for company. Meanwhile, the chefs in the back kitchen had a problem with the oven's temperature, and he came out with a fallen soufflé. It was a good teachable moment for us all: The oven must be the correct temperature!
Next up: the chicken, ham and cheese recipe. “I want to show people how to do cordon blue properly,” he said about his second recipe, for Chicken Cordon Bleu. Again, much of this dish can be made in advance, he said.
He also showed us a bit about showmanship: He carved a potato into the shape of a shoe, to demonstrate that cooking isn't just about taste, it's about presentation. It's the little things like this that bring you into a great restaurant, he says.
What drew the biggest oohs and anticipating aaahs was the Brie Puff with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce. Just watching him make the caramel drew anticipation from our table.
Chef Jacky was fun to watch, knowledgeable and commanding yet approachable in the kitchen, and he was available for questions.
Everyone at the demo was given a copy of the recipes to take with them. The demo will soon be able to see on YouTube.
Afterward, we had full portions of each recipe, and the wait staff paired them expertly with appropriate wine. The soufflé was light as air and savory. The chicken cordon bleu had a crunch, the cheese oozed out nicely when cut, and the accompanying wine sauce was perfect. The dessert was a nice mixture of savory and sweet, with the Brie contrasting nicely with the pastry, homemade caramel and vanilla ice cream. I love Brie, but I just didn’t expect that a Brie wrapped in pastry topped with caramel would be so good. FYI, this would be a killer Valentine dessert…
And the best part, my full belly was helping Filipino kids.
From Normandy, France, Chef Jacky Robert began cooking at age 15, and learned his craft in Paris and under Wolfgang Puck. In 1976, he helped his uncle Lucien Robert open Maison Robert, in Boston’s Old City Hall. After earning acclaim in San Francisco, he returned to rave reviews as Maison Robert’s executive chef, and later opened Petit Robert Bistro, which has four locations in the Greater Boston area. He has earned many honors over the years, appeared on PBS cooking shows, and has been featured in acclaimed magazines including Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Esquire.
One year Chef Jacky was visiting the Philippines and noticed some street kids begging in the streets. “My first question was how come there are so many kids on the street. I say to my friend why don't we do something?” So they decided to fund a school. “We're trying to attract kids to go to school for the first time, to teach them to write and read.” As an added incentive, they get fed. “At least parents feel like, ‘At least I don’t have to feed them lunch today.’ If I were a doctor, I would probably take care of their medical needs. Once we're able to get more chefs, it will be a national thing.”
To reserve, you donate $20 per person to the Chefs Feed Kids Foundation via a PayPal link, here. Following the demo, if you’d like, you can pay at the restaurant an additional $30 pp for a three-course luncheon featuring the soups that were demonstrated. Taxes, tips and beverages are not included.
As an added Valentine’s treat, pick up a pack of Jacky’s delicious almond cookies, which also benefits his "Chefs Feed Kids" organization.
And, of course, they are taking reservations for Valentine’s Day at the Kenmore, South End and Needham locations. At the South End’s bistro, you’ll also get a taste of new chef Stefano Quaresima, an Italian of French descent. In France, Stefano worked at the famed two Michelin star La Tour D’Argent in Paris, the one Michelin Star Hotel Chateau de Bagnols in Lyon and restaurant Quai Ouest in Lorient. He also worked at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin star Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison in Oxford, United Kingdom.
Chef Stefano debuts his inaugural menu with creative French fare such as Roasted cod filet over wok vegetables in a ginger lemon sauce; coq au vin - chicken thighs braised in red wine with fettuccine; and Duck Magret, with a honey sesame crust with parsnips and carrots.