The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Robert Arbor: Personal French Chef in a Tiny East Village Kitchen

When Olivia told me that a French chef had offered to come over to her apartment and cook a dinner for her and her friends, I, for some reason, failed to ask who, how, or why—I simply replied, "Hell yeah, I'll be there!" Not exactly the inquisitive type, you see.

watching the chef...
Robert Arbor, Olivia and Kathy

The chef ended up being Robert Arbor, proprietor of Le Gamin, a sizable chain of French restaurants in New York City, and author of the cookbook Joie de Vivre. (By the way, I'd just like to note that if you buy things through my associates code thingymajigger, you are helping me fund my life as purchased through, which adds up to about 50% of my possessions. Don't you want me to be happy? Don't you want me to have material goods?!) As for how Olivia convinced him to spend a Thursday night (January 17th) holed up in her small East Village apartment and cook a meal for her, Kathy, and me, it was as simple as telling him that her love for him burned deeply and she regularly made offerings to the shrine that she erected in his honor. That Olivia; she's one dedicated gal.

Oh wait, she didn't make a shrine...I did. And it wasn't for Robert Arbor, but for Jakob Dylan. And this took place in 1998 when I was the ripe age of 13. And I'm only 25% joking.

What Olivia really did was quite simple. She went to Le Gamin, saw him in the restaurant and told him how much she loved his book. That's all it took for him to lavish his skills onto her: "You are a student? I cook for you!" (Olivia might also have mind-control powers, but this has yet to be proven.)

[Update: Olivia pointed out that he recorded the night for his podcast about cooking in a typical student's kitchen. Yeeeeaah, I didn't mention that, although I did take a photo of his ipod. My note taking = fail! Looking at the podcast's page, I don't get the impression it's going to be available anytime soon, if the recording even came out. At some point during the night he said our conversation may not have been recorded clearly. Hm. If the podcast ever appears, I'll let you know!]

So, back to that night. Robert wanted to do an Asian-themed dinner of pork chops marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy sauce accompanied by bok choy cooked in what may have been the saucy residue from the pork chops. I know that's a crappy description, but recalling stuff that happened three weeks ago with the additional barrier of "lack of cooking experience" doesn't make for a good description. The slack, I'd like you to cut me some.

Robert effortlessly maneuvered the workings of the kitchen and chatted with us (with his endearing French accent) as though we had known each other for ages. It was crazy. Why was he so nice? WHAT DID HE WANT FROM US?

explaining something prepping the bok choy

He just wanted to teach us about the wonders of bok choy, baby.

For our vegetable dish, he separated the leaves from the stems (or told Olivia, the kitchen slave for the night, to do this) before chopping them so that we could cook them at separate times and match up the final textures of...done-ness. You know what I mean.

horizontal pork!

To cook the pork chops, he took the pre-marinated slabs-o-meat out of the bath of tastiness...

how's the pork doing?
In the pan you go

...Pan-fried them (that's a correct description, I suppose?) until the bloody juices had all seeped out of the surface...

cooking the pork
Time to cook the other pork chops
partially cooked pork (before being put in the oven)
Partially done!

...And after he had mostly cooked the two batches of pork chops, he placed them back in the first clear dish (ala the "marinating tub") and popped the dish in the oven to finish.

this is how you chop
Olivia didn't look that spacey in real life. Really!

While the pork chops continued de-rawing in the oven, Robert and Olivia chopped the bok choy.


...Along with some garlic.

time to cover the bok choy because we didn't have a lid...
Mm, veg

Lacking a lid for the pan holding the bok choy, Robert made one out of foil.

boy choy

It wasn't long before we had a ginormous bowl of bok choy, containing more vegetable matter than I had eaten in a long time...


...And a pile of perfectly cooked pork chops. Kind of sweet and tender and moist. A flawless slab of porkliness.

He also fried chopped green onions to use as topping for the rice. It seemed like a little thing, but it added a lot to the meal.

dinner time! IMG_4225 copy

"I can't believe this food came out of my kitchen," said Olivia. The food wasn't complicated, but of course Robert made it look easy. If any of us tried to do the same thing we'd probably burn something. But now we knew that we had the potential to make something delicious if any of us had the inclination to spend the effort on such a meal.

I think one reason we would hesitate to try and make a meal like this is that we would only be cooking for ourselves. Cooking a meal for four people is more "worth it" than cooking for one. ...WHICH MEANS WE SHOULD HAVE MORE COOKING PARTIES! Yeeeah. Oh, how much money we would save.

yom yom yom
Yom yom yom
It's cake, really.

After Robert left to meet up with a friend, Olivia, Kathy, and I feasted on huge-ass quintuple-chocolate muffins from Dunkin' Donuts that I had received from a woman who works with the company (thanks, Sue-Jean!). These weren't muffins so much as hefty cake lumps masquerading as suitable breakfast items. Not that I have anything against eating cake for breakfast. Nor muffins for dessert, in this case. They were surprisingly good—moist, not too sweet, and very chocolatey, with chocolate chunks embedded in chocolate cake, possibly sprinkled in chocolate fairy dust.

While gorging on our muffins we mostly talked about how fat we were getting and, hey, did we just have a professional French chef cook for us? What was that about? Like...what awesome thing did we do to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. We couldn't thank him enough for giving us his time and experience for a night. But Robert must've taken a liking to us because he said he planned on coming back to cook a Japanese cuisine-inspired meal. Considering that he left some ingredients at Olivia's apartment, I think he'll be true to his word.



Brenda / February 9, 2008 10:27 AM

Robyn? The reason he cooked for her is because he wanted to sleep with your friend. Y'all just got in the way. She was a smart girl to invite you. [Note from Robyn: This comment has been mildly edited.]

But the food looks very professional. Yum-yum.

olia / February 9, 2008 11:04 AM

Wah, that is too cool, what a fun experience, although I would have died having a chef cook in my non-existent kitchen with non-existent utensils.
And btw that just goes to prove how incapable I am -- never once has it occurred to me that you can use FOIL to make a perfect sized cover! NEVER, in all years of not having proper size covers that fell into food o_O
oh well, chances are I would have steam burned myself taking it off anyway, so I guess I'll just stick to..uh not cooking (but I will attempt to do as much as I can at any bun/dumpling/pierogi making parties)

Honey / February 9, 2008 11:26 AM

Robyn, you live in the universe of cool baby. That seemed like a once in a lifetime experience. I wish I could get Tyler Florence to come over and "Food 911" me....

Mikey / February 9, 2008 12:09 PM

Brenda: Easy on the assumptions there. Maybe he really was that nice. Not all men are pigs, you know. I've cooked for lots of women that I didn't want to sleep with, just treat them to a good meal.

Robyn et al: I hope he inspired you. Besides, cooking for yourself is a good way to get some practice in. If you screw something up, you're the only one that suffers :)

Girlie / February 9, 2008 1:16 PM

Robyn, this sounds like such a fun evening! And simple food can be the hardest to make taste really, really good. Can't wait until your evening of Japanese!

roboppy / February 9, 2008 2:36 PM

Jamie: He definitely places in the TOP TEN NICE PEOPLE!


That's all I'm gonna say.

Olia: Yes, foil is the answer! Now you know!

Omg I want bun party. And maybe you should stock up your kitchen better so you can have cooking parties there? BWAHAHAA? And then we can do karaoke!

Honey: HAHA, I don't predict having chefs cook for my friends and me to happen very often, although now you know it's not an impossibility!

Mikey: Yup, I agree with you there! On both points. I ought to buy some vegetables. The kitchen is rather bare.. -__-

Girlie: I hear ya there; I can't even cook eggs properly. But I'm used to eating the crappy eggs I cook, so they don't taste so bad to me.

Sorry about the MT problems! Arrgh. I might switch hosts in the next year, I think I have server issues.

Brenda / February 9, 2008 4:24 PM

Mikey, please point out to me where in my comment I called anyone a pig. In fact, the guy seems like quite the gentleman. I mean, a good meal is the best foreplay. I wish more men knew that! [Note from Robyn: This comment has been mildly edited.]

(Sorry, Robyn! I'm not trying to turn your comment section into something it's not meant to be, so feel free to edit me--with extreme prejudice if necessary! ;)

Christina / February 9, 2008 5:26 PM

That all looks incredible! One of the vegetables I've been meaning to try is bok choy and the method he used to cook it looks very flavorful and simple.

I like that, "I'm de-rawing the meat!" Though I still like partially raw meat, I don't think pork can be rare because of worms... or something sickly.

Olivia / February 9, 2008 6:54 PM

Maybe you should mention that he came to cook for me for his podcast... I fit the demographic of student on a budget...

roboppy / February 9, 2008 7:45 PM

Brenda: I might edit you just a little bit, although if it clears anything up Olivia reminded me that Robert was recording everything happening that night on his iPod for a potential podcast. As for when this podcast will appear, I have no clue! :[

Christina: Bok choy is SOO GOOD. Especially when DOUSED IN OIILLL, which is the form I've eaten it the most in.

And yeah, pork is always cooked till it's...done? It's not like beef. Tasty...beef...

Conan is awesome.

Olivia: Damn, I almost forgot even though I had taken a photo of his iPod! I added a note to my entry. I wonder when that podcast will go up...

dana / February 9, 2008 8:25 PM

what a wonderful post robyn! This makes me want to visit le gamin next time i visit nyc.

olia / February 9, 2008 9:57 PM

zomg KARAOKE any day! better stocked maybe i can arrange a russian food party, but i'd have to start 2 days in advance lol plus a trip to brighton o_O
and then we can all make foil hats -- err ...well it seems like a funny "another" use of foil idea
but yes we must do this! it would super fun!

Danny / February 10, 2008 2:46 AM

That looks like a mighty tasty meal! That is so cool that he went over to Olivia's to make a meal. Oh and I see that he chopped the bak choy into little pieces... what a smart idea. Somehow that never occurred to me before and I always had problems with it in the pan, but now IT MAKES SENSE! i love pictures of food. mmm... food. crap it's late.

Kathy / February 10, 2008 5:43 PM

Oh man, that was SUCH A GOOD NIGHT...sighs...we need more time (an eighth day for the week) on our we can actually do more cooking. churros on the Olivia's mind forever! Lau Lau in my waiting to happen! :)

roboppy / February 10, 2008 5:53 PM

Dana: I visited Le Gamin recently and it's such a cute place! If only I lived near there. -__-

Olia: BRIGHTON! I WANNA GO! We gotta plan things nooow!...I've been booking my weekends pretty far in advance, haha. Waah. :(

Janet: HAHAHAHA oh Janet. You too are awe to the some.

Danny: Sounds like you need some sleep? ;)

Now you have this awesome power of chopping bok choy into little pieces. USE IT WISELY!

waisze: Hope you pork chops came out well!

Kathy: Churros and Lau Lau? Let's do it.

Morten / February 10, 2008 5:59 PM

I consider it rather likely that he fancies your friend. Doesn't have to be inappropriate, it's just a combination of attraction and niceness. Can't go much wrong with that :p

Julie / February 11, 2008 10:58 AM

Oh my yum--fiber, protein, and chocolate--that's a loverly square meal. I like how one of bok choy mouseovers say "boy choy." Cooking parties rock! You should do it! I hosted a Filipino food party recently, and it was rad fun. And also, I made your breakfast chocolate chip cookies last month, and they were radtastic! I mention them now only because I finally got around to blogging about them. (You know things are looking good when I say "rad" twice in one comment.) Ah, haven't tried the rice milk yet--am already sad that it probably won't taste like horchata. =\

roboppy / February 13, 2008 1:20 AM

Morten: ....SIGH.

Julie: A dumpling making party might be in my future!...far off future. But dumplings are easy to make, at least.

Ooh, I'm lad you made the cookies! I haven't really attempted any other chocolate chip cookie recipe, hehe. RADTASTIC!!!

Christine / February 14, 2008 12:28 AM

I didn't know Dunkin Donuts made such treats! I must try these...

If only famous French cooks came and cooked for all of us poor college students. Life would be so much easier then. And so much more interesting.

Lee Anne / February 14, 2008 9:03 PM

Dude! SO COOL. Why oh WHY don't I live in NYC?

And I'd respectfully disagree with a couple previous commenters. People do sometimes (often, even - in my experience) do nice things without expectation of reciprocation. It helps to be nice first. Makes a lot of sense, though, that it was done with a podcast in view. Bloggers, man. They're a strange species - no telling what they'll do for a good story.

roboppy / February 15, 2008 12:14 AM

Christine: There must be enough chefs to go around!...maybe?... ...

Or maybe I should just move to France.

Lee Anne: Move here after graduation? HMM?!

You are the MAJOR example of doing things without expecting anything in return! ._. [huggle]

joanne / February 15, 2008 4:17 AM


That is awesome, and now I must go to new york before I die.

Yam / February 18, 2008 4:45 AM

ohmygod. That meal looks so yummy. I'm determined to recreate it at home, we have a load of bok choy.

evie / February 18, 2008 8:21 AM

Very cool blog! I'm so jealous that Robert Arbor cooked dinner for you as I adore his book Joie De Vivre. It's become a bible of sorts for me on how to live. I would be very sad if he were scheming to get closer to you all, since I thought he was married with two precious boys! You all are cute as can be so I wouldn't be surprised though!

I just happened upon your blog through someone's link list and I'm really looking forward to wandering around here.

roboppy / February 18, 2008 11:37 PM

Yam: And a mountain of chopped bok choy you shall have. WOO!

Evie: I gotta get his book. I only flipped through Olivia's copy! Looked great though.

I'm glad you stumbled upon my site! Yaay internet.

eatyourheartout / February 20, 2008 10:37 PM

Wow! That's awesomme! It's like... Take Home Chef, but waaaaay cooler without a camera crew following you guys around and fake annoying laughters and smiles! :D

patrick / February 26, 2008 7:11 PM

That is so cool...I've been a big fan of all the Le Gamin restaurants for years and would kill to have him come cook in my small kitchen!

Viagra Online / October 15, 2010 5:25 PM

I think that if I had an important guest in my house my kitchen will be a completely disaster because I have the same problem to Olivia that's why I always order food.

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