I met Rob Jean sitting at Cobblestones bar in 1994, as he planned to open his 1st restaurant just down the street on Merrimack, and then many more times after his place closed for the night and mine was still open. Then sometimes on his way home from Mistral, or Teatro. Back in the day, Cobblestones bar was always open until 1 a.m., at least. 3 a.m. too. Shh.
Every time he came in, I knew we would have tequila, and talk business. Tequilas then, and the very last time we had drinks together. Always business. What’s working, what’s not, and what we would do together someday. He longed to “come back home and do something.” I once talked him out of a high end steakhouse in Lowell–”not enough money here.” He knew it though. You didn’t talk Rob out of anything.
Many years later, we took a road trip to NYC with Joelle and the kids, where Rob showed ME to “supposed to be the best pizza” in the City. MY home town, and he had the 4-1-1. Brooklyn pizza, on the lower east side. It wasn’t the best pizzeria pizza as much as it was the best, this-is-what-a-great-chef-thinks-great-pizza-is pizza. Charred crust, simple sauce, fresh mozz, hand torn basil… It was pretty amazing, for sure.
“Rest in power” was one of many comments left on Chef Rob Jean’s Facebook page. I guess it makes sense that FB doesn’t offer a “Memorial” tab, but that’s a thing; People writing nice testimonies on the deceased’s page, often as a direct letter of “all the things I should have said when you were alive.”
I’m not really certain what “Rest in power” means or if one can, but if so, it would be Rob Jean. He was powerful in so many ways and surely he had a powerful effect on many.
And, forgive me but, man that guy was stubborn–so strongly convicted to his beliefs and mantra and his craft and his way. Its tough to argue with someone that great at what they do. Rob taught me many things and shared many stories, that I still repeat today. But, we’d argue, he’d staunchly disagree, but he’d smirk, like, maybe I had a point. Often later, he’d say, “I thought about it and you maybe made a good point.”
When Rob did a “gap year” (or three!) between Sorellina and Pig Tale, we finally got to work together after many years of talking about it. He joined moonstones and made some great changes while we too were transitioning. The timing couldn’t have been better for both of us. We talked of expansion and partnership. We talked menus. One night (over tequilas!) after everyone was gone, we sketched a menu on cocktail napkins that would save our buildout tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. No fryers, no stove, no hoods or exhaust or black iron or ansul or sprinklers…a brilliant menu! Amazing cheese and bread and charcuterie, melting cheese, incredible soup, crudo, smoked things from the smoker in the shed out back, sous vide, braises, brined, the “scrambled” duck egg (finished in a microwave) served on brioche toast…we giggled how NO one could know about the microwave. ”This will definitely work. Its genius…pour me another!” one of us said. We had a few other ideas. Always fun conversations…
In the end, we couldn’t get a deal done. For a number of reasons. I highly valued systems and “specs” as the means to scaleability more than he did, he too highly valued his self and being omnipresent in the kitchen and argued (correctly) that recipes couldn’t take the place of being skilled and variable in seeking precision, as necessary. I argued that Danny Myers did it. He argued that Danny Myers isn’t a chef. I told him he was going to die “chained to a stove.” He smirked that fucking smirk. I didn’t mean it that way, Rob. And I wish we had parted ways in a better light. But we both knew….
Rob was an amazing chef.
Maybe my favorite quote of his: ”Its not that hard what I do. My job is to take what God gives us and not fuck it up.” Chef was being uncommonly humble–we all know he did a lot more than that. He was a genius.
Beyond his two beautiful, confident children here, and Joelle, he leaves behind so many. Loving parents, adoring customers, so many friends, too many sous’ and interns and trainees and employees to count, and so much unfilled promise and potential–you were way too young Rob, despite those aching feet and knees!
But dude did exactly what he loved. Every single day. His way, with passion and commitment and tireless, never to be compromised standards.
Chef Rob’s commitment epitomized how greatness happens.
**This was published in Merrimack Valley Magazine a few years back. I was giddy at the thought of what we would accomplish together. Sad.