Chef Tiago Araujo may have learned to cook in the kitchens of Brazil, but his skills aren't limited by arbitrary barriers like international borders.
Throughout his career Araujo has enjoyed challenging himself and expanding his versatility, which is why he was delighted when he was asked by French master chef Jacky Robert to head the kitchen in the Needham location of his popular Petit Robert Bistro chain, even though Araujo had little experience with French cooking at the time.
"A lot of chefs learn their cooking style in schools, but I learn in the kitchen, and I learn from other chefs and their food," he said in a softly lit corner of the small bistro, during a brief lull in the night's steadily arriving string of guests. "French, American, Japanese, sometimes you learn better by trying new foods, eating in new places and then adding your own take on the recipes."
With only a few months of French cooking under his belt, Araujo has adapted well to the cuisines' many subtleties and is already creating his own take on popular French dishes. He showcases his creation nightly, in Bistro specials like soft shell crab with tempura onions rings and corn salsa or trout with grilled zucchini and a smoked tomato butter sauce.
Starting next week Petit Robert Bistro will feature new summer dishes comprised almost entirely of local and organic ingredients. Fresh, leafy salads will dominate the new menu— made from locally grown greens and New England caught seafood like trout, sole, salmon and scallops— accented by a light bacon vinaigrette or balsamic reduction and topped with a crumbled goat cheese.
The summery fare may be in tune with the green movement and the growing organic food craze, but Araujo says trends notwithstanding, local and organic foods are usually fresher which almost always makes for better tasting dishes.
"As a chef I have to do what the people want, because I am working for an audience," he said. "But when people really care about local ingredients it means I get to cook with fresher foods. As a chef I always say 'fresher is better.'"