Moroccan in Milford
Rachida’s offers a new kind of Mediterranean
By Linda A. Odum email@example.com
To serve Moroccan dishes, chef Robert Donovan often gives a little geography lesson to customers who visit Rachida’s Restaurant and Bar in Milford.
A lot of people associate Moroccan cuisine with the Middle East because of its Muslim faith, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s Mediterranean. It uses cumin, garlic, saffron and fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley. It also uses a lot of almonds, since they are one of their cash crops.”
The restaurant is named after Donovan’s wife, Rachida, who is also a co-owner and a native of Morocco. Since the couple met in Boston in 2001, they have visited that country a number of times. He started learning about the cuisine, primarily thanks to his mother in-law’s excellent cooking. During the last couple of trips, he spent time in restaurant kitchens to learn the specifics behind dishes.
Donovan grew up in Townsend, Mass., and was always a food lover, which is surprising because “everybody in my family is just horrible at cooking,” he said. “I felt like I was out on an island when it came to cooking. We would all go to a restaurant and I would order the most expensive item on the menu — usually some exotic seafood dish. Everyone would say, ‘Oh he isn’t going to eat that. He won’t like it.’ I would eat it and enjoy it. Even today, when I go to a restaurant, I still choose the most exotic item on the menu.”
By the time Donovan reached middle school, he knew he wanted to be a chef. He was also a talented athlete and kind of a bully. A teacher took him aside and asked him what he wanted to be in life. When Donovan confessed his desire to be a chef, the teacher got him a job in a restaurant alongside two students from the Culinary Institute of America. He later went on to attend that culinary school.
“If you want to manage a restaurant, go to any culinary school. If you want to be a chef, go to the C.I.A.,” Donovan said.
At the C.I.A., Donovan blossomed as a chef. He even worked with Julia Child and became a big fan of Jasper White long before his Summer Shack restaurants became well known. After graduation, Donovan traveled the country, working in hotels, resorts and restaurant kitchens in places such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. He was working at Skipjacks in Boston when he and Rachida decided to move to New Hampshire.
“I knew the area, wanted to be closer to Townsend and get the kids out of the city,” he said.
Donovan worked at the Hancock Inn and the couple opened a small bakery in Wilton. Still, he wanted to work in his own restaurant and try out his wife’s native food.
“I wanted to test the waters with this cuisine because I liked it,” he said. “I knew how they made it in restaurants in Morocco and how to change it to American tastes.”
Rachida’s opened in July 2007 and serves both Moroccan and American cuisine. For newcomers, Donovan recommends the Moroccan entrée trio, which will give them a good overview of the restaurant’s offerings. Other dishes include tajine, a beef stew-like dish; Moroccan kafeta, a meatball-tomato dish with a strong Italian influence; and a slow-roasted lemon confeit chicken, seasoned with onions, saffron and cured lemon. There are also favorite American offerings, including New England pot roast, grilled pork loin, baked haddock, and grilled rib eye steak.
Customers choose evenly between the two food types, with the Moroccan leading slightly.
“When people come in, we usually see them back again within two weeks,” Donovan said.