Q: I was wondering if you know if anyone ever got the recipe for Robert's of Charleston's "Robert's Original Seasoning Spice?"
A: No such recipe appears in our archives, so I put the question to Robert Dickson directly.
But first, to bring new residents up to speed, Dickson — a trained opera singer and chef who used to pal around with Julia Child — ran Robert’s from 1976-2010.
At that point, his daughter, MariElena Raya, transformed the restaurant’s final location on East Bay Street into The Gin Joint. But over its many years in business, Robert’s hosted countless Charlestonians and visiting celebrities, all of whom eagerly awaited Dickson stepping into the dining room to belt out an aria.
(Paul Newman wasn’t among the stars who dined at Robert’s. Dickson in 2016 told The Daily Meal the restaurant was full when Newman called about a table, so he and his guest went to Poogan’s Porch instead).
Dickson explained the spice mix went through various iterations, but the one everybody loved was produced in a commercial facility, according to his specifications. He ended that partnership when he closed the restaurant, since he wasn’t sure he could sell enough of the spice without a place to promote it.
Yet people kept clamoring for the blend. Dickson wasn’t able to source the wholesale ingredients that the spice company used, nor did he have access to their high-volume equipment, but he wanted to keep his former customers happy.
“I returned to the original recipe and mixed it at home,” Dickson says. “To my surprise, after several complaints of how it was ‘not the same,’ I gave up.”
In other words, there is no way to precisely reproduce the flavor of the seasoning mix you remember.
“You can please some of the people some of the time but not all the people all of the time,” he concludes. “The latter rang true on this one.”