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Seared sea scallops with caramelized butternut squash, quinoa, and arugula Â… grilled quail with heirloom tomato and cucumber salad Â… sauteed calves liver with slab bacon, caramelized onions, haricot vert, mashed potatoes, and bordelaise sauce. Within the lemon-colored walls of Duckworth’s Bistrot, it’s not unusual to have all three if it suits your fancy. “This is how I like to eat,” says Ken Duckworth, chef and owner of the French-American bistro in Gloucester, who prefers to order a few small plates rather than a full entree when he dines out. “This way, you don’t spend too much and you get to try a lot.” In today’s tough economy, the restaurant business is a difficult one to maintain with success, but according to Duckworth, the former executive chef of Boston’s famous Maison Robert which closed its doors in 2004, falling stock prices and a national mortgage crisis, among other issues, have yet to deter customers from walking in his front door. In fact, business in this small hideaway at 197 East Main Street has been booming. “I’ve been fortunate,” Duckworth says of his success. The benefit of having the name Maison Robert under his belt has more than paid off. Once the word was out about his new location in Gloucester, former Maison Robert patrons would travel from Boston and all over the North Shore because they heard the chef at Maison Robert opened a restaurant. “The Maison Robert name got the patrons in, but it is my job to make sure they come back,” says Duckworth. Duckworth’s Bistrot is a home away from home not only for its patrons but also its employees. Cathy Crawford, one of two managers, has garnered 12 years of experience in the former restaurants run in that same location. She says she was ready to retire before Duckworth came along but once he shared with her his vision of the bistro, she couldn’t refuse his offer to stay on as day manager. “It was the best thing I ever did,” she says of agreeing to work with Duckworth and his wife, Nicole. “They’re amazing people and both are talented, great friends. They’d do anything for you.” The modest space that seats 13 tables and 36 mission-style seats will never expand, as long as Duckworth is owner. Unlike many restaurant owners, he has had smooth sailing in this venture, and says he doesn’t want to “mess with his karma.” Although his good looks, charm, and artful presentations of French-American recipes could have landed him a role on the Food Network, Duckworth, at age 36, is happy in the home life he’s built in this fishing town. It’s not his style to climb the celebrity ladder. In fact, he divides most of his time between the kitchen and his family. After dropping off his son at preschool, Duckworth usually heads home to his Gloucester apartment in a building that connects to the bistro. He’s modest, even shy, but once he gets comfortable, conversation flows. In his element, he shares his past influences, present contentment, and possibilities of his future as one of the best-known chefs on the North Shore. Raised in Chicago by his Cuban mother and English father, along with his grandparents and great-grandmother, he says cooking simply and cost-effectively was an everyday event. “They were always cooking classic Cuban dishes, such as Picadillo [a type of beef hash] made with olives, tomatoes and rice, and Ropa Vieja, a shredded braised beef, like pulled pork, or Bakala, a salted cod.” -Charlene Peters