Canadian Chefs in Conversation: Chef Robert Rubino, Toronto ON

by Krlmagi

Chef Robert Rubino adds his own personal touches to classic Italian dishes at the Cellar Door in Toronto, Ontario.

A combination of unique ideas, respect for classic dishes and a love of high quality ingredients come together in Chef Robert Rubino's food. He says that he wants to create approachable food that is still of high quality in a family-style atmosphere that retains it's professionalism. For him, good Italian food is created when traditions are respected but an effort is made to put his own personal stamp on the food.

Chef Robert Rubino making bread
Chef Robert Rubino making bread

Rubino says that he's been passionate about cooking since he was young, but he didn't consider being a chef until he was older thanks to a cousin of his who'd gone into the culinary world before him. He says that he took "a longer road" into the profession and took an undergraduate degree in languages at Wilfrid Laurier University with a view to being able to travel and cook in Europe and South America. He also studied business to help him with his future restaurant endeavours.

After working in a restaurant kitchen for a while, the chef there advised Rubino to attend the Culinary Institute of America as it was the best culinary school at the time. He says that it was a good starting point as he learned classical French cooking techniques there.

Rubino admits that, at the time, he had very little knowledge of the culinary world in terms of famous chefs and restaurants. He laughs and says, "I'd barely even heard about Mario Batali at that point and he was probably around for ten years in the industry!" This didn't stop Rubino from heading to Italy to cook at a two-star Michelin restaurant on his cousin's advice. He points out, "Everything just steamrolled from my experience in Italy. It opened a lot of doors and allowed me to work in top restaurants in Argentina, in Paris at Joel Robuchon and at Daniel Boulud's restaurant in Vancouver."

Striped Bass Crudo, Citrus, Chives, Oilve Oil. chilies.
Striped Bass Crudo, Citrus, Chives, Oilve Oil. chilies.

 Much of Rubino's cuisine is driven by his usage of farmer's markets and local butcher shops and fishmongers to get his ingredients.  He says, "I pick everything up daily. It just depends on what I need and where I am in the city. Sometimes its a quick stop at a farmer's market on my days off, sometimes I go down to the Food Terminal."

He explains that he's using the same small butcher shop that his parents and his grandparents used. It is now being run by a younger generation of the same family that owned it in the past. The fishmonger he uses is another small business and Rubino says, "I get my fish from a similar little spot where I can talk to them every day and see what's fresh, what's from Canada or if I should buy something from Spain or further away." He says that the most important consideration is how sustainably the fish has been caught.

Another piece of the puzzle is Rubino's focus on canning produce and creating, "conserves, preserves and sauces."

 When it comes to how Rubino is thinking about cooking right now, he says that he wants to have Michelin-star quality food that has been made approachable for his guests. He explains that he wants to simplify the food while still creating stocks and sauces in a labour-intensive way. Rubino adds that creating a comfortable environment is key to him and says, "We want to have everyone on a first name basis here. It really is like the people I have working for me here are my family and the people coming to eat here every day are our friends."

Creating new dishes is a process of being inspired by classic Italian recipes that are modernized, updated and have a unique twist to them.  He uses the example of the classic Italian seafood pasta called linguine frutti di mare.

Traditionally the dish is made simply by tossing fresh shellfish with pasta, but Rubino added some of his own touches to it. He points out, "We hand cut the pasta for it thickly. We've taken out some of the semolina flour and added a buckwheat flour because I know the earthier flavour will go well with seafood. I make a stock from all of the lobster shells and shrimp shells we have around." He explains that his pastas are stock-based rather than using a lot of oil and butter.


Wood Roasted Gnocchi, Braised Lamb, Fava Beans
Wood Roasted Gnocchi, Braised Lamb, Fava Beans

When it comes to the traits that Rubino hopes to exhibit as a chef, he says that he hopes he's a leader, not just with his kitchen team but also with his front of house staff. He says that he wants to make sure they pay attention to detail to every part of the experience from the décor to the service.

He says that when he's working with his kitchen team, he asks himself, "Am I teaching the students that are coming here something new?" and adds that he wants to try and take the time to teach them something new or help them perfect a technique every day.

The chef talks about some of his sources of inspiration and motivation. These include other chefs who are doing similar things with food, the wood burning oven he uses at the restaurant, chefs who also make pasta by hand and use different flours as well as farmer's markets and the change in the seasons.

Ortolana Pizza with eggplant, zucchini, red onion, red pepper, cherry tomato.
Ortolana Pizza with eggplant, zucchini, red onion, red pepper, cherry tomato.
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Updated: 01/22/2015, Krlmagi
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sandyspider on 08/14/2014

Nice conversation with Robert Rubino. The food looks good.

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