Food & Drink

Inside the kitchen of Roberto Marotta, the chef at Ardo and Dova

Stocked with personalized olive oil, a hidden wine collection and a mountain of parmigiano

By Erin Hershberg| Photography by Nicole and Bagol
Inside the kitchen of Roberto Marotta, the chef at Ardo and Dova

Roberto Marotta, the chef at Dova, Ardo and Bar Ardo, has been cooking since he was 13 years old. “I was born in a small town in Sicily where cooking was the kind of job you got as a kid,” he says. “But I happened to fall in love with it.” After college, he worked in kitchens across Europe before moving back to his home village of Milazzo to open a Sicilian restaurant called Mood in 2005. It was the literal talk of the town, which is how it caught the attention of his now-wife—and the co-owner of all three of his restaurants—Jacqueline Nicosia. “Mood was the place to go,” she says. “When I travelled from Toronto to visit my family in Milazzo, I had to visit.”

The couple’s first date was just as local—at a bar across the street from the church where Nicosia’s grandparents first met. Soon, Nicosia was helping Marotta run Mood. Then, after eight years, they moved to Toronto for good. “I had to start from scratch,” says Marotta. “I worked at Terroni for three years. I learned a lot, but the biggest lesson was that I wanted to do my own thing.”

The family's pristine white kitchen

So, in May of 2016, Marotta and Nicosia opened their first restaurant, Ardo, on King Street East. “We didn’t want to open just another Italian restaurant. We wanted to do something different, so we focused on Sicilian cuisine,” says Marotta. “We were very fastidious in our approach. We built relationships with the right producers, like Osler Fish Market, and brought in ingredients—like olive oil, tomatoes and dried fennel—directly from the region.”

Since then, they’ve opened Dova, another Sicilian spot, and earlier this year, Bar Ardo, where the cuisine reflects their love of travel. “Bar Ardo is our travelogue,” says Marotta. “The idea is that it feels like eating everywhere from New York to Cascais. We want people to walk in and feel like they’ve been transported somewhere.”

A look inside the family's fridge

At home, Marotta organizes their fridge every Sunday before dinner. “When we can’t use the outdoor grill, we’ll cook steak with two bricks and a tray in our fireplace” he says. They get their cuts from either the Butcher Shoppe or Woodward Meats, and for sides they’ll have dishes like fennel salad or grilled radicchio.

Roberto cooking in his indoor fireplace

Another household staple is high-quality cheese from St. Lawrence Market. The family goes through at least a kilogram of parmigiano-reggiano every couple of weeks.

Some of the family's hard cheese

The kids, 11-year-old Leonardo and six-year-old Vivienne, enjoy snacking on said cheese, but they’ll also make more elaborate nibbles, like yogurt parfaits and sometimes their own fresh pasta. Still, Nicosia says they only have free rein when it comes to veggies and fruit. “They are allowed to snack on the fresh produce whenever they want. Everything else—like the bars of Bonajuto chocolate or the pistachio crema we import from Sicily—are not up for grabs. They need permission for those.”

One of the kids holding a bowl of fruit
Some of the family's fresh tomatoes and avocados

Olives are another go-to snack. “The kids will munch on them, plus we use them for cooking,” says Marotta. “Once a week, we bake fish with olives, capers, olive oil and tomatoes in a foil packet. It’s simple and delicious.”

A variety of ingredients that the family uses often
A plastic container full of olive oil

Speaking of olive oil, this jar was made specifically for Marotta by Magnus Siculus in Sicily. He curated the olives to best represent the flavours of the region.

The chef's specially made olive oil

The beautiful selection of cheese, meat and dried fish roe stored in the fridge are used for sandwiches, charcuterie boards and umami-rich spaghetti aglio e olio. “We keep ingredients like Sicilian imported tuna bottarga, cheese—including hard blues and my favourite gruyère, Le Maréchal—and meat so we can whip something together on the fly,” says Marotta. “We aren’t planners, but if we have quality ingredients on hand, a beautiful meal is simple to execute.”

The chef holding a plate of uncooked steaks
A boiling pot of pasta

The pantry is stocked with Sicilian lentils, dried porcini, sweet paprika, hand-picked imported capers, arborio rice, medium-grained Carnarolli rice and bottles of crushed tomatoes. “I make lentils once a week, in a stew or in a pasta. Risotto is also a go-to meal, and the Sicilian in me loves seafood, so I make a lot of paellas,” says Marotta.

The family's pantry
A large pan

Nicosia freezes ice pucks to shave for the kids in summer. They add it to their bowls of fresh fruit.

A look inside the couple's freezer

Marotta mostly cooks off the cuff, but he’ll turn to his cookbook collection for inspiration. “I’m fascinated with old-school fancy French cuisine, so I often read The Ritz London. And Italian artist Renato Guttuso’s illustrations in Italian Food by Elizabeth David are amazing.”

Some of Roberto's cookbook collection

No Italian home is complete without a couple bottles of vino, so Marotta and Nicosia stock a variety of barolos, nebbiolos and chablis. Their enviable wine collection is hidden beneath their basement stairwell.

The couple's hidden wine cellar

“We have bottles from the years our kids were born as well as bottles that we’ve brought back from our travels. I wrap those ones with foil so we remember not to open them,” says Marotta. “We have everyday bottles too, but we drink the special ones to celebrate the good days and, of course, forget about the bad ones.”

One of the couple's bottles of red wine


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