Catching up with Chef Rob Gentile, TL Insider’s Chef-In-Residence for September
Including what’s on the menu for this month’s virtual Serving Knowledge Supper Club
Since its launch in 2009, Buca has grown into one of the city’s most beloved restaurants. With over four locations in Toronto and one more on the way – Executive Chef, Rob Gentile has earned critical acclaim for his visionary approach to Italian cuisine. This month, in partnership with TL Insider, Chef Rob Gentile will be bringing a taste of Buca to dinner plates across the city in part of the virtual Serving Knowledge Supper Club on September 23. We caught up with Rob to learn more about what’s on the menu, next steps for Buca, and some of his favourite seasonal ingredients.
How has Buca been adjusting to the city’s reopening?
When phase 3 was announced we knew we weren’t going to be one of the first restaurants reopening and instead are taking a phased approach to reopening our venues. We haven’t opened just yet but are planning to very soon. The most important thing to us is the safety of our staff and guests and we really want to perfect our service, offerings and protocols before we open our doors. There are elements within our style of hospitality that we will need to modify/adapt to the present guidelines. The most important thing for us right now is to maintain the integrity of what we do, ensure our guests and staff are comfortable and also provide a hospitality experience representative of Buca.
What would you say has prepared you most for navigating the culinary world during a pandemic?
I mean, I don’t know if there is anything that could have fully prepared me for something like this, there wasn’t a how-to guide on what to do or expect. That said, I think the dynamics and experience of working in restaurants and kitchens did help a lot. You have to be ready for anything, think on your feet, improvise quickly and instinctively because no service is the same. Essentially, having a career in the culinary world did give me the tools to make decisions, act quickly and pivot creatively. I was also inspired and super impressed with what other fellow chefs and Toronto restaurants were doing. I think the hospitality industry did such an amazing job under really tough circumstances. Toronto Chefs and restaurants have always been supportive and inspired by one another and it was no different this time around.
You’ll be hosting a cooking class in part of the Serving Knowledge Supper Club on September 23 – can you share with us what you have planned?
We’ll be cooking Pizza Burrata which is one of our most popular pizzas in the restaurant and one of the most popular meal kits on our takeout/delivery menu. Guests will receive fresh dough made in our kitchens, tomato passata, fresh basil and burrata cheese. This is one of my favourite dishes to demo because it’s so fun to make and I’m really looking forward to it.
How do you approach meal kits and food delivery in a way that ensures Buca’s quality and authenticity?
Our goal has always been to provide a food and hospitality experience that excites people which was also our approach to meal kits and food delivery. It’s about the ingredients- we never compromise on using the best possible ingredients in each dish we serve, including our meal kits. For ready-made delivery food, we chose Buca menu items that were guest favourites but only those that maintained their quality throughout the pickup/delivery process. For the kits, it was our way of extending hospitality into people’s homes. We prep the ingredients using our techniques at the restaurants and our guests create a Buca dish at home with our instructions. It’s a different form of hospitality – a shared excitement and collaborative experience. Watching our guests make their cook at home kits has been such a joy for us, they’ve all been amazing sous chefs!
As this month’s curator, what can members look forward to in TL Insider Chef’s Pantry?
My favourite fresh September seasonal ingredients, how I like to use them and what I love to cook this time of year. I’ve also included a pizza recipe to cook from scratch, we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our dough recipe and it’s all in there!
Growing up in an Italian family myself, I understand this can be a difficult decision to make – but what is one dish you could not live without and why?
Hands down pasta pomodoro. There’s nothing like the combination of quality tomatoes, fresh pasta and olive oil. Simple ingredients beautifully put together for a perfect dish that I can never live without. For my entire life it’s been my go-to dish and I don’t see that ever changing.
With now four incredibly successful locations across the city, what will Cucina Buca bring Toronto that we haven’t seen before?
The concept of Cucina in some ways inspired our Buca at Home kits – Buca dishes but with the feeling of being at home, in the kitchen sharing a meal with family and friends. The menu will be a bit of a revival of the recipes I grew up with, a lot of them the foundation of Italian cuisine. Simple food but with detailed, thoughtful and elevated execution. There will be fun table-side service techniques and some of the dishes will even be served right out of the oven in the same vessel they’re cooked in, just like at Nonna’s house but with an added Buca hospitality experience.