Chef Rob was born loving food. A first generation Canadian, born to Italian parents, his first memories are from his grandmother’s garden and kitchen, where he soon learned that food was what fascinated him most, whether it was rolling out gnocchi or watching cooking shows. One of three siblings and growing up in the care of a working single mother, he was soon fending for himself at lunchtime, putting his kitchen skills through their first tests.
When challenged by his mother at age 12 to choose a job that he could love forever, Chef Rob inherently knew it would need to revolve around food. At 13 he began work at a diner in his hometown of Brampton, where he quickly graduated from washing dishes to prep in the kitchen. By 15 he had moved on, working at a series of Italian restaurants five nights a week, carefully balancing his evening job and school.
After graduating high school, he moved to Toronto and simultaneously entered George Brown’s Culinary School and the kitchen at Yonge and Eglinton’s Grazie in 1998. After rapidly rising through the ranks, he was given an opportunity to meet the chef of North 44 who offered him a chance for a trial shift in his first professional kitchen. That trial-by-fire first shift resulted in a job that would last for ten years under the tutelage of some of the best in the industry. Following a move to the role of Sous Chef at Mark McEwan’s One in the Hazelton Hotel, his self-professed eagerness, perfectionism and energy lead to a re-evaluation of his goals and a recognition that he was ready to run his own kitchen.
A colleague introduced Chef Rob to Peter Tsebelis and Gus Giazitzidis of King Street Food Company in the early days of their vision for Buca. Immediately on entering the space that the restaurant now calls home he knew that it was something special and the perfect place for the concept he wanted to help create. Buca opened in September of 2009, quickly becoming one of Toronto’s top dining destinations.
Before Buca opened, Chef Rob took the first of many life-changing trips to Italy, eating and exploring the country and gathering inspiration in each stop. Since then, his continued pilgrimages to Italy have helped him source the best quality ingredients that set Buca apart, allowed him to work with some of Italian cuisine’s leading experts to hone his craft, and fuelled inspiration from the traditions of his family’s homeland. Chef Rob’s dedication to sourcing has also strengthened the local farming industry in Canada by developing a demand for hard-to-find ingredients that can now be seen on menus throughout the region.
His innovative, visionary approach to food is widely celebrated by critics, patrons and other culinary icons such as Alain Ducasse, Massimo Bottura, and Mario Battali. Notably, Toronto Life named Buca Osteria & Bar (Yorkville) Toronto’s best new restaurant of 2015, and Chef Rob was honoured by the Ontario Hostelry Institute with 2015’s Gold Award for Independent Restaurateur. After success as Executive Chef at Buca (King Street), Bar Buca and Buca Osteria & Bar (Yorkville), Chef Rob still feels the passion for food he has had since childhood. This, coupled with a determined, detail-oriented and thoughtful approach to his craft, ensure there is much more to come in Chef Rob Gentile’s story.