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Get to Know a Chef: Rob Rossi, Bestellen

Posted by Natalie Chu / October 22, 2012

Chef Rob Rossi BestellenToronto-raised chef Rob Rossi isn't settling for anything less than perfection at his first restaurant, Bestellen. Growing up in a culinary family, Rossi is all about creating a memorable dining experience for his guests, from communal dinners to off-the-menu items. He shares his motto for running a kitchen, his vision for the restaurant, and how he deals with diners who want to skip his meat-heavy menu.

Did you always want to be a chef?

Absolutely. My uncle used to own a restaurant, so I always saw him in the kitchen and I was always cooking with my mom and it was always something I wanted to do.

What was your first restaurant job?

I think my very first restaurant job was a dishwasher at Pizza Hut, and I was 15 or 16
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What chef or restaurant job did you learn the most from? What was the most important lesson?

I think the most important restaurant I worked at was the Chef's Table at the Kensington Riverside Inn in Calgary. I just learned about not settling for anything. It's very important to just make the right decisions and not put food on plates that you're not happy with, regardless of the situation.

Chef Rob RossiWhat are your memories of eating in the city growing up? Did you eat out a lot? What was your favourite restaurant growing up?

I ate at my uncle's restaurant, Cafe Brussels on the Danforth. My mom used to bring me down there on Sunday and we would just have brunch. It was probably my favourite restaurant growing up for sure, because I was a little kid, so anything I saw there I thought was amazing. I grew up in a family where we cooked a lot; we didn't eat fast food, take out, we were always making dinner, always hanging around the kitchen, so for us, eating out was more about being with people than finding a good restaurant.

How did your experience on Top Chef Canada impact your career?

I think it changed my career in a positive way, although I don't really like that people only think about me doing Top Chef. But I know that's the nature of it. It did help me out — I have my own restaurant right now, and it kind of got me here, and made me realize that I could do things myself. It kind of pushed me in the direction of operating a restaurant, and to know that I had the capacity to do so.

I would recommend it to other chefs, but I think it's very important that if a chef wants to go on it, that he can't be too cocky. You just have to be yourself and not worry about other people. And if you're doing it, don't do it just for money. If you want to cook and just experience cooking with other people who you've never cooked with before, I think that's the right approach to do it. And that's kind of why I did it.

Chef Rob RossiWhat dish do you take the most pride in at the restaurant?

Our menu is evolving all the time, so there's not one singular thing. I think it's more of the concept of what we do that excites me the most. We make everything in-house, and a lot of restaurants do that as well, or they claim to do it, but I think we really take it to the max. I can't really think of anything that we don't make; I hardly buy any dried goods or anything in cans. All the condiments I make myself, all the breads, the charcuterie, the butchering, pickles ... you name it, I make it.

How do you properly cook a steak?

I think all cuts of meat cook differently. I prefer to sous-vide it, and then get a nice good sear and baste it with some butter, herbs and garlic. But I the biggest thing is just seasoning the steak properly and allowing it to rest for an ample amount of time, or else anything that you make isn't going to taste very good.

To what degree should restaurants like yours try to accommodate vegetarian diners?

A lot of people come to the restaurant and they feel like we don't have any vegetarian options, but we do. I always tend to have two items on the menu, but the way I accommodate vegetarians is by going above and beyond. I want them to tell me that they're vegetarian, and this way I can make a menu for them. I don't expect them to pick things off the menu. I always have a house pasta, breads, everything in the house, so I kind of want to treat them, and I don't want them to feel as if they need to choose something and alter it.

But I want them to tell me so I can personally make them something. They're paying the same price as everyone else, so they should get something of quality and something that they can understand and relate to.

Rob Rossi ChefIf you could spend a day doing whatever you wanted, what would it look like?

I would probably go fly fishing. I love being out, walking around the markets, visiting family, researching food. I'm always visiting farms and I'm always up to doing that. My grandparents own a farm and my girlfriend's grandparents own a garlic farm, so I'm always out picking stuff or talking about stuff or foraging. Those are the things that I really like because they're almost one in the same as cooking.

What's next for you and the restaurant?

I think the biggest thing for me is trying to find new and creative dining experiences. I want something more than just coming in and ordering something off the menu. I like to do things that sort of drive people to come. I do oysters during the week now, and that's just a small thing, but I think that people need reasons to come to a restaurant. I want it to a be a more well-rounded experience for people.

Rob Rossi ChefRAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Most underrated ingredient? Rutabaga

Best culinary tool? Microplane

A chef that inspires you? Daniel Boulud

One dish you can't live without? Soon tofu at Tofu Village

Favourite Toronto restaurant? Terroni, Barque, Black Hoof.

What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? Nothing

One food trend that needs to end? I don't pay attention to trends!

Photos by Jesse Milns

Discussion

9 Comments

Sonny / October 22, 2012 at 01:08 pm
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I've eaten at Bestellen twice now and I feel compelled to comment on this article. Bestellen is hands down my favorite restaurant in the entire city. From quality product to service to atmosphere, it's always what I'm looking for.
Bittles / October 22, 2012 at 02:39 pm
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Not as nice of a guy as he may come off in this piece. My buddy worked in his kitchen for 6 months, got canned after he came in 3 hours late because he was hit by a car while cycling to work. True story. Internet is a bitch like that eh Rob?
Ha Ha replying to a comment from Bittles / October 22, 2012 at 03:23 pm
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Burn
Rob (not Rossi) / October 22, 2012 at 03:33 pm
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Many unanswered questions before I pronounce the other Rob as a dick. Staff getting fired for being late is very common in the industry.

Did your friend call to say he was going to be late? Or did he show up three hours later and say that he was hit by a car?

Sounds insensitive, but people have businesses to run, whether people get hit by cars or not.


lisa replying to a comment from Rob (not Rossi) / October 22, 2012 at 04:31 pm
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Yeah, but how firing this guy help the business? It won't keep the guy from being hit by a car again, and it won't keep other employees from getting hit by cars. True, communication is key, and if the employer isn't notified of an accident, this can be an issue. Still, accidents cannot be avoided and if the guy is otherwise on time, trustworthy, etc. – not a nice move.
Chris replying to a comment from lisa / October 22, 2012 at 05:48 pm
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And of course it appears there's an assumption that the guy was telling the truth in the first place. How do we know the story isn't bullsh*t, and that the employee was a slacker all along and that this was just the last straw? I'm not suggesting any of this is true, but absent being one of the parties involved (having been there), how do you know what the truth is?

Best not to draw conclusions on the chef's character based on a random incident that may or may not have happened, without being privy to the facts, don't you think?
Monika / October 22, 2012 at 05:58 pm
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I love Bestellen! I have eaten here a few times and the burger is the best. I have had the suckling pig too, soooo good! Both times Rob has come over to see how our food was. Great service.
L / October 23, 2012 at 10:32 am
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Almost every comment I read on the website are negative.
Who cares if he fired a staff member, it happens all the time in this business, suck it up. We only know one side story anyway. Im sure your buddy had a mobile phone, and easily could have called and notified him. Face the truth, Im sure there were many other reasons to fire your buddy.

Bestellen has the best food in this city hands down. Everytime I visit its bang on.
Service is amazing too. Their burger is a most have.
cook / December 29, 2013 at 08:01 pm
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In this industry [life of a cook] there is only one reason you can't pick up the phone to notify your chef you going to be late is when your DEAD.

new generations of cooks doesn't know they have it good. i remember my first job as a cook. if the schedule said you start at 8 am that means your ass better be there at 7:30.

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