Get to Know a Chef: Rob Rossi, Bestellen
Toronto-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
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.
What 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.
What 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.
If 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.
RAPID 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
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