Get to Know a Chef: Rosa Marinuzzi, 7 Numbers
Spend a few moments with Rosa Marinuzzi and it's easy to see this woman was born to cook. The Southern Italian chef practically lives in the small kitchen quarters of her Eglinton Avenue restaurant, 7 Numbers. Marinuzzi exudes the warmth and passion for food you'd expect any nonna would have: her red sauce is homey, her pasta perfectly al dente, and her freewheeling hand is always ready to add a little more "love" to the pan.
I caught up with Marinuzzi at her restuarant after one of her weekly cooking classes. It was a boisterous night, complete with too much food and tons of limoncello - and that's the way the queen of this kitchen likes it. Marinuzzi is not shy to say she needs complete control over every dish, why every ingredient she uses must be fresh, and why she's waiting for other chefs in the city to do Italian her way.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
It's all from the ground. We plant vegetables, like rapini, and we cook it. We make our own olive oil as well. Everything we eat is fresh; we didn't have fridges, we'd pick it up, clean it, cook it, and eat it. That's the way we've always done it and we've created really good food. I cook the food that I like to eat, and the customers like it too.
What would you consider the staple ingredients you use?
Lots of vegetables. Rapini, swiss chard, chicory. My mom and I would always make homemade pasta: orrechiette and fettucine. We'd always make it fresh.
What's your favourite dish to make?
Linguine with anchovies and cherry tomatoes. My mom, sister and I would always make that dish. Sometimes we'd make it with fettucine, and we'd never be sick of it.
What was the first pasta you learned to make?
Cavatelli by hand. My mom would always make the dough and teach us how to roll it with our fingers. We'd do that three or four times a week in Italy.
Do you eat at other Italian restaurants in Toronto?
If they're going to charge so much, they should use good ingredients. Use good food or make it the right way. I don't find chefs cook [Italian] food the right way. They use a lot of canned ingredients. It's hard to find really good food out there. Do it the way we'd do it in Italy; we buy a lot of fresh tomatoes, onions. People know what's good.
Is there anything you won't cook with?
I never use butter or cream in my dishes, just olive oil. Sometimes people ask me for it, but I say no.
I overheard your son say that you would rather be working at the restaurant than lounging on the beach.
When the customers look like they're enjoying the food, I feel so good. Every cooking class we do, everybody seems so happy. They send me emails and it makes me happy. I'll never stop what I do, and I don't care if I work six or seven days a week.
Aside from Italian food, what do you like to eat?
I like Chinese and Thai. I'll try all kinds of food, and I'm not picky. I recently had Korean food and I really liked it.
You have two restaurants now (the other one is on the Danforth). Any plans for a third?
I told a friend of mine that if you open a restaurant, you should have 20 seats and make sure the food is excellent. I like quality, not quantity. People ask me why I won't open another restaurant and I believe that the more restaurants you open, the more the quality will decrease. I can't have my hand it all of the food; if I'm there, yes, if there's someone else, the food will change. I love to be in the kitchen all the time.
Would you consider yourself a bit of a control freak?
I want to make sure the quality is good and the people will come back. That's all I want.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? Fresh tomatoes.
Best culinary tool? Hand.
A chef that inspires you? Myself.
One dish you can't live without? Osso Buco.
Favourite Toronto restaurant? I mostly cook at home.
What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? Nothing. Everything is fresh.
What's one food trend that needs to end? Fast food.
For more chef profiles, visit our Toronto Chefs Pinterest board.
Photos by Morris Lum