Redefining the Italian Culinary Scene in Canada
Chef Rob Gentile, the now-famous face behind the Buca family of restaurants, has a lot to celebrate this year. A new location, Cucina Buca, is opening this fall, a decade since his flagship restaurant, Buca Osteria & Enoteca, opened in Toronto’s trendy King West neighborhood. Known for his locally sourced, artisanal fare, and his constantly evolving menus, Gentile’s passion for cuisine was born from humble beginnings.
“Canada is an amazing country to be a chef. I have such respect for the ingredients that are grown here, the places they are found, and the people producing them”
– Rob Gentile
“It all started with my grandmother. After school, I used to love helping her in the garden and in the kitchen with my mom and my aunts,” he says. These early experiences combining family and food sparked his passion, and by age 13, he was working in kitchens, washing dishes, eventually graduating to prep work. He attended the esteemed culinary school at George Brown College in Toronto before being mentored by Chef Mark McEwan.
“Very early on in my career, he taught me the value of professionalism, attention to detail, determination, and how to lead a team. This laid the foundation for me at Buca,” says Gentile. “From there, I went on to learn specific skills and techniques throughout Italy.”
In 2014, two Buca extensions joined the flagship restaurant: Bar Buca is a casual, inclusive neighborhood bar and café. Here, small, shareable plates and a finely curated beverage menu can be enjoyed on the restaurant’s airy patio or in its sophisticated dining room with a view of the energetic open kitchen. Later that year, Buca Osteria & Bar opened its doors. A sunny, warm spot in Toronto’s sophisticated Yorkville area, it’s inspired by cuisine found in coastal Italy. The seafood-focused menu is rooted in Italian tradition, featuring a broad selection of impeccably prepared items, including house-made salumi di mare. In 2018, a second Bar Buca location opened in mid-town Toronto. Open at 7:00 a.m. on weekdays, it provides an all-day menu, including take-out coffee and house-made pastries, to the bustling community of Yonge and Eglington, before becoming a hot spot for the after-work crowd.
For Gentile and the team at Buca, there’s great excitement in reaching new communities and sharing Buca’s food philosophy of offering authentic, genuine, and memorable food experiences that bring people together. “I’m grateful every day to be able to do what I do and share it with our communities,” says Gentile, who feels pride watching his team of chefs grow and mature with each new restaurant. “Every chef de cuisine at each Buca location moved up the ranks to lead their kitchen,” he says. “That’s the biggest career highlight for me.”
Among Gentile’s other career highlights are the many accolades Buca has achieved. Buca Osteria & Enoteca and Buca Osteria & Bar have both been named on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list every year between 2015 and 2019, and were listed among Toronto Life’s best Toronto restaurants in 2018. In 2015, Buca Osteria & Bar was named Canada’s Best New Restaurant on the Canada’s 100 Best list, among others.
When Cucina Buca opens, located in the Yonge and St. Clair neighborhood, the new concept eatery will embrace the idea and importance of home cooking and gathering with friends and family. The menu is Italian-inspired, simple, and timeless, with dishes served family-style to give guests the same welcoming and comfortable feeling they have when they’re eating at home. The simplicity and integrity of his dishes, and a respect for the ingredients he uses, is central to Gentile’s vision.
“Canada is an amazing country to be a chef. I have such respect for the ingredients that are grown here, the places they are found, and the people producing them,” he says. “There are so many incredible Canadian farmers and fishermen who deeply care for and are connected to the environment. There’s tremendous effort to ensure that they are farming responsibly and providing ethically raised, sustainable products for Canadians. We live in a place with such a diverse range of climate, landscape and environment giving us access to these amazing, unique ingredients that are popping up on menus across the country and I think the connection between local producers, suppliers, farmers, and restaurants has evolved so much over the years and is now stronger than ever.”
Gentile knows that diners are interested in where their food comes from, and this, he says, strengthens and informs Canada’s culinary landscape as a whole. Building relationships with farmers and growers, learning about their products and their provenance, is important and exciting, he says.
“From a chef’s perspective, I love seeing what other chefs are doing, what ingredients they’re using and what they’re putting on their menus. It’s inspiring and exciting,” he says. “Canada is a big country but there is a sense of community amongst Canadian chefs and we’re always learning from each other, supporting each other, and sharing ideas from wherever part of the country we’re from. This continues to keep the Canadian food scene dynamic and innovative. I’m continuously discovering something new and it’s amazing to be a part of.”
Mentoring young chefs, in the way he was mentored by McEwan early in his career, is paramount to Gentile. When asked about his advice to young chefs, he emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning. “Stay inspired, learn new techniques, skills, and discover new ways to use ingredients. Be a team player, collaborate, and create with your colleagues and don’t be afraid to share ideas – that’s what fuels authentic and exciting culinary innovation,” he says. “Share your knowledge and pass it down. The skill, inspiration, and creativity you acquire and foster within your kitchen team is invaluable to the next young chef.”
“Our goal has always been to share that passion, excitement and the knowledge we’ve acquired throughout the years with our guests,” says Gentile. “We’re thankful that our communities have embraced our vision and share this passion with us.” With no sign of slowing down, Gentile and the Buca family continue to bring people together through hospitality with simplicity and integrity, one experience at a time.