VL 1-on-1 with Chef Rob Bragagnolo of Marben #MeetTheChefs of #TasteofToronto
The artistic nature within Marben at 488 Wellington St. W is not only what you see in the eclectic surroundings but also in the food and the man behind it.
Chef Rob Bragagnolo has a vision and it is realized at both Marben and a concept that is under his creative control. That concept is Carver.
Carver is Rob’s way of giving people the ability to have a fine dining quality food experience at reasonable prices. It’s based on what his grandfather began back in 1924 in Veneto, Italy. In Rob’s own words “we’re taking it back to when the sandwich was a proper soul warming meal and not a factory processed snack.”
He proved his concept to me when he presented a few of the dishes he’ll be sharing at Taste of Toronto. Photographing a slow roasted pork roast is a test of one’s self control I can assure you! No kidding this food shoot was nearly my undoing.
After much self control on my part and evident and rightful pride on his, Rob and I sat down to talk. He was warm funny and open. His ideas for the upcoming Carver are exciting and I think we can all look most forward to the food he is planning on sharing at Taste of Toronto from the soon to be Carver.
Stacia Carlton: Where do you find you inspiration?
Rob Bragagnolo: “A lot comes from Spain and a lot from Italy. My family comes from Northern Italy, a mixture between Veneto and central northern Spain. That’s really what I’ve grown up cooking. You cook what you know.
“The ingredient inspires the dish a lot of times. I mean take this time of year you have so many things that come in and out of season so rapidly… like ramps and fiddle heads and a wide variety of these foraged greens that we get… fish is very seasonal. When you see something that is fresh and in it’s prime you get excited.. you want to do something about that. I think travel is a great inspiration. You see some different techniques and you get inspired by that.”
SC: What are you favourite places in the world to travel for food?
RB: “I still go to Spain quite a bit. I’ve been twice already this year. I like to go to Mexico. I think that their true cuisine is rich and vibrant. I had a guy that was with us here for a year. He was from a very conflicted area in Mexico…unfortunately for him he had to leave… fortunately for me he had to come here! He would show up all the time with things that his grandmother would make…like he made a worm salt… so they cure meal worms in limestone. It gives it a very citrusy vibrant note and then they grind that and they mix it with oranges and chills and salt and they’ll use it as a garnish on the rim of a glass or in salads.”
SC: Where do you like to get your ingredients?
RB: ‘People come to us. Other cities in the world it’s easy to go to a central market i don’t think we have that here yet. I do shop locally for personal purposes though and we have places like Cumbraes and Cheese Boutique and there is a great spice store around the corner from my house; The Spice Trader, they have remarkably good spice blends.
“I like local farmer’ markets for my own purposes. I sort of wished I lived closer to Niagara or Prince Edward County, they have really nice stuff. The products available to us is remarkably better than it was 12-15 years ago… so much better”
SC: Where do you like to go out for meals in the city?
RB: “I like to go to The Harbord Room. I like Hopgood’s Foodliner. I like pizza at Terroni.”
SC: What are you thoughts on trends?
RB: “I think i don’t like trends , but I think that they’re necessary.
“I came back to Toronto from Spain and it just so happened that at that time that the Spanish thing became trendy. I wondered if people would perceive me as being trendy so I had to tone it down just for myself. I don’t love trends.
“I DO like the trend of sourcing things closer to home. It makes our industry much stronger . Demand for variety is higher and so we’re shipping less of our local stuff out. Now I feel like chefs and the general public are asking for variety.”
SC: Is there something in particular that you’d like to see more of in Toronto?
RB: “I‘d like to see more urban farming. I think it makes so much sense. vegetables are one of those things that the quicker you can eat it from the time you pick it the better it tastes.
I have a tiny little herb garden, but when you clip and eat parsley fresh you get all these flavours. If all of these bigger buildings had some urban farming it would be great. Bee keeping would be great too. I would also like it if Ontario would loosen some of its laws regarding pasteurization. The laws were established 150 years ago don’t apply anymore.”
SC: What was the last thing you ate?
RB: “I had a banana Nutella shake… it was delicious.”
SC: Do you have a motto?
RB: “Keep it simple… with food… keeping my life as simple as possible is not always that easy. Think back to that conversation about getting things when they’re in their prime. We try our best to buy really beautiful ingredients that we don’t have to muck around with too much.”
Chef Rob Bragagnolo practices what he preaches. Much as his grandfather’s food was, his too is simple and honest… oh yes and mouth-wateringly delicious.
If that roast pork sandwich he presented me with to shoot is any indication of his idea of simple perfection, I can almost guarantee that he will be a very busy man churning those sandwiches out during the Taste of Toronto festival.
Stacia Carlton is a culinary school graduate and food writer who will be making a bee-line for that porcetta sandwich on July 5! Visit her at www.bestillandeat.com for weekly recipes and stories.