Chef Rob Gentile on leading the way to conscientious consumption.
By Jennifer Lee
Photography by Christopher Wahl
Rob Gentile’s culinary vision transcends celebrity chefdom.
The steward of Toronto’s popular Buca family of restaurants, Rob is a darling among critics, a rock star among diners and a trendsetter among chefs—influence is not something he lacks. Prescience on how society’s eating habits will influence the future, thankfully, isn’t either.
The origin and sustainability of the chef’s ingredients inform more than the detectible artistry of Buca’s plates, they shape the everyday eating choices of Rob and his family.
While encouraged by the abundance of “incredible farmers and fishermen who put forth tremendous efforts to ensure they are providing ethically raised, sustainable products,” Rob acknowledges that consumer access to local purveyors of quality protein and produce is limited. “A lot of these ingredients don’t make their way into grocery stores and aren’t often found on our dinner tables.”
A passionate advocate of food literacy, the chef supports increased education around the impact food can have on our bodies, as well as the environmental and economic welfare of our communities.
Through awareness, Rob believes consumers have the power to shift the values of the food industry from the bottom up. “I think that more knowledge can lead to more demand and support for our local farmers and fishermen, who are respectful of the land and try to protect our environment.”
Having recently welcomed a daughter into the world—his first child—Rob’s conscious consumerism stands alongside his concern for the health of future generations. “I want to see a garden in every single school across the country, so kids have the ability to understand where good ingredients come from and can learn how to grow them,” he says. “This kind of education from a young age helps kids make positive choices, and they’ll be able to pass on this knowledge when it’s their turn to influence the next generation.”
A practitioner of leading by example, Rob’s everyday actions are cast in his pledge to “never take our world for granted.” Read on to learn why the chef wants Canada to fill up on sustainability.
Why is “we” stronger than “me?”
There’s always strength in numbers. There is no way I would be where I am today without the amazing group of chefs I work with. We’re all examples to each other; our leaders mentor our younger cooks to give them confidence and knowledge to become leaders themselves. We respect each other, foster creativity, learn and inspire each other to be better every day. The ability to work together is the greatest way to achieve common goals.
What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end, and what about the gesture touched you personally?
I’m always amazed at the kindness I’ve received from people my entire life. It started with my family; my mom in particular always encouraged me, from a very young age, to follow my dreams. It’s incredibly valuable—no matter what age—to feel encouraged that you can do anything.
Finish this sentence: Moving forward into the next 150 years, our country needs [blank] in order to build a more caring and compassionate Canada.
Knowledge around the diversity of our land.
To appreciate the amazing ingredients that are grown here, gain more knowledge about the places they are found and the people producing them. If we’re all a bit more connected to Canadian ingredients and have a better understanding of just how many unique products can be found here, we’ll have more respect for the food we put in our bodies, the environment it comes from and realize how sacred it is.
Describe the core values of your ideal Canada.
We respect our land, our environment and the beautiful things it produces from coast to coast. We support local farmers and understand where food comes from. We inspire each other within our community to constantly grow and change for the better.
What small action have you taken in present day to help secure a brighter future for our country tomorrow?
I’m a big supporter of Canadian agriculture and I try to showcase that on our menus.
As we work to make Canada a better country, what is one action you would like people to take?
Research local Canadian agriculture, ethical farming/fishing practices and try to buy local, sustainable and ethically produced ingredients whenever you can. We all need to know where our food comes from and how it’s sourced.