Interview with Chef Missy Robbins of Spiaggia - Chicago

December, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Missy Robbins: I’ve always been really interested in food. Growing up, my dad was a huge foodie. He took me to great restaurants all over. I went to college to pursue art history. I didn’t really think pursuing cooking was a career. Then I dined at Trotter’s and that made up my mind. I wrote to Trotter asking for a job. He called me and interviewed me on the phone. He suggested that I get some kitchen experience and then come and stage for a few days. I got a job at 1789 while at Georgetown during my senior year in 1993. I said I’d give cooking a year, and now it’s been 13 years.

AB: After Georgetown you attended the Institute for Culinary Education (then known as Peter Kump’s New York School of Cooking). Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today?
MR: For some people it’s really good. If you’re really motivated, you can just get a job with a good teacher. I manage 50 people – building a team is my job. So we spend a lot of time on education here.

AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
MR: I learned all of my techniques form Wayne Nish at March 10 years ago.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
MR: How did you get into cooking?

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
MR: Take your time and learn technique. I went through 2 sous chef jobs, traveled, staged throughout Europe and was a line cook for 6 years.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MR: The series form the River Café has been very inspirational. I also have lots of Italian cookbooks (in Italian). The first cookbook I ever owned was Jasper White’s Cooking from New England and I stayed with it for a long time. I buy a cookbook a week. I read them like novels.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
MR: I want to go everywhere. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy and Europe. I want to go to Asia – to learn and experience but not for me to cook Asian food. It is just so different. I will continue to go to Italy once a year to stage at restaurants there. I come to work here at Spiaggia because I didn’t have a real “culinary” mentor. Tony has become that for me. He is deeply rooted in Italian cuisine and a great teacher.

AB: What are your favorite haunts in Chicago?
MR: Avec is great , especially the braised octopus and dates. HOTCHOCOLATE’s desserts are awesome. Café Lula for really good simple fresh food and a great vibe.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
MR: Owning my own place, maybe with Tony.