The Man Behind the Menu
To find Marco Tucci, Executive Chef of Hart House, you must leave the bustle of academic life behind and traverse a maze of corridors to a bustle of a different sort—that of a spacious kitchen, bright with stainless steel and chef whites. Chef Marco is found amid his talented prep team, every hand busy creating delectable dishes for an upcoming event. There’s no chance to linger by a tray of fresh Brie; today may be a prep and administration day, but Chef Marco’s non-stop schedule leaves only a little time to relax and answer questions.
Q: Was it the allure of becoming a celebrity chef or something more personal that lead you into catering?
A: I was the one brother who was willing to help my mom in the kitchen. I loved to bake with her. I helped translate for her and enjoyed helping out and tasting everything. All the baking and Southern Italian cuisine: very rustic, simple and good. I was one of four brothers. We were all eating rapini since we were 6-years-old.
Q: How did you get started?
A: My first job when I was a teen was at Casa Loma…and at McDonalds. At Casa Loma, I started as a pot washer/prep cook. At the same time, my friends were working at McDonalds so I worked there too, but not often. I’d turn down shifts there if Casa Loma called. I spent the next eight summers working at Casa Loma for the in-house caterers. They’d call me for the busy season and summers. I learned a lot. After that, I went to Ryerson for a four-year degree in hospitality. My experience in the kitchen combined with management skills would give me something that others didn’t have.
Q: What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
A: I like simple, rustic food—two or three ingredients. One of my favourite dishes is made from potatoes and a certain type of wild green. Two ingredients and the taste is amazing. Simple flavours are the best.
This is important too when you’re catering for over 100 people. Serve rare tuna or aged steak, guaranteed there will be some people who can’t eat it, don’t like it or are not happy with it, no matter how great it is. In a restaurant, you’re cooking to please one person. It’s different. We also have to be aware of allergies and dietary restrictions.
Q: How did you come to work at Hart House?
A: In this business, there are always busy times and quiet times. I was working for a certain company and they’d call me in for 12 weeks and then nothing. It got to be too much for me. I decided to get out of catering altogether. I started working towards a degree in cabinet making and carpentry. One day, I was looking in the Toronto Star and I saw an ad for a place called Hart House. I’d never heard of it. Turns out, I’d driven by a thousand times, but had no idea that a whole catering facility was here. I applied for the job.
Q: What do you like best about Hart House? What can you do here that you can’t do anywhere else?
A: The best thing about Hart House is the freedom and flexibility. You can be creative and try new things. You can bring in new products, like this fennel pollen—sprinkle a little on fish. You can test things out. Experiment in ways that you couldn’t if you were working for a boss with very strict rules about ingredients and what you can and can’t do. I love coming to work every day. This beautiful building we’re in—the architecture and atmosphere is amazing. It’s a great place to work.
And the 5-buck lunches are always great to do! You can come up with whatever you want based on the theme, which is different each time. You can get really creative.
Q: If you had one piece of advice for someone starting in the catering business, what would it be?
A: You have to have a passion for it. The early stages are really tough. Long hours, terrible pay, you need to have a passion for this work. I don’t regret any of it. It was what I loved to do, but you make sacrifices. You can’t go out with your friends every Saturday night. Although for me, I’d rather be in the kitchen than in a club.