Marco Tucci returns to his home away from home (Hart House) in his new role as Executive Chef and Culinary Operations Manager. In this capacity, he will lead the House’s culinary team to service large scale events, reopen à la carte service for the Gallery Grill, develop offsite catering and explore new ways of serving the community.
Although few visitors catch a glimpse of him as his domain is behind the scenes in our kitchens, Chef Marco Tucci has been a major part of Hart House’s illustrious history.
Marco got his start at Casa Loma at the tender age of 14, working as washer/kitchen help. He then went on to earn a degree in Hospitality while working in the industry for 15 years in progressive positions, eventually acquiring his Red Seal Chef Certificate. In 1999, he landed at Hart House where he continues to flourish for over 23 years.
Marco served as the Executive Chef for Hart House Event Services, leading a production team for up to 1,700 annual catered bookings. He raised the profile of the establishment and was able to draw in such high-profile chefs as Christine Cushing, Chuck Hughes, Jamie Kennedy, Michael Smith and Michael Stadtlander for fertile collaborations.
“Marco was instrumental in establishing Hart House as a premier event venue on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto,” says Aron Mohr, Director of Hospitality Services at Hart House.
Marco assumed a new role, Executive Chef and Culinary Operations Manager, in January 2022. In this capacity, he will merge the back-of-house culinary team, reopen à la carte service for the Gallery Grill, develop offsite catering and explore new ways of serving the community.
Thrilled to see the Gallery Grill open its doors once again, Marco is looking to maintain the excellence associated with the restaurant. Humbled and honoured to be a part of former Executive Chef Suzanne Baby’s 26-year legacy, he aims to continue to build on the gastronomic excellence that she established at the Grill. One of the ways in which he will do this is by using local, seasonal ingredients prepared simply and deliciously – a hallmark of Suzanne’s culinary stewardship.
“Marco will continue to grow Hart House’s reputation for culinary excellence and provide the exceptional food and service that Hart House, U of T and the larger community value tremendously,” Aron adds.
Food Innovation Fuelled by Students and Guest Chefs
Marco seeks to deviate from the every-day “so it's not one type of food all the time.” On this front, working with students is a continual source of inspiration: “At the end of the day, it’s all about the students. The place needs to be filled with students. We need to build that relationship.” Marco also revels in collaborating with guest chefs, sharing signature dishes and creating unique experiences for the U of T community and beyond.
Approach Stems from Biggest Influences
Such cuisine innovations began at a young age for Marco.
About the image to the left: Ontario Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes, Pistachio, Rocket and Vincotto.
He credits his mother for being his most profound influence. “As one of four boys, I got into the kitchen because I was always the one helping my mom. She didn't read English, so if we went strawberry picking, I’d have to read the directions for making jam. I loved eating, being in the kitchen, helping her,” he says, adding, “My mom still cooks every day!”
He was also motivated by “Two Greedy Italians,” a BBC television series with chefs Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio. “Their cooking is very simple, clean, fresh, seasonal. Not too many ingredients.”
About the image to the left: Grilled Branzino with Tomato, Capers and Olives, Fregola- Fennel Confit and Lemon Emulsion
He was further inspired by British chef Marco Pierre White, whom he describes as “the first super rock star chef in the ‘80s.” He says of this chef’s philosophy: “Mother Nature is the artist and our job, as cooks, is to allow her to shine.”
The late Anthony Bourdain also had an impact on Marco’s approach to cooking. Marco actually met him at Indigo when the American chef signed a copy of his book Kitchen Confidential for him. “Anthony’s philosophy was: treat people with respect.”
Tips for Aspiring Chefs
Not surprisingly, Marco’s suggestions for aspiring chefs start with character not culinary skills: “You need to respect and understand all the positions in the kitchen and in food service from pot washers to kitchen help, delivery drivers to servers and bartenders. You’ve got to be kind and treat people how you'd like to be treated. It's the character of the person that’s important and mutual respect for everyone. The skills, you can always teach.”
Second to this, he encourages budding chefs to experiment. “Cooking should be fun! You can come up with new dishes. Just try playing around with things, try a sauce with something different…”
He has one caveat: “Be careful when you're working…In the kitchen as an apprentice, my chef would make reference to an old Midas commercial: First you get good then you get fast.”
He greatly enjoys working with students, as noted, and when asked as to whether he hires them, he answers affirmatively: “Yes, I need people, as long as they come into the kitchen wanting to learn.”
Marco sums up his lengthy career as it relates to students becoming interested in cooking: “I started when I was 14 years old peeling carrots and washing pots. Then you just build on it… If you like it, you stay.”
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