Shortly before graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in 1993, Missy
Robbins turned her passion for food into a career when she took a part-time job at 1789 restaurant. Exposed to the fast-paced environme¬nt of kitchens and fine dining cooking technique, Robbins quickly became addicted to the restaurant world.
In October 1994, she moved to Manhattan where she studied at Peter Kump’s New York School of Cooking (now known as The Institute of Culinary Education.) Upon completing the program, Robbins embarked on an externship at March Restaurant working for renowned Chef Wayne Nish. She then moved on to work for Anne Rosenzweig at Arcadia, where she spent a year and a half honing her skills while learning Anne’s unique American cuisine. In the spring of 1995, a position opened at
March, and Robbins could not resist the opportunity to return to her esteemed training ground, where she stayed for two years before returning to work for Rosenzweig. Robbins helped run the kitchen of the Lobster Club for Rosenzweig for two more years while developing her creative side, sharpening her leadership skills and gaining insight into the business operations of a restaurant.
With a desire to further enhance the breadth of her culinary education, she embarked on an excursion to northern Italy where she worked in three kitchens throughout different regions. Robbins absorbed Italian culture while she worked at small, family-run restaurants and the Guide Michelin- rated Agli Amici in Friuli. As she became intimate with Italian product and cooking, Robbins grew to love the ingredient-driven, simple and regionally inspired food. When she returned to the states, she became the sous chef and then chef de cuisine at the boutique SoHo Grand Hotel. At the SoHo Grand, Robbins was responsible for all day-to-day operations as well as creative menu development.
In 2003, she was lured to Chicago by the opportunity to work at one of the nation’s few four-star Italian restaurants, Spiaggia. Now working with highly acclaimed Chef Tony Mantuano, Robbins has found the perfect opportunity to bring her ardor for Italian cooking to life.
Interview with Chef Missy Robbins of Spiaggia - ChicagoAntoinette Bruno:
Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
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.