As executive chef of Moderno, Chicago native Phil Rubino is influenced not only by his own experience as a chef over the last 10 years, but also a personal history in which Italian cooking is one of the main ingredients. Phil’s father had worked as a baker in Italy before immigrating to Chicago, taking over the family-run bakery that has been operating since the 1950s. “I worked for my dad since about the time I was in diapers,” he says. “I essentially grew up there.”
This kind of personal training—along with family vacations to Italy—instilled in Phil not only a love for Italian breads and pastries, but an innate understanding of how to create them: with the freshest ingredients and by hand. Between working in the bakery and enjoying meals prepared by both his grandmother and aunt—both accomplished cooks in their own right—Phil’s career seems now like a foregone conclusion.
After high school, Phil went to culinary school and was soon doing stages around Chicago, which led him to the acclaimed BIN 36, where he started as a line cook in 2005 and worked his way up to sous chef by 2007. After working at Spiaggia, Phil partnered again with the BIN 36 team as a sous chef at A Mano. In 2008, he worked with Executive Chef Laurent Gras at L2O, where he “worked the entire kitchen” and was instrumental in helping the restaurant achieve three Michelin stars.
After working next as chef de cuisine at BIN Wine Cafe, Phil moved to Café des Architects before meeting Chef-Owner John des Rosiers, who was preparing to open his latest restaurant, the Italian-focused Moderno. For Phil, the opportunity to open Moderno was also a chance to cook the food he loves and with which he was raised. “I am excited to be able to cook what I’ve cooked my whole life—bringing it all into one space,” he says.
As its name implies, Moderno serves a modern take on Italian cuisine, but one still based around the use of fresh, locally available ingredients while also incorporating touches from other countries in the Mediterranean and beyond. “John and I have focused on creating dishes with no more than five ingredients, so it’s not complicated and the flavors really stand out,” Phil notes. The spirit of cooking Italian food is that it’s simply done with fresh ingredients and simply presented.”
Phil lives in the Wrigleyille neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and is an avid Cubs fan who goes to games as often as he can during baseball season. When he’s not catching a game, he’s likely dining out with or grilling for friends and family.