Published on 9/14/20

CHEF ROBERT TOLAND

After graduating from culinary school, Robert set out to hone his skills in some of Philadelphia’s top kitchens, including Lacroix, Stateside, and Parc. He currently presides over both the pastry and events departments at URBN’s flagship restaurant, Terrain garden cafe, with multiple locations across the US. In addition to managing the events and pastry program, he also teaches a wide range of culinary classes at Terrain and The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill. Robert is also known across the Philadelphia area for consulting and collaborating with local chefs and food writers. He was recently featured in Pastry Arts Magazine as well as VisitPhilly and The Philadelphia Inquirer for his work at the James Beard House and James Beard Media Awards. You can find some of his favorite recipes in The Philadelphia Chef’s Table 2nd Edition, 2020.

Q&A

Valrhona: Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
Robert Toland: I really look for inspiration everywhere. I try to allow myself to be inspired by the world around me, whether that’s literature, architecture, nature, history, etc. Everything can be an inspiration if you’re open to it. 

Valrhona: Who in your life has been the biggest mentor/inspiration in your career?
Robert Toland: Outside of my family, I think some of the biggest inspirations in my career when it comes to pastry has been both Francisco Migoya and Michael Laiskonis. I’ve never personally met them but reading On the Line, The Modern Cafe, and Frozen Desserts has built such a lasting foundation in regards to my culinary education. Those three books really opened my eyes to what is possible in the pastry world early on in my career. They’re still books I refer back to to this day.

Valrhona: How is your team responding to the new realities of the world during and eventually post-COVID-19?
Robert Toland: Unfortunately, because of Covid-19, my pastry team has been reduced to a team of one (myself) but the company I work for is working diligently to get back to where we were in the beginning of the year. Our core values haven’t changed, we are still the same restaurant we always were. We are still committed to supporting our local farms and purveyors to provide a memorable dining experience for our guests, whether that’s at our restaurant or for our new takeout menu. 

Valrhona: What Social Responsibility/Community initiative are you the proudest of taking part in?
Robert Toland: Recently, I’ve been really happy with participating in the global bake sale initiated by Bakers Against Racism. The number of pastry chefs that came together as a force of good, utilizing their businesses, their skills, and their labor in an effort to enact positive change in their communities was amazing.  I think it’s a step in the right direction for our industry as a whole. 

Valrhona: What are your hopes for the future of the world of food and pastry?
Robert Toland: If the industry can endure, which I think it will,  I hope that we can continue to on the path of an inclusive, equitable future.  In spite of everything that is going on right now, or maybe because of it, I think we will come out of all this for the better. 

Valrhona: What is your earliest dessert memory?
Robert Toland: Growing up in the northeast US I’d be remiss to not mention Mister Softee. I’ll never forget hearing the jingle of the ice cream truck pulling onto our block on a hot summer day.  Chasing the truck down the street was just part of the fun. I can’t think of any other dessert that requires you to get a little exercise in before you can enjoy it. My go-to flavor cone is the same as it was in 1993; vanilla with rainbow sprinkles. Simple, classic, safe.  

Valrhona: If you could pass one bit of insight down to another chef, what would it be?
Robert Toland: Show up on time, listen, and commit yourself to a lifetime of learning. Education doesn’t stop after you graduate, or after a certain internship or promotion. 

Valrhona: What is your favorite perk of the Cercle V program?
Robert Toland: My favorite perk of the Cercle V program is access to the recipes and the classes. Having access to classes taught by some of the best pastry minds in the world is what I look forward to the most. 

Valrhona: When & how did you hear about Valrhona for the first time? / When & how did your “relationship” with Valrhona start?
Robert Toland: I first learned about valrhona and the Cercle V program back in 2013-2014 when I worked at The Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia. They had a special temperature controlled chocolate room. I miss it. 

Valrhona: Who do you follow on social media?
Robert Toland@mlaiskonis@fjmigoya@amauryguichon @smallorchids

QUICK FIRE

Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Fahrenheit and grams, always

Favorite Valrhona Chocolate?
CARAIBE 66% and SATILIA

Favorite restaurant?
Kim’s Restaurant 
5955 N Fifth St, Philadelphia, PA  19120

Favorite flavor pairing with chocolate?
Hazelnut Praline

Coffee or Tea?
Coffee

Favorite Kitchen Tool?
Rubber spatula 

Go-to snack?
Honey Roasted Cashews

Favorite type of dessert to make? To eat?
Ice cream, both to make and to eat.