When Mari Rubio began culinary school at Johnson & Wales in 2009, she "hated pastry." Eight years later, Rubio, who now owns a dessert business, makes the most indulgent cookie in town.
Her Casa Gioia's chocolate chip cookie, infused with Nutella, is packed with sweet flavors and balances a soft center with a crisp, golden-brown exterior. Delivered to your doorstep, Rubio's cookies maintain freshness (including that doughy center) for nearly a week. That's just one of the many confections Rubio whips up daily inside a commercial kitchen in Kendall and sends out to delivery across Miami-Dade.
"It's funny, because my mom doesn't understand how I cook," she laughs. "It's superhard for me to follow a recipe, so I take it and then make up my own version. I have no idea why the cookies last so long, though. It's a miracle."
Rubio's love for sweets began with a pecan pie and has since grown into a small, local empire.
"A few years after culinary school, I went back home to Santo Domingo for Thanksgiving," she remembers. "After I made a pecan pie for dessert, one of my friends suggested we sell desserts together while I was home."
When Rubio returned to Miami, she grew tired and frustrated with job hunting. She knew she wanted to work in the culinary world but was uninterested in being a chef in a busy kitchen.
"I figured I could try to sell stuff like I did back home," she says. "I started with pecan pie and lemon meringue. Then I opened Casa Gioia as a business from home."
Her pastry company — whose name is Italian for house of joy — specializes in a hodgepodge of treats, from pies, cookies, and cakes to guava crisp squares and dough rolls stuffed with ingredients such as pumpkin jelly or chocolate mousse and chocolate hazelnut brittle.
"Starting a business is superdifficult," she says, "not to mention I'm in a country where I don't know anyone and I'm not trained in the pastry world. With a different country and culture, I try to bring a little bit of my country's flavors here."
Rubio prides Casa Gioia on baking homestyle treats that have a mom-and-pop feel. All are made with fresh and homemade ingredients — including jellies, creams, and sauces — and no preservatives. "I want things to taste real and not artificial," she says. "That's the way I was raised dessert-wise. If you want lemon meringue, squeeze the lemon."
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Her pastries can be found at Small Tea and were often featured at Little Bread before it closed in January 2016. Much of her business comes from personal orders — both small-batch requests and large-scale catering events — which can be made by email or phone.
She dreams of opening a storefront. For now, she's focused on launching a website for online orders.
For more information, visit her Facebook page.