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."
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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."
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.