Robbin Haas. In Memoriam

Robbin Haas

“Robbin Haas has passed away”. Those were the words that woke me yesterday. They woke me with sadness. Especially for his family. But also for the South Florida food and restaurant community that Robbin joined us in and helped propel forward ever since his arrival here. When I met Robbin we were both young firebrands working on our individual paths from outposts on Ocean Drive. He was at The Colony Hotel and I was at the Betsy Ross doing the restaurant, ‘a Mano’. We hit it off immediately. Everyone who knows Robbin knew his laugh. It was wide open, unchecked, joyous, raucous and one you wanted to be a part of. He was old school in ways. The caution to not smoke and to drink in moderation were not ones that Robbin would ever adopt. He worked hard and he played hard. But what joy he found in both. South Florida was just becoming a place where the food community of chefs was finding its own first voice. There were, of course, famous and important restaurants before the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. But it was not then a celebration of our cultural diversity. And the guests of the restaurants rewarded the bold.

Robbin was raised in Buffalo, New York but moved around landing in the American Southwest cooking for awhile. He knew a lot about all kinds of foods. He was keenly intelligent. When he got to Florida he found a home and he found a way to express his passion for food in a number of restaurants he made famous over the years. He was one of the members of ‘The Mango Gang’. It didn’t start off that way but he most certainly was key in the region becoming known outside of Florida and joined the band (as did Cindy Hutson).

Robbin was our ‘Captain Fantastic’ for many, many fund raisers that were held at Turnberry while he was the Executive Chef at that amazing property. Working with long time collaborators Cheryl Stephenson on public relations and Chef Todd Weisz, Robbin called upon a wide band of us in the industry to galas that defined the time for causes that needed help. Whether it was ‘Share Our Strength’ or “Hurricane Andrew Relief” you name it… Robbin was able to provide the venue, resources and positive energies needed to pull it all off. There has not been a center for such things in South Florida that has been parallel to those times since. It would take some serious recall to list the names of all of the Chefs who came from near and far that cooked for those events. Big names. I opened my memoir, “No Experience Necessary” with a scene from a night at Turnberry where we were cooking for Ms. Julia Child. It was a spectacular night. I was paired up to cook a dish with Emeril. Charlie Trotter was there cooking as were several out of town guest chefs. The top chefs of Miami were there too. It was a place that Robbin made sure brought chefs from near and far and in doing so he was a big hand in shining a light on what our community was becoming. At these events many folks come from out of town. Some from across the nation. In addition to doing the work necessary for the events they would also dine at the local restaurants they had been reading or hearing rumblings about. It then became evident to folks like Nobu, Drew Nieporent, Bobby Flay, and so many more that our city was just as serious as any in America when it came to deserving a reputation as a food destination. We were a marriage between cultures that were just getting to know each other during that time span. We were hard to define. There were so many new food words to learn with us. Like new music there was no quick way to describe what we were doing. It was an exciting, revelatory era of discovery, of energy, of rock and roll joy. Robbin was one of our great trailblazers. We will miss him. But we will not forget him. Raise a glass my friends. It is what Robbin would want us to do.

The poem, “The Laughing Heart” written by Charles Bukowski and read by Tom Waits is in the link. I hope Robbin knows it makes us think of him. Hit the permalink above. It is marked “Plaid Zebra” to hear and see the video.



8 thoughts on “Robbin Haas. In Memoriam

  1. I am so sad to hear of the passing of our dear friend and colleague Robbin Haas. Norman has eloquently expressed Robbin’s contribution to our industry, his vibrant and infectious personality and “joie de vivre”

    I just saw Robbin at at Joseph Phelps wine dinner in Lake Tahoe which he was so kind to be an integral part of when I called on him for his assistance.

    We worked together on several occasions throughout our careers and it was always “Rock and Roll” with Robbin.

    He will be missed. A great friend, culinarian and innovator.

    RIP my dear friend. We won’t forget you.

  2. A great chef and my mentor. So much fond and crazy memories. He gave me my first sous chef job at Baleen and taught me how to be gregarious and conduct myself as the Chef. Rest in peace dad. (Dad was his nickname given to him by us his brigade at Baleen).

  3. I first me Robbin was n 1983. He was added to The New York Culinary Team competing in the 1884 culinary Olympic’s in Frankfort Germany. Like Normans aid the minute you met him you automatically formed a lasting bond. His persona was larger than life. I would go to work with him at the Netherland Plaza in Cincinnati. We because the closest friends & Robbin help me establish my name in south Florida & if Anything BIG was happening he made sure I was there. I remember one of the most major experiences of my career was in 1993 Robbin invited me to travel with him & the countries Largest chefs to Chile where I met all those amazing chefs & was welcomed into there circle all because of Robbin. All the hurricanes fund raisers, Julia Child’s & Robert Mondavi’s 80th Birthday, just way to much to keep listing but I would not have been if it had not been for Robbin! It’s was Robbin who Introduced me to Rick Dumas who brought me to Florida In the first place to re establish the Ocean Reef Club unfortunately Hurricane Andrew had different plans. So when I heard yesterday that Robbin passed I was floored. I mean no way how could that be. I’ve only talked to Robbin a few times over the years after he left Florida being he lived in Guatemala & his busy hectic schedule it was hard
    But 2 months we got to spend a long weekend together cooking in the mountains high atop Lake Tahoe again with our old friend Rick Dumas & it was just like old times talking about all the things we did cooking wise & crazy wise. The day we were flying out Robbin, Rick, Mark Puente & myself had lunch right on the Lake just having the time of our life never knowing it was the last time we would ever see our old friend. As I sit here writing this tearing running down cheek I want to believe their tears of joy. Joy because I feels honored to know Robbin the way I know him Great Chef, Visionary, Master Promoter, Humanitarian but most importantly my Friend. Robbin Haas helped me be a force in Florida & I’ll never forget that.
    R.I.P. Buddy I’ll always be so thankful that we met!
    Until we see each other again

    1. I was shaken when I saw Robbies ( yes that is what he was called in the 1970’s ),obituary in the Miami Herald. We were friends from the middle 1970’s. We were both hired to open The Boardwalk Cafe in Buffalo. He was the Head Chef, and I was to be an Assistant Manager. In order to get that position, I had to train with Robbie to develop my cooking skills. Well, not only is I learn how to sauté, make soups and sauces from scratch, roast, bake and grill, I learned how to celebrate and party.
      I would love to communicate with you, either thru email ( ), or phone, 321-626-2366, to learn more about his life and passing.
      God Bless,

  4. Norman you said everything so eloquently about Chef Robin that we all as dear friends could not only say but genuinely feel for the the person and friend we all so highly regarded. We can only pray for comfort and peace for his dear family. Robin we will truly miss you but never forget you. Thanks for all the wonderful memories! Christie and Chef Mark Militello💕

  5. I am at a loss for words…

    Robbin was such an integral part of my career and he was truly a mentor for me on my journey to becoming the chef I am today. Early when we met, Robbin said to me. “Before you can move forward, you must understand the past”. Referring to our craft, and offering me the position as the Chef at Baleen. Robbin was as hard as they come in the kitchen and a real chefs chef. I was fortunate to have been apart of the culinary scene early during the “mango gang” era. I was surrounded by all of the greats, beginning with the king Doug Rodriguez, then Norman, then Mark and finally Robbin. When I arrived on the scene at Baleen, we had become extremely close. Robbin would always have me over to his house for personal dinners with Tanya and I can tell you that those memories for me are rich and vivid. It was those dinners that I was able to grasp what an amazing cook Robbin was. There was no doubt that his cooking skills where that of a “classically trained” chef which for me was paramount to cuisine and I truly respected that so much. While at Baleen, Robbin was able to show me many different things besides leading his kitchen. He was an instrumental part of educating me on the attention to details. His creativity was inspirational and his love of the craft was always present. He would always say, to be successful you must understand the bigger picture, “from water to wine and everything in between“ which is ever present today with my business. I also remember spending many nights out with Robbin and those were very special. Red Sage in the back room with Jean Louis Palladin & the boys from Depeche Mode. George Marrone at Groovejet and the always best nights were at Tootsies… Robbin was a showman. His laugh was epic and his stories were great. He lived his life to the fullest. Robbin worked hard and partied harder.. I am truly saddened by his loss. I will forever remember you my friend and never forget our times together. MEMORY ETERNAL

  6. Norman,
    Thank you for your beautiful words about Robbin , I’m sure they will touch his family .I am so saddened by his passing , my memories of him are fond and many, and my heart goes out to Tanya and Heather. He showed us all how to live life …my he Rest In Peace .
    Kathryn Parrish

  7. Nicely said Norman. I just learned of Robbin’s passing and am very sad. We had the best of times while working together at Turnberry Isle in the ’90s. The memories are so vivid and will continue to hold a special place in my heart Sending my love to Robbin’s family and friends.

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