I have generally tried to focus
this blog on light cooking. But when this opportunity I couldn't not go
and I couldn't not write about it.
According to materials provided by
LAS, four-star Chef Tony Mantuano is known in Chicago and
internationally as an influential culinary force. The James Beard
Foundation named him “Best Chef: Midwest” in 2005. Chef Mantuano is
known for utilizing authentic Italian products of the highest quality,
conducting cooking classes, and leading culinary tours of favorite
Chef Mantuano opened Spiaggia to critical acclaim in 1984. Under his
leadership, Spiaggia continues to mark the culinary map. Spiaggia is
the only four-star Italian restaurant in Chicago. His first book, “The Spiaggia Cookbook: Eleganza Italiana in Cucina
co-authored with Cathy Mantuano, was named by Food & Wine magazine
as one of the top 25 cookbooks of 2004 and was also nominated for a
James Beard award.
In his more recent cookbook “Wine Bar Food
Cathy and Tony Mantuano demonstrate how to re-create the Mediterranean
lifestyle at home. Their book features simply prepared dishes which can
be shared as small plates or for a sit-down dinner.
Chef Mantuano also has appeared on PBS, CNN, FOX and The Food Network.
He is a frequent contributor to local Chicago television and radio and
has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The
Chicago Tribune. He will also be on the next season of Top Chef Masters
on The Food Network.
The event included creating two of our
own dishes, Garlic Gulf White Shrimp with Calabrian Chilies and
Rosemary, as well as Handrolled Potato Ghocchi with Beech Mushrooms and
Parmigiano Reggiano. We also got the opportunity to taste two Italian
wines, a 2008 Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi and a 2008 Montepulcaino.
table worked with its own chef and anyone who wanted to got the
opportunity to try their hand. Chef Mantuano talked us through the
dishes, as well as some general thought on cooking. One of the things
that really stuck with me was when he said, "The most important
ingredient is the one you leave out." Loading a dish up with a lot of
ingredients, he said, is usually done to cover flaws in either
ingredients or preparation. This was a great point and one I had been
moving toward for some time, focusing on trying to bring out the best
part of the discussion focused on olive oil and olives themselves. Chef
Mantuano said he felt any cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from the
Mediterranean was good, the differences coming from the type of olive
used. However, regarding California olive oils he said, "California may
think it is a Mediterranean country, but they aren't. At least not
also pointed out that olive oil is much like spices and herbs in that
it has a limited shelf life. Olive oil should be purchased and used
within one year of being bottled. Most good olive oils will have a
bottling date that you can use to judge. If it doesn't it will have a
"use-by" date. That date, however, will be three years from the date of
bottling, so subtract two. If the oil has turned a sandy color, toss
Another high point of the day was getting to hear from and meet
Sommeleir Steven Alexander, wine director for Spiaggia. Steve is well
known down here in East-Central Illinois for, with his friend Thad
Morrow, opening Bacaro
, a wonderful Italian wine bar. Of the wines he introduced us to, my favorite was the Montepulciano
. This wine, from the Abruzzo
of Italy, was wonderfully full-flavored, but not overpowering or too
sweet. Nancy and I went looking for some immediately after the event,
but settled for a Sangiovese, which has many similarities.
Finally, we got to meet Spiaggia Executive Chef Sara Grueneberg
. It was very clear that she and Chef Mantuano were on the same page when it came to their love of Italian cuisine.
All-and-all, it was an incredible event. Thanks to all at the UI
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences involved in putting it on and a
very special thank you to Chefs Mantuano and Grueneberg and Sommelier
Alexander for making it so much fun.