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Q&A with JBF Taste America All-Star Tony Mantuano

Maggie Borden

October 21, 2015

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JBF Award winner Tony Mantuano is the king of the Italian dining scene in Chicago. His flagship Spiaggia has drawn Windy City locals, celebrities, musicians, and politicians alike for over 30 years for its innovative yet reverent take on Italian cuisine. On October 23 and 24, Mantuano is bringing his Midwestern mastery to the Bay Area for our Taste America: San Francisco weekend of culinary events, including a collaborative dinner with fellow JBF Award winner and Local Star Michael Tusk. We spoke with Mantuano before his trip west about the food trends he’s sick of, how his sourcing has changed over the years, and why we should all reconsider British cuisine.

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JBF: What are you most looking forward to eating in San Francisco? 

Tony Mantuano: Oysters.

JBF: What food trend do you wish would end immediately? 

TM: Putting an egg on anything and calling it "carbonara."

JBF: Is there a technique or ingredient you just can’t get enough of right now? 

TM: White truffles.

JBF: What are some of your favorite bars and restaurants in Chicago? 

TM: Osteria Langhe, the Purple Pig, and GreenRiver.

JBF: Spiaggia has been open for three decades now, as Americans have embraced the diversity of Italian cooking, and the artisanal movement has undergone a revival. How have these changes affected the way you plan your menus? Do you find yourself sourcing from more American and local vendors than you used to? 

TM: Yes, we source locally, as we have access to great farmers and great ingredients. However, we still look to Italy for classic products, such as extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and balsamic vinegar, as there are no substitutions for these kind of Italian ingredients.

JBF: You’re known for your masterful take on Italian cuisine, but your latest restaurant River Roast focuses on the British-style roasted meat. What inspired you to look at Britain, whose cuisine is often maligned? 

TM: London just might be the most exciting restaurant city in the world right now, believe it or not! Cultural diversity, great chefs, and accessibility to quality products has changed the stereotype of British cuisine. The British love their roasts and do them well. They become the center of the table, especially on Sunday. At River Roast it’s all about bringing back Sunday Supper and sharing that meal (and not just on Sunday). Also at River Roast, we’ve now added live Chicago blues every Saturday and Sunday brunch to make it a true Chicago experience.

JBF: Where do you try to shop for ingredients when cooking away from home? 

TM: Farmers' markets, ethnic markets, and specialty shops.

JBF: What city is next on your "must-hit" list? 

TM: Melbourne, Australia.

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Get details about Taste America and buy tickets here. Follow the festivities on Twitter with #JBFTasteAmerica. You can also follow the adventures of #bittybeard, our portable homage to James Beard, as he travels around the country.

 
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