Tony Mantuano is one of 20 chefs in the country selected as a 2016 “Outstanding Chef” semifinalist by the James Beard Foundation. Those nominated for this award must be a working chef in the U.S. for a minimum of the past five years and “whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.” This isn’t Mantuano’s first run with a James Beard award either. In 2005, he was awarded “Best Chef: Midwest.” With plenty of accolades under his chef’s hat, perhaps it’s no wonder that President Obama chose Mantuano’s Spiaggia to dine at when celebrating his presidential election victory in 2008.
It’s been more than 30 years now since the chef-restaurateur moved to Chicago and opened Spiaggia in 1984, touted as the first and only Italian restaurant in Chicago to receive four stars. Before opening Spiaggia, which also received James Beard nominations in the past for “Outstanding Restaurant in America” and “Outstanding Service,” Mantuano worked in many Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy, though he originally hails from Wisconsin, where he co-owns Mangia Wine Bar with his family. Other ventures he has a hand in as chef-partner include River Roast, Bar Toma, and Terzo Piano. To say he’s a busy man would almost be an understatement. And we can’t forget to mention his involvement as a contestant on Season 2 of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters” or the multiple cookbooks he has authored, including one he co-authored with wife and wine expert Cathy Mantuano, “Wine Bar Food.”
Below, we ask the Chef six questions about his best time management tip, the one culinary trend that needs to fade out, his stance on tipping versus no tipping, and more:
The Quick Six
Foodable: What’s the first meal (that you can recall) that changed your life?
Tony Mantuano: I was very lucky to grow up with an Italian grandmother who cooked all the time — the flavors she used are burned in my memory. My grandfather grew a huge garden and she'd cook everything from it. The dish I liked best was pork neck bones and pole beans, simmered with garlic and tomatoes until everything was very tender.
Foodable: In your opinion, what culinary trend needs to fade out?
TM: People calling things by the wrong name. For example, anything with an egg on it is being called carbonara, which isn't the case!
Foodable: What's the most important lesson you learned (good or bad) in your first year of owning a restaurant?
TM: There are really only two times when there is a lot of arguing with your partners: when there's not enough money and when there's too much money.
Foodable: You're at the helm of multiple concepts and kitchens. What's your best time management tip for other industry professionals?
TM: Make all your restaurants within walking distance of each other!
Foodable: Tipping or no tipping?
TM: I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I think there is a human touch in the act of giving someone a something as a personal “thank you” for service, and you lose that when there is no tipping.
Foodable: Where is your favorite restaurant to eat at when you aren’t working?