Tony Mantuano, Italian roots and passion

Today we meet Tony Mantuano, Chef of Italian origins of Spiaggia Restaurant, the only Italian restaurant in Chicago that have earned four-star reviews, international praise and numerous awards. Discover with us his passion for the Italian cuisine.

1) Nine words to introduce you.

Wise, modest, left-handed, cheesehead, traveller, seasoned, funny, generous, romantic

2) What is the episode that started your Italian food passion? 

It wasn’t so much an episode as general experience as a child growing up in an Italian household. My grandparents were born in Italy and really influenced my early passion for Italian food. They owned an Italian grocery store in Kenosha, Wisconsin, called Mantuano Food Shop, which was really the center of Italian-American life in the community. I spent a lot of time there, learning about Italian culture, food and coffee.

3) How feel about being a Chef that cooks Italian food abroad?

Spiaggia opened 32 years ago, and even then Italian food was hot. Today, it’s more popular than ever; I love bringing back experiences and inspiration from my travels in Italy to the United States.

4) What is the Italian recipe that most represents you?

I would have to say fresh-made pasta. We make our pasta fresh everyday at Spiaggia, and it’s something that I’m very devoted to. Making pasta fresh everyday is something that I took from my time living in Italy years ago.

5) What are the three essential Made in Italy products for your kitchen?

Extra virgin olive oil, Aceto Balsamico di Modena and Parmigiano Reggiano. I could live simply off of these three things and a good loaf of bread.

6) Who cooks at your house?

I do the cooking at home, although my wife Cathy did sweetly offer to make me dinner for Father’s Day.

7) Which one in your opinion is the biggest stereotype foreigners have about the Italian cuisine or Italian food?

Many Americans are under the assumption that pasta should be an entree, or that there should be a meatball on top of pasta; neither of these things exist in Italy.

8) Speaking about the “Italian Sounding” phenomenon, what do you think are the solutions to oppose it?

It needs to be closely regulated to protect authenticity. Proper regulation can help inform consumers what is truly Italian so they are not duped. 

9) What are the your future projects?

This August, I’ll return to the US Tennis Open (8/29-9/11), offering signature dishes from my cookbook Wine Bar Food at a completely renovated space in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. I’m also really looking forward to August 15, when Spiaggia will celebrate Ferragosto in Chicago with a celebration on Oak Street Beach. We’re looking forward to a beachside party complete with a lamb roast, oysters, drinks, music and more.