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Chef Jason Gorman is returning home to Chicago to cook with Kenosha native Tony Mantuano's at the Art Institute.
Chef Jason Gorman is returning home to Chicago to cook with Kenosha native Tony Mantuano's at the Art Institute.

Gorman leaving Milwaukee to work for Mantuano in Chicago

Chef Jason Gorman is leaving Milwaukee to work with Kenosha native Tony Mantuano as executive chef at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Mantuano is best known for his Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago.

The food operations at the museum are managed by Bon Appetit, a California based company.

Gorman, a Chicago native who came to prominence in Milwaukee with the launch of Dream Dance at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, before moving on to a position at The Iron Horse Hotel last fall, has been cooking in recent months for Peter Sandroni at La Merenda in Walker's Point, while searching for a suitable space for a new restaurant of his own.

"About a month and a half ago Tony Mantuano called me up and offered me the job at the Art Institute," says Gorman.

"Peter (Sandroni, La Merenda owner) has been great. He's been helping me out and I could have stayed there forever if I wanted to, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up."

Though he's been away from the Windy City for 29 years, the return will mark a homecoming for Gorman, whose mother still lives in Chicago. And the Art Institute location has special significance for Gorman and his mom, too.

"My mom was an art history student at the Art Institute (school)," says Gorman. "When I was about 4 years old she took me down there to show me the Monets. She'd been telling me all about the Claude Monets. When we got there it was packed and we couldn't get into the room. I don't remember this, but my mom said I started shouting, 'I want to see Claude! I want to see Claude.'

"I guess I'm going to get to see Claude."

In his new position, Gorman will run the dining operations on the first floor of the Art Institute and for all the events in the building. He's excited that Bon Appetit is committed to sourcing at least 20 percent of its ingredients locally.

Mantuano also has a separate restaurant, Terzo Piano, on the third floor of the museum's Modern Wing. Gorman will not work at Terzo Piano.

Friday will mark Gorman's final night …

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The rooftop terrace at The Peninsula offers spectacular views. You can dine out here, too, at Shanghai Terrace.
The rooftop terrace at The Peninsula offers spectacular views. You can dine out here, too, at Shanghai Terrace.
The relaxation area at The Peninsula Spa.
The relaxation area at The Peninsula Spa.
This image of the pool pretty much speaks for itself.
This image of the pool pretty much speaks for itself.

The easy-going pleasures of The Peninsula Chicago

CHICAGO – People say that money can't buy happiness. I always figure those folks have never stayed at The Peninsula in Chicago.

Now, every job has its ups and downs. For example, while I pretty much have to read every single talkback that comes in to OnMilwaukee.com (trust me, that'll suck the life out of you some days), I do also sometimes get to do some pleasurable research. Like when I get to stay at The Peninsula, 108 E. Superior St., to gather information for my occasional Chicago travel stories.

Because being at the place is a pleasure, I don't take a second of it for granted. And it's not just because the linens are soft and the rooms comfortable, although that helps. It's because The Peninsula understands what so many businesses of all kinds don't: it's about the people.

Sometimes when you go to a fine restaurant or visit a top-notch hotel, you get an accompanying attitude. Best I can tell that doesn't exist at The Peninsula, where everyone is always smiling and it never, ever looks forced.

"Our General Manager always says, 'If we are aloof or arrogant, we're missing our mark,'" Susan Ellefson, director of public relations at The Peninsula, told me a while back. "You can teach service, but you have to start by hiring people who enjoy helping others, who are hospitable people, smiling people."

You don't even have to stay at The Peninsula to experience it (though if you can, you ought to treat yourself): have a drink in the bar, splurge on the insanely sumptuous Sunday brunch, dine out at Shanghai Terrace on the rooftop terrace, with its views of the Chicago skyline. You'll see what I mean. The service is great, but it is comfortable. Folks will chat with you, they'll make sure you're contented without even the hint of embarrassing over-the-top deference.

One great way to dip a toe into The Peninsula experience is to book a visit to the top-floor spa, which also gets you access to a half-Olympic-size pool with a stellar view…

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MacDowell Montessori moved into the former Juneau High School over the summer.
MacDowell Montessori moved into the former Juneau High School over the summer.
The 1930s building has many interesting features, including this original theater.
The 1930s building has many interesting features, including this original theater.
Volunteers from GE came in last week and did all kinds of work, including cool furniture for the after-school camp room.
Volunteers from GE came in last week and did all kinds of work, including cool furniture for the after-school camp room.

A few good seats still available at MacDowell Montessori

You know by now that I support public Montessori, a method that has been responsible for some of the highest achieving schools in MPS.

(Note: I say "a" method, not "the" method in response to some talkbacks on my commentary recently on the opening of the new Howard Avenue Montessori School. There are other methods, too, that are doing good things – one's mind immediately jumps to the language immersion schools and the IB programs as examples.)

Today, I visited the former Juneau High School on 64th and Mount Vernon (sorta midway between Maxie's Southern Comfort and Balistreri's Bluemound Inn, for you dining fans out there), and got a tour of MacDowell Montessori from the K3-12 school's principal Andrea Corona.

In addition to the beautiful 1930s moderne building designed by Van Ryn & DeGelleke – my Facebook friends will get to see (or suffer through) most of the photos I took, and I'm posting a few here, too – I had a good chat with Corona, who is still overseeing the move over the summer from MacDowell's previous location at 17th and Highland.

What surprised me most is that the newly relocated school has seats available. Yes, folks, if you're looking for a great public Montessori school option for this year – school starts one week from today – MacDowell has openings at most grade levels. And, get this parents, there will be an on-site day care option for the half-day kids (color me jealous)!

Principal Phil Dosmann tells me there are a few K4 seats open at the new Howard Avenue Montessori, too. They also offer after-school care for half-day kids.

MacDowell was MPS' first traditional public Montessori, though Highland Community School – chartered through MPS – is older still. It's got some of the best veteran teachers in the system and there's also a crop of talented younger teachers, too. Some of them made the move to MacDowell when the Montessori High School (which had been at Juneau, too) closed in June.

MacDowell will be a unique option among …

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I took the elevator to the top of this...
I took the elevator to the top of this...
...so I could look down from here.
...so I could look down from here.
The view out the windows of the Skydeck are pretty amazing.
The view out the windows of the Skydeck are pretty amazing.

Testing my mettle on the Willis Tower Ledge

CHICAGO – I'd trace my love of tall buildings to growing up in New York, but I doubt one has anything to do with the other.

My childhood visits to the observation decks at the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center were fun, but the crowds at ESB and places like Chicago's Willis Tower and Hancock Center are proof that I'm in no way unique in my love at looking at the world from high above.

It's been a couple decades since I scaled (well, rode the elevator up) what was then called the Sears Tower. Back then, the 108-story building was still the world's tallest at 1,451 feet. Since 2009, the soaring black tower designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, has been called the Willis Tower.

The modernist building, completed in 1973, lost its title as the world's tallest 11 years earlier when the Petronas Twin Towers were erected in Kuala Lumpur. It is, however, still the tallest in the U.S. and, I assume, the entire North American continent, and seventh tallest in the world.

This weekend, I returned to ride the super-fast elevator up to the Skydeck once again. (Tip: invest in the Fast Pass, so you can skip the long lines.) In large part I went back so that I could test my mettle by stepping out onto the Ledge: one of three plexiglass boxes that jut out the west side of the building. Even the floor is transparent.

Whenever I have to climb a ladder to change a light bulb high above the garage door or clean leaves out of the gutters, I think of myself as being afraid of heights – though for my urban spelunking stories I have climbed circular staircases and old wooden ladders surrounded by nothingness, straight up into high, dark places – and I figured stepping out on to the Ledge would help me face this fear, sorta.

After waiting in a bit of a line, I stepped out and though I wasn't frightened, I did feel a little unsteady, almost like I might lose my balance due to the "lack" of a floor.

Looking down was unreal. Sure, it's far, but just like looking ou…

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