For the sixth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2012."
Sure, Chef Tony Mantuano is from Kenosha and he's really made his name in Chicago, but a little part of him belongs to Milwaukee, too.
Mantuano, owns Mangia Trattoria in his hometown, and has no less than Spiaggia, Bar Toma and Terzo Piano at the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Windy City.
Among his many other successes, he's published cookbooks, been a contestant on Food Network's "Top Chef Masters," has a Beard Award and has cooked for President Barack Obama.
Now, as Mantuano preps to make a return visit to Kohler for the annual Food and Wine Experience, we got a chance to ask him about his Wisconsin roots, his connection to Milwaukee and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Could you have imagined, growing up in Kenosha, that you'd be where you are now, running internationally recognized restaurants in Chicago, traveling the world?
Tony Mantuano: I always wanted to travel the world and specially wanted to visit Italy, the birthplace of my grandparents. Being involved and running world class restaurants has been the result of diligence and hard work; something that took years.
OMC: Do you still spend much time in Kenosha and at Mangia?
TM: I spend lots of time at Mangia, we have monthly cooking classes, wine dinners, guest chefs and wine maker dinners, fundraisers – we do it all. Plus, there is always our annual Masters of the Grill the third week in June, usually a Sunday, which is always an exciting world class event with chefs from all over the country.
OMC: You've obviously kept an eye on Milwaukee, since you nabbed Jason Gorman recently for the Art Institute. What's your take on what's going on up here in culinary terms? Any favorite places, chefs?
TM: I worked in Milwaukee for for 5 years back in the late '70s for chef Kurt Weber at the Nantucket Shores, where I met my wife, Cathy. I also attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a music major. My in-laws live in Waukesha and we often visit and dine at Jake's in Brookfield, my favorite Milwaukee area restaurant. I also loved Jason Gorman's work at the Iron Horse.
OMC: What led you to recruit Jason to work for you at the Art Institute of Chicago?
TM: When we were looking for a new chef at the Art Institute, I asked Jason if he knew anyone and he said that he was interested, which was a pleasant surprise.
OMC: I took my family to Bar Toma – after you tweeted back to me about it in August – and we loved it. It's one of the few Italian places that really actually feels like an Italian place. How do we get you to open one here and to serve farinata, too?
TM: I love Twitter for just those kinds of conversations, and I love even more your praise for Bar Toma. I wanted our guests to feel like they are in a piazza in any town in Italy and enjoying great pizza, wine, gelato and espresso. As for a Bar Toma in Milwaukee, I never say never. We are approached all the time about opening new restaurants, so you never know. I love farinata and hope to add it to our menu soon.
OMC: Finally, tell me a bit about the Kohler event. You're a return guest, aren't you? What keeps you going back and what will you be doing while you're up there?
TM: Kohler is one of those really special places in Wisconsin. The event is so well organized, the people attending so enthusiastic, and I can grab a great bratwurst while I'm there. One of my sous chefs, Aaron Diener, is from Sheboygan and he even has a state map of Wisconsin tattoo! Needless to say, he will be making the trip with me. At the same time we are remodeling our bathrooms at Spiaggia with all Kohler products!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.