Eataly is coming to Chicago.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (or you don’t subscribe to Eater), the two “Goodfellas” of Italian restaurants are opening a massive 60,000 sq. ft. Italian paradiso at the old ESPN Zone location at Wabash and Ohio.
You really should be excited. Why?
The two wiseguys that I speak of are Joe Bastianich (from the first family of Italian cooking) and Mario Batali. Do I really need to explain who Mario Batali is? If so, Google is your friend. These guys have a couple-two-tree Italian restaurants around the United States. Actually, they have a ton of Italian restaurants around the country. And they all are pretty amazing.
So when I read the announcement of Eataly coming to Chicago, I nearly fell off my chair. If you don’t know, Eataly is the very famous Italian eatery spot in New York City, created by Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali. We should all be excited that a B&B establishment is coming to our windy city. Even more so, we should be excited that something concrete is going to take residence in that massive property that was once the ESPN Zone. If it’s anything like the Manhattan Eataly masterpiece in NYC, then expect a plethora of Italian inspired goodness, multiple sit-down restaurants (ala Foodlife), an abundance of Italian wine, Italian meats and cheese, and fresh bread. Now imagine 60,000 sq. ft. with all of this in it. It will be the IKEA for foodies.
I can hear people saying the following:
Skeptic Pants Guy: Gee. Another celebrity chef coming to Chicago to infiltrate our town with Italian food. Wasn’t it enough with that Fabio guy opening a place here? Look how that turned out!
The Epicurean: But Mario Batali is a REAL chef. He knows his stuff. He can cook a mean meatball!
Skeptic Pants Guy: So what? How do you that this celebrity chef can cook a mean meatball?
The Epicurean: Let me explain why the term “celebrity chef” is different these days, my friend.
It’s not a surprise that most celebrity chefs these days, are not the so-called “chefs” on The Food Network. Rachel Ray? What restaurant was she the chef of again? Instead, the likes of Grant Achatz (Alinea), the Roca brothers (El Cellar de Can Roca), Ferran Adria (El Bulli), Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park), Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se), etc, are the true celebrity chefs. They created something that was absolutely spectacular, and stopped at nothing to achieve excellence within their craft.
Every now and then, I am pleasantly surprised to discover that a Food Network chef/personality has skills that go beyond making a 10-minute-meal in front of a camera. I’ll admit that when I was younger, I thought that those Food Network chefs weren’t that great. While working at Tru Restaurant here in Chicago in the early 2000’s, we hosted Mario Batali, where he had a guest chef dinner to promote his Babbo Restaurant cookbook tour. Not surprisingly, because we all were pretty arrogant in those days, we thought that it was a joke that our restaurant would be hosting a guest chef dinner from someone who became famous on The Food Network. So when Chef Batali showed up on the day of the event in his trademark brown cargo shorts and orange clogs, we laughed – but quietly enough so he couldn’t hear!
Even worse, our illustrious general manager, thought it would be a good idea to surprise Chef Batali, by having all of us in the kitchen wear brown cargo shorts and orange clogs. Thankfully Tru footed the bill for the clogs! Needless to say, Chef Batali was very surprised and happy with our gesture, and we proceeded to cook dishes from his cookbook for the 80 guests who paid $125 to eat his food. I learned pretty quickly that Mario Batali knows his stuff. And he knows it quite well. Not only that, I learned that Chef Batali paid his dues and worked hard to get where he was with the success of his restaurants. He was on The Food Network because of his knowledge of Italian food and because of his quirky personality. After that night, I had a new-found respect for the man, as well as his cooking abilities.
But really, I jumped to conclusions about him because of my personal disdain for The Food Network. The man can cook. And he knows how to run a restaurant.
Sorry chef for jumping to conclusions. Teach us more about Italian food and open more of your restaurants in our town. Benvenuto a Chicago!