Chef Tony Quartaro has left Formento's in the West Loop to work with Charlie McKenna (Lillie's Q) as McKenna's new culinary director for his expanding company. He started the job last week and his first task is to work with McKenna and develop the menu over at Dixie, the new Southern restaurant McKenna plans to open late this spring inside the former Takashi space in Bucktown.
In a corresponding move, B. Hospitality Co. has hired Allium executive chef Stephen Wambach from the Four Seasons Hotel to replace Quartaro.
Quartaro said he's proud of his time at Formento's —he was involved in many aspects including the kitchen design since its opening— but he wasn't sure if the role was in his long-term future. While he'll stay busy with Dixie's day-to-day operations, he's said he's most excited about the potential of McKenna's company as they plan to open more restaurants. He left Formento's around a month ago.
"It kind of felt like I had reached a certain (high) point at Formento's," Quartaro said. "I've been looking forward to a different style of project, which Dixie certainly is—a different style of food and a lot of other things."
The duo met three years ago when McKenna judged a food competition that Quartaro participated in and McKenna walked away impressed with Quartaro's ability to quickly create tasty food. Quartaro's sole experiences in Chicago working were at B. Hospitality restaurants Balena and The Bristol, so the opportunity to work elsewhere appealed to him, he said. Then McKenna came along with the offer.
"After we met and we talked a little bit, I think we had a lot of the same philosophies to how food should be, how it should be curated, how we should evolve it," McKenna said.
Cast iron cooking, plus cooking over wood fires are part of the plan at Dixie, 1952 N. Damen Ave., where McKenna wants to move away from heavy Southern cooking (like fried chicken) and feed diners more of a clean and refined menu with more vegetables and rice. The Italian cuisine at Formento's shares the same "soulful, heartful" approach as Southern cooking, McKenna said, and that family feel makes Quartaro an ideal fit at Dixie. Dixie's companion bourbon bar, 1952½, will also feature a separate bar menu, McKenna added.
B. Hospitality co-owner John Ross released a statement on Quartaro's departure, saying he "wishes Tony continued success and nothing but the best in his future endeavors." Meanwhile, Formento's will release a new menu from Wambach in late spring, with Ross calling his new executive chef's approach to Southern Italian food "refreshing and subtle."