After six months, chef Stephen Wambach is leaving Formento’s and the West Loop Italian restaurant is turning to a familiar face in the Chicago Italian restaurant scene. Ownership has hired chef Todd Stein as his replacement, as Stein’s last week with 4 Star Restaurant Group ends today. Apparently, the fit for Wambach and Formento’s parent company, B. Hospitality Group, wasn’t a strong one.
B. Hospitality’s John Ross praised Wambach’s food, but said Formento’s needed someone with a different set of skills to handle a large-scale concept on Randolph Restaurant Row. The 13,000-square-foot restaurant spans two floors, with a private event space, a sandwich shop (Nonna’s) and a lounge. Stein’s experience with Italian cooking, with stints at Piccolo Sogno Due, The Florentine and Cibo Matto, was also a boon.
"Having the great, integral fit with somebody that can play both sides of the fence—like Todd—holy cow, give me that," Ross said.
Formento’s brass knew Stein for years, and they approached him for advice, but the parties pivoted and came to the realization that Stein was the ideal candidate. Stein said he wasn’t looking for a new job, as Four Star prepres to open a new Mexican restaurant, Tuco & Blondie, in Lakeview next week. The group is known for Smoke Daddy in Wicker Park and Crosby’s Kitchen, a family-friendly spot across the street from the new restaurant. Stein was in charge of developing menus for all their new restaurants.
"I had an incredible experience with those guys, and if it wasn’t the best job I had to do date, it was pretty damn close," Stein said. "I learned so much in the last two years about things that I never thought I would think about and it was such an incredible experience. But I kind of missed the day-to-day cooking in a single restaurant."
A 4 Star rep said the group isn’t quite yet ready to name Stein’s replacement. Wambach and Stein will work together for a few weeks through early October at Formento's. Wambach’s next stop isn’t known, as Ross said their soon-to-be-former chef will take some time off. A new menu and items will slowly be phased seasonally. Don’t expect big changes immediately.
For an outside observer, there might be a notion of turmoil, with Wambach’s departure coming on the heels of opening chef Tony Quartaro’s exit. But Ross, Walters and Stein said there’s nothing to be alarmed about. Walters compared the restaurant’s evolution to how Italian cuisine has evolved in America.
"This couldn’t be a better analogy of the evolution of the restaurant over the course of a few years," Walters said.