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‘Top Chef’ Champion to Depart Michelin-Starred Spiaggia to Open Own Restaurant

Joe Flamm is leaving in September with Eric Lees taking over at Spiaggia

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South Side native Joe Flamm is leaving Spiaggia to open a new restaurant.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Spiaggia is getting a new executive chef, as Top Chef winner Joe Flamm is leaving the esteemed Italian restaurant on Michigan Avenue. Flamm, like past Top Chef contestants before him — locally they include Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) and Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde) — plans on opening a new restaurant. The South Side native has been at Spiaggia since 2014 and before worked at Cafe Spiaggia (Spiaggia’s younger sibling in the same space).

Flamm told Eater that his last day will be September 30. Although he’s not ready to share any news about his future restaurant, Flamm did say shortly after winning Top Chef in March 2018 that he wanted his own Italian restaurant.

Spiaggia’s Tony Mantuano has been a mentor to Flamm. Mantuano (who has fans in President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden) opened the restaurant 34 years ago. Around its 30th birthday in 2014, Spiaggia underwent a renovation. It’s a Michelin-starred restaurant.

“He’s so happy and proud and has been supportive through the whole process,” Flamm said of Mantuano. “He was the first person I spoke to when I began thinking about doing my own thing. He’s always only wanted what’s best for me my career and family and I appreciate that about him.”

Mantuano, one of Chicago’s most decorated chefs, taught Flamm much during their time working together. One lesson was about restaurant culture: The quality of food and service doesn’t matter if restaurant management doesn’t foster a strong culture for its workers.

“I think my greatest lesson from Tony is balance, in food and life, is the most important,” Flamm said. “It doesn’t matter how good of a chef [you are] if you don’t balance your outside life as well.”

Flamm took home the Top Chef title on season 15 of the Bravo show. He’s also cooked at Yusho in Logan Square. Crain’s reported that Eric Lees, Spiaggia’s chef du cuisine, will replace Flamm. Spiaggia is an Eater 38 member with a luxurious dining room that overlooks Michigan Avenue and parts of the lakefront.

Besides their appearances on Top Chef, Grueneberg and Flamm are both Spiaggia alums. Grueneberg opened her acclaimed West Loop restaurant in 2015 after leaving Spiaggia in 2013.

Flamm said he hopes to share news about his plans by the end of the year.


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