Working in restaurants takes a toll with late-night hours, constantly putting on a happy face for customers, and standing for hours. The pandemic complicated matters and that’s why two veteran chefs are pivoting and opening a cooking school in Avondale.
Tutore opens next week near the corner of Belmont, California, and Elston inside the former Pisolino space, and class registration is open. Pisolino chef James De Marte is partnering with his mentor, Dean Zanella. Zanella, who most recently helmed the kitchen at Chicago Cut Steakhouse, met De Marte in the early ‘90s when he hired him as his sous chef at Grappa a since-shuttered Italian restaurant in Streeterville. The two bonded over their Italian heritage and cooking big meals and share 80 years of restaurant experience. When Zanella left to open 312 Chicago in 1997, he recommended De Marte for his old job.
Zanella says they’d talk about how their grandmothers cooked and how they would tweak recipes and techniques to make the dishes their own. Zanella says he didn’t grow up going out to eat at restaurants, but his father helped maintain a large garden. That inspired him: “I knew what a tomato tastes in season,” Zanella says.
The two agree that family traditions are in danger — in both America and Italy — with more people leaving the house to be part of the workforce. They want to preserve the old way by teaching folks that it’s not that hard to make items like gnocchi: “Taking it to another level, that’s different, we’ll get there,” Zanella says, adding: “We really want to bring down myths.”
The first batch of classes will show students how to make gnocchi and risotto. Weekend classes will focus more on how to properly slow-braise meats. No one wants to overcook oxtail and spoil the risotto.
The classes will give students a foundation to build from and attempt to instill that the best way to cook a big Italian feast is with friends and family. They’re working with Fresh Market Place, a well-stocked grocery store in Bucktown, to ensure they have the proper ingredients. They’ll carry imported olive oils and vinegar, which will be available to purchase at discounted prices for students.
De Marte and his former wife, Rachel, poured their hearts into Pisolino, giving the neighborhood a unique restaurant until it closed in September. They rolled out a lunch menu of sandwiches and even pivoted to more of a retail model when the pandemic hit in 2020, one of the first Chicago restaurants to make the move. As James De Marte saw his restaurant’s demise coming, he talked with Zanella about next steps. Zanella wasn’t ready to return to restaurant life. He wanted to spend more time with his 9-year-old daughters. A cooking school would get him back home before bedtime.
Their friends in the industry agree. Other chefs including Rob Levitt (Publican Quality Meats), John Manion (El Che Steakhouse & Bar), Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), and Al Sternweiller (Butcher & the Burger) have already offered to teach classes. But one area of interest is holding classes for chefs so they can develop a skill. Zanella likens it to continuing education for chefs, wanting to hold classes on Monday night which many restaurants take as the weekend. The first class they hope to offer is on charcuterie, taught by John Hogan (River Roast, Everest).
Zanella says two chefs, Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe) and Oliver Poilevey (Le Bouchon, Obelix) have expressed interest. Hammel says there will be a line of chefs ready to learn Hogan’s secrets and likened the chef to Star Wars Jedi master Yoda.
On days Tutore isn’t open, Zanella says they’ll lease the space to Elizabeth Waldthausen, who founded a meal-prep business called Healthy Hyouman. She’s a CrossFit trainer who pushes for healthier eating habits.
Tutore, 2755 W. Belmont Avenue, planned to open Thursday, April 27.