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Rick Tramonto is taking over my kitchen. The four-star chef/partner of Tru—one of the top restaurants in Chicago, if not the country—and his wife, Eileen, have been here only 45 minutes, and he’s already ditched his blazer and rolled up his sleeves, revealing the massive chef tattoo on his forearm. While I fumble for the kosher salt, he starts sautéing mushrooms and shallots in the cheap pan I bought as part of a multipiece set at Sam’s Club for $79.99. And I feel my dinner slipping away.
The evening was not supposed to go like this. The idea was simple: I would invite Tramonto (a complete stranger) to our West Town condo to join me, my wife, Jen, and a few friends for dinner. Jen and I would prepare recipes from Tramonto’s new cookbook, Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $35), and I would write about it for Chicago magazine. Tramonto graciously accepted—in part because he has a book to publicize, and in part because he’s just the kind of what-the-hell guy who would.
Steak with Friends professes to show amateurs “how to reproduce the delicious flavors of [Tramonto’s] steakhouse food at home”—no dehydrators, no acetate strips, no blowtorches. I’m probably a notch down from amateur, but my wife’s baking skills gave us just enough confidence to attempt a menu of roasted beets, sea scallops with mushrooms, twice-baked potatoes, grilled broccoli rabe, and balsamic-marinated hanger steaks. After procuring the beef at Paulina Market and the rest at Whole Foods—and prepping for nearly 24 hours—we were ready.
What we weren’t ready for was Tramonto himself.
Photograph: Chris Lake