With autumn officially begun, change is in the air. The passing of the seasons, however, has little to do with Todd Stein’s decision migrate from his corporate perch at 4 Star Restaurant Group into the kitchen at Formento’s (927 W. Randolph St., West Loop), B Hospitality Co.’s Italian venture on Restaurant Row. Per Stein, it’s mostly about the food. “If you look at the way I cook, the ingredients [I use], I’m an Italian chef,” he says, “who happens to cook in Chicago.”
It’s also about getting back to his roots and doing what he loves: The executive chef position at 4 Star didn’t afford Stein as much time in the kitchen as he wanted. He longed to return to day-to-day cooking in a traditional setting. Fortunately, there are no hard feelings at 4 Star. “I told him, ‘It’s what you want to do and you thought it through,’” says 4 Star general manager Kelly Hoxie. “You have to live your life based on who you are, not what other people think. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
When Formento’s partners John Ross and Philip Waters approached Stein, they were seeking some friendly advice on hiring a new chef. They quickly realized that Stein fit their bill perfectly, and offered him the kitchen (and a partnership) in their restaurant.
Stein starts at Formento’s tonight, working with current head chef Stephen Wambach as he prepares to move on to a new opportunity. While Stein hasn’t yet nailed down a complete menu, his current stable of ideas features a number of nods to his year-and-a-half run at Cibo Matto—the aspirational Italian dining room in the Wit Hotel that shuttered in 2011.
Under consideration: amatriciana, an old-school dish of house-made pancetta, red onion, and tomato sauce; and a butternut squash-stuffed pasta with brown butter ricotta, which calls back to the carmelle Stein whipped up at Cibo Matto. But, says Stein, don’t expect too much of a shakeup. “I don’t want to change everything the day I get there,” he says. “There are things that work that are very popular. The key is keeping it simple, and letting ingredients speak for themselves.”
Spoken like a true Italian.