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Todd Stein Makes a Move to Formento’s

The longtime Italian chef, who’s been spending his time with 4 Star Restaurant Group as of late, starts tonight.

Todd Stein says he’ll get more hands-on cooking time at Formento’s.   Photo: Daphne Walsh (l.); E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune

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.

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