Eighteen Chicago restaurants honored with special Italian seal
03/23/2011 10:00 PM
Italy turned 150, and 18 Chicago-area restaurants were granted a special Italian seal of approval for their cuisine at an awards dinner March 17 held at the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, 1431 W. Taylor St.
The “Ospitalita Italiana” seal was given to the restaurants by the Italian government, certifying them as authentically Italian, and was part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the unification of Italy. The awards dinner was co-sponsored by the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Milan Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International.
Each restaurant had to meet 10 criteria, including having a menu written in proper Italian, having one staff member who could speak to guests in Italian, and employing a head chef who had trained in Italy for six months. The restaurants must reapply for their seals in 12 to 18 months. Six hundred restaurants worldwide were given the honor.
John Coletta, the head chef at Quartino, 626 N. State St., said the award was a special distinction.
“It allows us to have validation, and to continue to grow,” Coletta said. “We were very, very pleased about this. It is a tribute to our staff and to everyone who works in the restaurant, to their commitment and dedication to what we are trying to do.”
Coletta said the five-year-old restaurant had to submit a list of ingredients used in its recipes that they purchased from Italy.
“We don’t use ordinary olive oil, we use oil from a certain region in Italy. Italian products are part of our DNA as a restaurant.” Coletta said.
“The same holds true,” he continued, “for tomatoes, our mozzarella (which arrives weekly from Italy) and our olives — you wouldn’t use Greek olives in an Italian restaurant. Guests can rest assured that here, you’re going to get as close to a preparation as you would find in Italy.”
Pamella Capitanini, whose family runs the three Italian Village restaurants on Monroe Street — The Village, Vivere and La Cantina — said the seal was a true honor.
“All three restaurants were given the award,” Capitanini said. “My grandfather came here in 1927 from Italy, so we are true Italians. It is wonderful for us.”
For Laura Fiasche, whose parents, Agostino and Anna, have run Ristorante Agostino at 2817 Harlem Ave., since 1986, said the award was validation for her family.
“My mom and dad do most of the cooking, and I grew up cooking with them,” Fiasche said. “The first thing I remember making was Neapolitan-style pizza in a wood burning oven in our backyard.”
Fiasche, who works in the restaurant six days a week, said Italy was more than just a country or cuisine; it was a way of life.
“We speak Italian and live Italian,” Fiasche said. “Italy comes not only through our food, but through the welcoming atmosphere you get here. Most of our customers have been customers since the first day our doors opened 25 years ago.”
Fiasche said her family visits Italy once or twice a year to reconnect with family members who still live there.
“My mom came to America when she was 15 years old,” Fiasche said. “Even though my grandfather owned two fruit markets in Italy, they moved here for a better life in America. My mom has six brothers and sisters, and they are all chefs.”
The family tradition carries on during bi-annual visits, when Fiasche’s grandparents travel to Chicago.
“When my grandfather visited from Calabria last year, he taught us how to make our own Italian wine, and he made it in our kitchen,” Fiasche said. “Our family is always cooking; we have always been familiar with food.”
The homemade wine, which Fiasche said helped to carry on an old-school family tradition, is now being served to guests.
Paula Waters, the chairperson of the Milan Committee for Chicago Sister Cities International, said that events like this are a good way to connect with Italy’s past.
“To taste our food is to taste our history,” Waters said. “All of the influences, invaders, and blessings of nature that made up Italy a mere 150 years ago are present in our cuisine. Every bite is a history lesson.”