Bringing his passionate and inspiring vision of Italian food and culture to Winnetka, Bruno Abate plans to open his new restaurant in mid-October. Tocco, named after his popular Wicker Park restaurant that he closed in February, is located at 507 Chestnut directly across from the Winnetka post office.
Bruno was born in the Amalfi Coast and raised in Milan - he came to the United States to visit his brother in 1999 and stayed for good. In Italy, he was closely involved in the food business, buying and selling the highest quality and freshest ingredients to chefs across the country. His knowledge of the country’s diverse regions and their unique offerings, whether it be parmesan cheese, white truffles, or prosciutto ham, made him realize the wealth of his country’s heritage and its influence on regional cuisines.
Upon coming to the United States, he resisted being in the restaurant business and tried other ventures. However, after two years, his true calling make itself clear and he decided to give it a try.
Bruno Abate was a pioneer in developing Chicago’s West Loop and Fulton Market when it was mostly warehouses. He ran a restaurant there from 2001 to 2010 and in 2008 opened the original Tocco in Wicker Park.
His vision for the Tocco? Spectacular food (he said he’s not modest.)
But more importantly, introducing diners to Italian culture, not just food. The food is, in fact, a full experience of the culture. He is fully aware that America's understanding of Italian food is, essentially, Americanized. Italian pizza is so light, according to Bruno, that you could eat the whole pie and not feel stuffed (the dough rises for 72 hours!)
And speaking of good pizza, he has obtained a visa for his 27-year old pizza master to come to Winnetka for two years. His current chef, also from Italy, has been with him for 15 years.
Bruno will be cooking all his food in silver pans. I asked if he meant stainless steel. No - he will be using pure silver from a jeweler in Milan. The pans that are incredibly expensive and are the best for cooking. He likes to use a small flame and feels that food is better prepared in silver cookware. It’s also anti bacterial, anti-fungal, and has no acidity.
The restaurant will have approximately 50-55 tables, 6-7 seats at the bar, and a chef’s table in the back for 10. The chef’s table will be a collaborative effort between the diners and Bruno. Not a prix-fixe menu, but rather a conversation of what diners would like to have prepared for them. He’s interested in knowing what patrons desire and he will customize their meal.
A unique bonus for Tocco patrons will be his mini-store within the restaurant. He’ll be selling high-quality olive oil, his pasta, balsamic vinegar, and many other ingredients that he is willing to teach you how to use. Every region of Italy has its own olive oil and finding a quality one here is not so easy. Bruno will introduce you to the best.
Bruno has another passion besides his restaurant. A spiritual awakening of sorts - something that happened to him one night years ago that changed his life. And the lives of many inmates in Cook County jails as well. The result was his life’s true passion - making a difference in somebody’s life.
To the Cook County inmates, he has offered hope for a better life through “an introduction to healthy food, good nutrition, and the art of quality cooking.” Bruno is keenly aware that disadvantages in life could mean a rough start but don’t have to end that way. He has dedicated his time to instructing over 700 inmates in cooking skills that will help them find jobs in the food industry after release. Only a handful have ended up back in jail.
His volunteer work with the inmates has been showcased extensively and has earned him spots on 60 Minutes with Leslie Stahl, the Daily Show, many spots on local news stations, and a full-length documentary, “Serving Time.” (See video clips below.)
His not-for-profit is named Recipe for Change Project. I think the most succinct description of his mission was written by Made in Italy:
“Through his innovative cooking program, Recipe for Change, at Illinois’ Cook County Jail, Abate is offering cooking skills, kindness, responsibility, compassion, and the opportunity to turn one’s life around.”
Keep an eye out for:
507 Chestnut St.
**SPECIAL EVENT” for Bruno’s charity Recipe for Change.
You’re invited to a street party, fundraiser, and preview of the new Tocco.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 from 6-10pm
Courtyard outside of Tocco, 507 Chestnut St., Winnetka
No charge but donations are welcome - all proceeds go to help fund RECIPE FOR CHANGE; its programs and research to impact and reduce prisoner recidivism.
A short video clip from the documentary “Serving Time” about Bruno’s work with inmates:
A clip from CBS local news:
The Daily Show produced a humorous piece about Chicago style deep dish pizza compared to Bruno’s thin crust called:
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Margaret Goss is a full-time real estate broker since 1998 working in the North Shore communities of Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Northfield, Glenview, and Evanston.
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