He's Taking a Different Approach to Banquet Fare
Ackleson, Lisa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Lisa Ackleson Daily Herald Correspondent
"Stay true to what the food should be - keep it traditional, but still original." Chef Troy Tornabeni of St. Andrew's Golf and Country Club in West Chicago values these words of advice from friend Angelo Nicelli, former owner of Cafe Angelo a Chicago hot spot in the '60s and '70s.
The two met when Nicelli, a regular at Hollywood Casino in Aurora where Tornabeni was working at the time, asked to speak to the new chef. They formed a fast friendship and in his free time, the 24-year-old Tornabeni still spends time with Nicelli.
"He is in his 80s; we hang out and talk on the phone. He is my mentor."
Not that chef Tornabeni has much free time these days as he stays busy preparing meals for more than 1,500 people a week at St. Andrew's.
Tornabeni, of Westmont, started his culinary career as a line cook at the Oak Hotel in Burr Ridge. After graduating from the Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago in 2001, he worked at Hollywood Casino and Orchard Valley Golf Course, also in Aurora. At St. Andrew's he is working toward offering personalized service and a more contemporary American-style menu for the 2000s.
How did you become interested in cooking? I always enjoyed watching my mom and grandmother cook. My mom wanted to go to culinary school and I guess I just followed her dream.
What are your responsibilities at St. Andrew's? My responsibilities are primarily banquet related, although we do offer a bar/lounge menu to customers of J.J.' s Bar. We typically do two or three banquets a day, ranging from golf outings to bridal showers and weddings. I have a kitchen the size of one and a half football fields, but keep a small staff: two dishwashers, two prep cooks and an intern. I like to work with just a few people I can trust.
Production must be one of your strengths. Yes, we do a lot of prep work. In my third week here, I did four weddings in one weekend with just a dishwasher. I often work from 5 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. seven days a week.
What is your most memorable moment in the kitchen? That's easy. Three years ago at Hollywood Casino, three cooks and I did 473 covers for the Tony Bennett show. It was chaos; we were very backed up. The saute cooks were working 20 orders and had 50 orders waiting. Needless to say, we were shorthanded.
Do you have a favorite kitchen task? I am a big saute/broiler guy. I like to work with game and meat in general. Steak house concepts are my strength. My favorite item to cook is Lamb Osso Bucco. Lamb shanks are great because they have so many applications and great flavor.
Do you have a favorite ingredient? Royal trumpet mushrooms. They can be grilled whole and are like giant porcini mushrooms without the cost.
Do you favor any cooking trends? I like raw cuisine even though it is fading. I also support the use of local produce and protein sources. If I'm doing an Asian dish, for example, I head out to the Asian market in Chicago to pick up any fresh items I need.
What inspires you to create new dishes? Talking with the customers. We are beginning to break …
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Publication information: Article title: He's Taking a Different Approach to Banquet Fare. Contributors: Ackleson, Lisa - Author. Newspaper title: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL). Publication date: January 9, 2008. Page number: 1. © 2009 Paddock Publications. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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