Rick Tramonto, Chicago Chef, Leaving The City To Start New Orleans Venture

08/20/2010 03:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rick Tramonto, an acclaimed Chicago chef who won one of the most prestigious awards in the food industry, is leaving the city to start his next project in New Orleans, according to Crain's Chicago Business.

Tramonto began his culinary career at a Wendy's in Rochester, New York, his home town. The ambitious young chef was living in New York City and working at Tavern on the Green just seven years later.

In 1987, he was brought to Chicago by the restaurant conglomerate Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, working at Avanzare, Scoozi!, and many other LEYE establishments. He also worked at Charlie Trotter's before spending a three-year stint in England, where he won the Michelin Guide's coveted Red "M."

Back in Chicago, he would go on to open Tru, a four-star fine-dining restaurant in Streeterville, in 1999. The restaurant received strongly positive reviews, and while working there as the executive chef, Tramonto won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef - Midwest Region in 2002. The Beard Awards have been called "the Oscars of the food world."

But perhaps his most infamous moment in the city was during Chicago's brief and contentious foie-gras ban. Tramonto was always an advocate for allowing the fatty duck liver to be used in gourmet restaurants, arguing that the conditions the ducks were raised in were far better than those at massive commercial farms raising chickens and turkeys.

In response, Charlie Trotter, whose restaurant Tramonto had worked at in his early days in the city, famously said, "Rick Tramonto's not the smartest guy on the block. ... It's like an idiot comment. 'All animals are raised to be slaughtered.' Oh, OK. Maybe we ought to have Rick's liver for a little treat. It's certainly fat enough."

Still, Tramonto kept doing what he did best: cooking, and writing about cooking. He recently released his seventh book, "Rick Tramonto Steak and Friends," and was culinary director at Tramonto's Steak & Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto and RT Sushi Bar & Lounge, all in Wheeling, Ill.

Now, he's off to the Big Easy, to launch a project with local chef John Folse, the first non-Italian chef to prepare a state dinner at the Vatican.

The two will announce details of the project next week, Crain's reports but this much is for sure: Chicago is losing one of its recent culinary icons with Tramonto's departure.

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