Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Chef Profile: Chef Cristiano Bassani of Big Chef Burgers
Chef Cristiano Bassani is one of Chicago's most highly respected chefs. As a native Italian who was born in the Lombard region of Italy, he is filled with a passion for cooking and a love for his Italian culinary tradition. He has made America his home for 22 years and this has inspired him to create his newest concept, Big Chef Burgers. With this exciting casual restaurant, Cristiano focuses his attention on three cornerstones of casual American cuisine: burgers, pizza and shakes. His goal is to create memorable renditions of these American standouts, served in a comfortable and hospitable setting at reasonable prices.
"Growing up and beginning my career in Italy has definitely influenced my approach to Big Chef Burgers," says Cristiano. "In Italy, there is a strong emphasis on quality. Italian chefs are concerned with perfecting traditional, authentic dishes rather than doing things differently just for the sake of being unusual. I am approaching Big Chef Burgers the traditional Italian way. We are emphasizing quality in everything we do-we're determined to make the best hamburgers, the best pizza, the best milkshakes. We want to be known for our quality. We understand that Chicagoans like to try new things, so we will come up with new twists on our dishes, but our quality will always come first."
The first inklings of Cristiano's culinary career began at a young age when he would help his mother prepare family dinners. After years of dabbling in the kitchen, Cristiano realized he was destined to become a chef. At 14, he left the comfortable confines of his hometown and headed for culinary school in the bustling, metropolitan center of Milan.
At 17, Cristiano was awarded his first official cooking job, right out of school in Milan. He spent the next two years enriching his culinary repertoire at respected regional restaurants such as Hotel Villa Cortino in Sirmione del Garda and Ristorante Leonardo in Milan. Cristiano learned all he could about Northern Italian cuisine.
In 1991 at age 19, his hard work finally paid off. He received an interesting offer from New York City-based restaurateur Pino Luongo, a successful, well-known, international restaurateur. Impressed with Cristiano's talent and dedication, Luongo offered him a position at his upscale Le Madri restaurant in New York. "Moving to New York was like a dream to me," Cristiano says. "It was something I really wanted to do." Soon, his bags were packed and he was off to the Big Apple.
After his stint at Le Madri, he took a position at the highly acclaimed Sapore di Mare restaurant in St. Bart's, where he worked for two years. In 1992 he returned to the United States where he served as Executive Chef of Luongo's highly respected Coco Pazzo in Chicago for three years. In 1995 he moved crosstown to Bice in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. Food critic Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune lauded Bice's decision to hire Cristiano as "a stroke of genius." Cristiano was then invited to head the kitchen of Bice in Miami South Beach.
He returned to Chicago in 1997, where he worked in a variety of settings in the Chicago metropolitan area and built a strong reputation as a talented chef who met very high standards of excellence. During this period he was the owner and executive chef of Carpaccio in Palatine, I Gemelli in Addison, Ill., and Cristiano's in Palatine.
In 2004 Cristiano became Executive Chef for the popular Carlucci in Downer's Grove and then, in 2005, he opened BaPi Italian Restaurant with his partner from I Gemelli, Alberto Piazzini. He continues to own and lead the kitchen at BaPi to this day.
In early 2013, Cristiano began putting together his plan for a casual burger restaurant. The goal was to offer Chicagoans truly outstanding burgers coupled with authentic wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza and artisan milkshakes. The result is Big Chef Burgers, a full-service restaurant with bar service and a broad menu of additional delicious dishes, including salads, sandwiches and desserts.
Cristiano has been favorably reviewed by local media such as the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Herald, as well as dining blogs such as Trip Advisor and Restaurant Reviews Chicago. He has appeared on Fox TV and WGN radio. He has partnered with Academia Barilla for its Chicago Botanic Garden Italian cooking series.
Profile information and image courtesy of Kurman Communications, Inc.