Bio | Interview | Featured Recipes
Recalling the sneak-away beachside joints of Coastal Brazil, Executive Chef/Partner John Manion took the plunge to open La Sirena Clandestina in the summer of 2012.
A 20-year veteran of the restaurant scene, Manion drew ideas for the menu and concept at La Sirena from growing up in Brazil and his subsequent travels to South America and the Caribbean. Detroit-raised Manion and his family moved to São Paulo, Brazil, when he was just 8 years old.
He spent the next five years soaking in the culture and food of a place that was very far from home. Manion always felt most comfortable in restaurant kitchens, where he’d worked since age 15 with his first job; however, he went on to study English and political science at Marquette University in Milwaukee and took a job at a public relations firm in Washington, DC, after college.
After a short time, he felt compelled to pursue his love of cooking full-time, so he moved to Chicago to attend the College of Culinary Arts at Kendall College.
While in school, he trained under Chef Dean Zanella at Grappa, and he landed the opening chef position at Low country restaurant Savannah’s after earning his culinary certificate. The chef was lured back to the Nuevo Latino realm, assuming the role at Churrascos and not long after that, as executive chef of legendary Latino restaurant Mas, at which he spent the next nine years of his career.
He then worked as executive chef at Branch 27 for a year before focusing on opening La Sirena, which has since gone on to earn recognition as a Jean Banchet “Best Neighborhood Restaurant” in 2015.
In 2016, Manion opened El Che Bar in Chicago’s West Loop, an encore to La Sirena Clandestina, which represents a love letter to his travels in Argentina interpreted through the Buenos Aires tradition of live flame cooking. Chef Manion’s passion for flavors born of South American influence animates the spirited dishes and sultry ambiance of the 100-seat restaurant and has earned a coveted three-star rating from the Chicago Tribune.
Q: How did you get started with your career? Please describe your journey of how you got to where you are today.
A: I started my career by moving to Brazil when I was a kid, and I had a huge culinary epiphany there. I was an English and political science major in college so that also informed my culinary career.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: What I love most about my job is working with beautiful products and great people.
Q: Describe your cooking style.
A: Simple and to the point.
Q: What is your favorite Chefwear item and why?
A: There's a denim coat Chefwear gave us at the Chefs’ Barbecue that I really like, it was great and super comfortable.
Q: If you could choose any chef (dead or alive) to spend the day with, who would it be? Why?
A: That's a great question, I would choose Jean-Claude Poilevey because I miss him every day.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
A: I don't know how people live without a bench scraper.
Q: What is the funniest kitchen incident you've encountered?
A: I can't go into too much detail but it involves an errant tossed egg almost hitting a prominent Chicago restaurateur.
Q: What do you do to stay educated about new trends in the restaurant industry?
A: I travel, read and eat out a lot.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: It honestly changes from day to day!
Q: Please list awards and accolades.
A: La Sirena Clandestina was voted as a Jean Banchet "Best Neighborhood Restaurant" in 2015, and I was a 2017 Jean Banchet-nominated Chef of the Year. El Che Bar also received a three-star review from the Chicago Tribune's dining critic, Phil Vettel which we are very proud of
Q: Which accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
A: I think that the most important thing that we do is provide a great working and learning environment for people.
Q: What was the best advice you ever received in your career?
A: The best advice I received in my career was from my father: You can be anything in this life that you want to be...except a lawyer (laughs).
Q: What advice would you give to a home enthusiast?
A: Don't be afraid of failing, that's how you learn.
Lamb Ribs with Mint/Yogurt Relish