Bio | Interview | Featured Recipes
Tony Priolo grew up as a young boy cooking with his Sicilian grandmother in her Chicago kitchen, where he was taught the best food comes from a profound place of love and passion. He knew at an early age that he wanted to become a chef, getting his first job at 16 as a prep cook in an Italian restaurant near his home. He went on to graduate at the top of his class from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago in 1989 and quickly immersed himself in Chicago's competitive Italian restaurant scene.
Priolo's simply prepared Italian food caught the attention of diners and media when he opened Coco Pazzo Café as the Executive Chef in 1997. The year following, he opened the flagship Coco Pazzo and later was made partner in both restaurants. Under Priolo's direction, Coco Pazzo was honored by many leading food organizations, winning the AAA Four Diamond and DiRona awards and receiving wide acclaim from both local and national restaurant critics. During his time with Coco Pazzo, Priolo also traveled to Italy regularly, working for a short time at Da Delfina, the Michelin two-star country restaurant in Tuscany with famed Chef/Owner Delfina Cioni.
In 2008, Priolo, alongside his partner Ciro Longobardo, opened Piccolo Sogno, their "little dream", providing regional Italian fare to Chicago. The success of Piccolo Sogno led the pair to open Piccolo Sogno Due in 2012, bringing coastal Italian cuisine to River North. Guided by his past experience and the notion of simplicity, Priolo implements a simple attitude of cooking using all of the senses and cooking from the heart. Priolo keeps his food "as Italian as possible", highlighting the very best ingredients, locally and sourced from Italy, and letting the food speak for itself without overcomplicating a dish. In line with Italian tradition, Priolo believes the best way to pair food and wine together is to understand the influence of the dish and where it comes from, and then choose a wine to complement the food.
Piccolo Sogno was named an OpenTable.com Diners Choice award winner in 2009, 2010 and 2015, a Chicago Reader Critic's Pick in 2012 and a Concierge Preferred Favorite in 2011. In addition he received the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator in 2012. Priolo is an Illinois Restaurant Association board member and known for his support of local charities including Meals on Wheels Chicago, St. Jude's Hospital and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
As a small child, Priolo's dream was either to become a professional baseball player or a chef, choosing the latter due to his grandmother's passion for food. Priolo spent his days growing up cooking and traveling with his grandmother by bus, discovering the best ingredients in the Chicago area and cooking from scratch together. His grandmother’s love of cooking taught him that if you cook with your heart and soul, then your food will be the best, and her influence has become his philosophy throughout his years of cooking. Priolo is honored to be a part of the local Chicago chef community and is proud of the national and international exposure that the city continues to garner. Outside of the kitchen, he spends time with his family, where he loves teaching his daughter about food as his grandmother did for him. He also continues to play baseball for fun, playing on local leagues and traveling to major league stadiums for tournaments.
Q: How did you get started with your career? Please describe your journey of how you got to where you are today.
A: I was inspired to be a cook by living with my grandma when I was growing up. I decided that this was my dream and kept pursuing it. I now own 2 restaurants with my partner Ciro Longobardo.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: Honestly that changes every day. I certainly love walking into the restaurant and smelling all the fresh baked bread, the sound of the pasta machine and the smell of espresso first thing in the morning.
Q: Describe your cooking style.
A: My cooking style is very simple. I rely on the season and cook from my heart and try not to get to complicated.
Q: What is your favorite Chefwear item and why?
A: I love the VIP Royal Chef Jacket, but honestly the customer service is what makes them the best. I can have a jacket with short sleeves if I like or long sleeves, they are here for me and that is what makes them the leader in the industry, customer service.
Q: If you could choose any chef (dead or alive) to spend the day with, who would it be? Why?
A: I have so many influences in my life. I would like to start with My grandma Fay(Francesca). I would love to cook with her now with all that I have learned. Also, Julia Child would be my second. Growing up watching her cook and fumble around in the kitchen was my childhood.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
A: The Chef Knife. It is a must have in every cooking situation.
Q: What is the funniest kitchen incident you’ve encountered?
A: Maybe some of the on kitchen tickets that the waiters type in when they have special orders and they are in a rush. The misspellings and mistyped words usually end with a different word that has nothing to do with food.
Q: What do you do to stay educated about new trends in the restaurant industry?
A: Read as much as I can.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
A: That depends on the season but it always involves pasta of some sort.
Q: Which accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
A: Owning my own restaurant and teaching by example to the rest of the people that work with me.
Q: What was the best advice you ever received in your career?
A: Never give up and the harder you work the luckier you get.
Q: What advice would you give to a home enthusiast?
A: Keep at it and don't give up, even professional chefs have bad days and recipes that don’t turn out. We just keep at it and make adjustments.
Ravioli Piccolo Sogno