Executive Chef/Managing Partner
Catering to guests in both a literal and figurative sense for over twenty years, Mark Sparacino has a wealth of experience in the food and beverage business locally, nationally and
internationally. This journey began at a young age and prior to the opening of PROSECCO, culminated in his successful catering company, Traveling Fare, as well as in a much loved Italian restaurant, Sparacino’s, on Chicago’s burgeoning West Side.
Mark’s deep passion for the hospitality industry started at a bustling home filled with the love of two parents from different parts of the world, both vying to impress upon their son the importance of opening up their home to visitors both from around the neighborhood and the world. It was a lesson that shaped his hospitality philosophy moving foward. With Mark’s father Steve’s large, boisterous Sicilian clan, he learned to create mouth-‐‑watering “bracciulittini arrustuti.” He learned from an early age that the world was full of wonderful things to eat and cook!
After attending Chicago’s Loyola University with a mind to becoming a marketing executive, Mark realized his true love within the kitchen of Lettuce Entertain You’s Avanzare, the epicenter of chic Italian dining in the mid 1980’s. Here he delved into the world of rich sauces, complex plating and elegant presentation. One of the lessons learned working with one of the country’s most successful corporations was the importance of food cost and working within the margins.
Taking the lessons from one of Chicago’s best kitchens with him, Mark embarked on a mission to learn the other side of the business, the so-‐‑called “front of the house” where Guests are wowed with kindness on a daily basis. He chose as the place for this experience the uber-‐‑hot Topo Gigio, in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. At its original location, Topo Gigio was one of the first trattorias in early 1990’s Chicago. As such, it catered to an eclectic mix of the city’s movers and shakers, from visiting and local celebrities to politicians, business moguls and the Ladies Who Lunch. Mark’s magnanimous personality was a perfect mix with the lusty Roman cuisine, helping to create a Fellini-‐‑ esque astmosphere that he has successfully improved on at PROSECCO.
During the winter months of his five years at Topo Gigio, Mark decided to combine his two passions – fine dining and travel – with several seasons in Aspen, the United States Virgin Islands, and British West Indies. In the USVI, he worked with the renowned Chef Patrick Pinion at the four star Grand Palazzo Resort Hotel. As Captain on the floor of this 100 seat Mediterranean restaurant, visited by well-‐‑to-‐‑do European travelers, Mark polished his hospitality skills and developed his flair for anticipating the needs of highly sophisticated Guests.
In 1994, Mark and his family opened Traveling Fare, a catering company that focuses on upscale, social and corporate events for groups as small as 12 and as large as 1200. During the dozen years that Traveling Fare wowed its Clients, Mark added new types of food to his repertoire, from French classics to sultry Caribbean cuisine. Along the way, he learned the basics of kosher catering, the importance of working within a budget, regardless of its size and that at the end of the day, the Guest is always right.
All of Mark’s years in the business culminated in the 2001 opening of his namesake restaurant, Sparacino Ristorante. Along with his family, Mark operated this fifty seat dining room to rave reviews from its inception. The Chicago Reader commented on the “sophisticated classics…and tempting pasta dishes;” Chicago Magazine the, “sinfully rich gems;” and Dining Entertainment called it “a little spot of heaven.” Other publications have lauded his efforts, including Chicago’s Italian community stalwart, Fra Noi. Mr. Sparacino sold his catering business in 2010 and invited guests of Sparacino’s to join him at PROSECCO in December of 2007.
Mark’s years of hands-‐‑on food preparation is augmented by years of class work locally as well as at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. At CIA, Mark has taken coursework in soups, stocks and sauces, charcuterie, desserts and chocolates and catering. He has studied wine from around the world one vineyard at a time, as well as in courses at the Chicago Wine School.
At PROSECCO, Mark tailored a menu of regional Italian favorites, honed on many trips to the Italian heartland. Whether the daily menu offers simple, earthy fare like crostini con rucola e carpaccio de carne con formaggio gorganzola ( thin-‐‑shaved rare beef with gorgonzola cheese) or more complex items such as risotto zafferano con funghi di bosco (saffron rice with wild mushrooms), each dish is carefully created to allow the inner flavor of the freshest ingredients to emerge with every bite.
Mark Sparacino has spent his life traveling the world, visiting ports of call as far flung as Rio de Janiero, Monte Carlo and Capetown. In each new locale he has looked for unique ingredients to incorporate into his dishes, each plate a mini-‐‑masterpiece filled with flavor, heart and soul. And this culinary journey is far from over. His deep passion for cooking, entertaining people and his first-‐‑ hand knowledge of how to run successful hospitality businesses has been the guiding light to the food side of the PROSECCO operation.