Table 19: a cultural transition

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matt ianetta
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There aren’t many restaurants connected to hotels that worry about being part of the farm-to-table movement, Matt Ianetta figures.

But for the Marriott Corporation, it is becoming more important and the executive chef at Table 19, the restaurant of the Marriott Hotel Pere Marquette, is proud to be part of the hospitality giant’s “culture transition.”

“It is still, of course, very important that we have the same quality of service and food our hotel restaurants always have for our customers, but now we also want to make sure it is indigenous to the area where it is located,” Ianetta said.

“So we try to support as much of the local agriculture as we can, in the meats and cheeses and vegetables we buy and serve,” he said.

Ianetta came to Peoria from a Marriott hotel in Atlanta to take his executive chef’s position. But for the 31-year-old Boston native, who went to culinary school in New York before going to Atlanta, finding himself in a much smaller city hasn’t been the culture shock some might expect. Perhaps, he said, that’s because he hasn’t had time to think about it.

“When I came here, it wasn’t like I was walking into an established restaurant where I would have to be careful while putting my own imprint on things. I got here when this space was a shell, with no walls or even flooring yet,” Ianetta said while sitting in the Pere Marquette’s Great Room (large open space where the bar is located between the reception desk and the restaurant).

“The renovation was far from complete, but for me that was great. It allowed me to be part of the build-in of the restaurant and kitchens. I got to pick which of the equipment from the previous restaurant and kitchens was salvageable. I got to plan the menu, hire all the staff, help design the space…”

“It became more personal to me. I became more invested in my work. Because of that it is even more important to me that Table 19 succeeds and becomes one of the area’s top restaurants,” he said.

Because he had time to do so, Ianetta was able to be “meticulous” in hiring his staff to fit the restaurant’s needs. He wasn’t looking for a high level of culinary experience because he wanted to put his stamp on the staff instead of spending a lot of time breaking habits developed elsewhere. Also, he added, they would be more vested, as well.

“As it turned out, it wasn’t much of a problem because the staff all came in eager to learn new things. When you consider where they started to where they are now, they are like machines. I’ve almost turned them into snobs because they are not going to send something out of the kitchen that isn’t right. And when I say ‘right,’ I mean they have developed high standards,” he said.

“We are trying to elevate the quality of food service here and in Peoria.”

That, he noted, is important for a hotel restaurant that counts on local residents coming in for a meal as much as it does hotel guests, if not more.

“We want people to come back and that starts with the quality of the food and the quality of the service. Feedback is important, which is why I like to go out and touch the tables, talk to people, hear their concerns and opinions. I try to read the guest, find out their reason for being there. I have my staff do the same thing because it helps us do our job better now and down the road,” he said.

Price is always a factor, Ianetta said. He tries to keep his food costs as low as possible while maintaining the farm-to-table culture. It isn’t easy, particularly trying to get organic vegetables in the winter in Illinois. Considering he is responsible for Table 19, all hotel catering and banquet service and room service, it gets even harder.

He buys from U.S. Foods, which has its own local foods program, and gets his meats from Eureka Food Locker. His cheeses come from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Bloomington.

“Grocery stores are starting to expand their organic food sections because they are learning this movement is more than just a fad. But we need more people to get on board with it so the movement can be sustained and the costs can come down,” he said.

Ianetta said Table 19 guests seem to appreciate the farm-to-table culture and he believes that helps bring them back. “It’s important we get them to come back not only for our own success, but to help get more people downtown. Peorians like to go out to dinner; we want them to come downtown. If another fine dining restaurant comes in around the corner or across the street, that’s fine. More people will be coming downtown and a lot of them will come here,” he said.

Table 19 seats between 89 and 92 and that includes the intimate Table 19. The restaurant got its name from a past restaurant in the Pere Marquette that had a table famous for being the one where men proposed to their ladies or took them for special dates or anniversaries. It was, of course, Table 19.

The restaurant’s décor is contemporary, the design is more open than its predecessor, Carnegies. “We want to have an atmosphere that is more casual and fun. We’re finding out our guests, whether it’s local people coming in or hotel patrons, prefer it that way,” Ianetta said.

Table 19 has a breakfast bar and serves lunch each day, as well. “We’ve learned there is a clientele for it,” he said.

Ianetta, married with three children, said Peoria’s size is a blessing for raising a young family. “My wife and I wanted to slow the pace down while the kids are young. We like Peoria and I feel like I am part of something important with all the redevelopment going on. I’ve learned people in Peoria are really in tune with what goes on in their city. It is important the Pere Marquette project succeeds and I am glad to be part of it,” he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).