Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
September 13, 2009
To be David Manilow is to spend one day chowing down on a "slow roasted salmon with miso mayo crust" in the rarefied (and very expensive) Sixteen restaurant in Trump Tower and the next night devouring fried meatball at Danny's Deli in Melrose Park.
"I get to eat at a lot of places," he says, a model of understatement.
Manilow is the creator (along with Joel Cohen) and executive producer of " Check, Please!," the popular restaurant review program in which three so-called ordinary people offer their critical opinion on local dining establishments. It began on WTTW-Ch. 11 (where it airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m.) in 2001 and has spread to such other cities as San Francisco, Miami and Kansas City, Mo.
"It has been," Manilow says, "an enjoyable ride."
That ride actually started on bicycles and buses. Those were the means by which Manilow explored the city as a child growing up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The son of real estate developer and arts patron Lewis Manilow, David attended The Francis W. Parker School before heading off to the University of Wisconsin.
"It was a joy growing up in the city. We would go everywhere," he says. "That was what fueled my lifelong passion to explore. I actually don't look at 'Check, Please!' as being as much about restaurants as most people do. I think of it as a show about falling in love with your city."
He has a point. Osgood and I, certainly no foodies, have always seen "Check, Please!" as a way of drawing people to neighborhoods and suburbs out of their comfort zones.
Surprisingly, Manilow's television ambitions initially focused on being on camera, as a sports broadcaster. Eventually he began working as a producer for the late Tim Weigel.
"He was inspiring," says Manilow. "He would do all his own writing, his own thinking. He taught me to look at stories and to tell them in a manner that would allow for something other than the superficial. What does a place feels like? Who is this person?"
He later worked for some video production companies before starting "Check, Please!" But now, after more than 100 episodes, isn't Manilow sick of food?
"No, I am not over the restaurant thing," he says. "I have been looking at the raw footage of the 300 interviews we have with chefs and they are fascinating. It's really a diverse crowd, most of them having great fun as they grab for their piece of the American dream. A show? Maybe and we might call it 'Check, Please Tartare.' "
And there is another possible project, involving the Chicago Community Trust and its work with the not-for-profit world. Tentative title? "Cause and Effect."
Finally, it has to be asked: If he could have one meal anywhere, where would that be?
"At home," he says, smiling.
His wife is the charming and beautiful attorney Mary Kenney. That she can also cook makes for almost too much of a good thing in David Manilow's very good life.