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For Chef Gaetano DiBenedetto, March 17 held special significance. Not only was he one of 18 chefs awarded a special Italian seal of approval, he was celebrating his second wedding anniversary with his wife, Wendy.

“I’m very excited about tonight,” DiBenedetto said. “It is a great honor for us as a restaurant.”

Forest Park based Gaetano’s, 7636 Madison St., was one of 18 Chicago-area restaurants that received the “Ospitalita Italiana” seal  – a designation bestowed by the Italian government which certified the restaurant as being authentically Italian. The honor coincided with the celebration of the 150th birthday of the unification of Italy. The chefs were given certificates at an awards dinner held at Chicago’s Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, 1431 W. Taylor St. The event was jointly sponsored by the Italian American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago and the Milan Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International.

Restaurants had to meet a series of 10 criteria, including having one staff member who could speak Italian to guests, a menu written in proper Italian, a chef who trained in Italy for at least six months, as well as serving wines and olive oil products imported from Italy.

“I am from Sicily,” Gaetano said. “I moved to the U.S. in 1995. I came here on vacation, and I stayed. I came to Forest Park to buy equipment for a restaurant I was opening downtown, and decided to move into Forest Park.”

DiBenedetto’s first Forest Park based restaurant, La Piazza, opened in 2003 and closed in 2008. Gaetano’s opened in March 2008.

“We use a lot of products from Italy; but for the most part, we make everything in house,” Gaetano said. “We make things the old-fashioned way. All our pasta, bread, and gelato are done in house. All our wine is bought from Italy.

During an interview, Gaetano echoed Forest Park’s slogan when he said it offers a small-town feel with big city exposure.

“It’s close to Chicago, but a little different,” Gaetano said. “It is more like a little neighborhood. We figured we could do something in the suburbs, so it was a little more calm, but people come from all over – Chicago, London, to eat here.”