Arnold Myint was on vacation last summer at a friend's lake estate in Idaho when and where he befriended the owners of Taverna 750, a Lake View restaurant known for its shared-plate menu.
They didn't talk too much business since it was, after all, a vacation.
But when Myint visited Chicago over the past year or so, he stopped by the Lakeview restaurant.
He soon was brought in to work with Taverna's beverage program. Shortly thereafter, with a shift in ownership and direction, he was hired as a freelance restaurant consultant.
"My services help provide a successful overall hospitality experience be it from menu-planning, points of table service to staff training," said Myint, who appeared on Top Chef: D.C. ( season 7 ) in 2010.
Myint, 37, who is openly gayand doubles as the drag alter ego Suzy Wongsplits his time between Nashville and Los Angeles, and spent many nights this summer in Chicago and likely will be back for extended periods over the next year or so.
His Nashville restaurants are PM, BLVD and Suzy Wong's House of Yum.
"Top Chef was a blast," Myint said. "At the time, there weren't all of these 'one off' shows. It was an achievement just to be selected to participate. Who doesn't like a little free press, right?
"After Top Chef, I started traveling to various chef events, emceeing, judging local competitions and riding the momentum that comes with 15-minutes of fame. I got an endorsement offer with Spam, which I did not take. I started working with the brand management division of a large talent agency and went into development for my own show which merged the life of myself as a professional chef with my alter ego, Suzy Wong."
He also launched a line of private label wine in Northern California, called "Show Pony."
Taverna 750 closed for about 10 days in mid-September as Myint and Co. redesigned the restaurantfrom look to food options to drinks offered.
"Change happens gradually and, in this industry, it is important to strategize, but also know that ultimately demand will dictate action," Myint said. "So things that I am focusing on at the moment are consistency, time efficiency, and menu development, based on feedback. The next steps would be reducing internal costs and continued overall staff training. The ultimate goal is a solid foundation and clear identity."
The new menu, Myint said, is run by a "variety of globally-inspired shared plates that accompany a social evening of drinking cocktails with friends, a niche that Taverna has already mastered. All plates are meant for sharing.
"Nuances of Taverna as before will still be around, for it'd be a waste to not utilize their pizza oven. I'm here to add another dimension to the program. I find the food to be approachable and fun, nothing serious, just tasty and familiar with a subtle twist."
New beverages at Taverna 750 have been implemented since the summer. "Taverna already has a solid program and continues to promote their house cellos and luxe cocktails," Myint said. "I'm hoping to develop a wine program as the next layer of offerings."
The restaurant underwent subtle renovations in September. The music is "funky" and the ambiance offers a "cool vibe," Myint said.
"With the current momentum and commitment [of] the staff and owners, Taverna 750 is a go-to neighborhood staple that provides just enough chic factor people can enjoy more than just for a special occasion once a year," Myint said. "It reminds me of my places in Nashville. I often see patrons pop in more than once throughout the course of the day."
Myint turned to Wong to help promote his restaurants, and it "slowly morphed into an obsessive hobby," he said. "I have managed to include Suzy in my professional life, which seems to be working. For example, if you visit my wine website, you will notice the campaign; all drag queens, including Raja and Tranikka Rex of Chicago. If you have seen me on The Cooking Channel, my cameos always include Suzy. She also kind of takes over media as well."
Wong is competing in the long-running Miss Gay America female impersonator pageant Oct. 8-12 in Nashville.
Wong is the first alternate for Miss Gay California America 2014.
Akasha Royale is Miss Gay Illinois America 2014, while Kirsten Dubo is Illinois' first alternate.
"Miss Gay America is the longest standing pageant for female illusionists to date," Myint said. "It was founded in the 1970s in Nashville and for the first time since, it is returning. I am elated as this is my third year competing. Last year, I made top ten. I am so glad to have discovered and been encouraged to get involved with this [event]. Having been a competitive ice skater and touring in shows [during] my youth, Miss Gay America has given me a 'full circle' type on contentment in my life."
"I am very proud of what, as we say in the business, 'package' I am bringing and can't wait to share it," Myint said. "I have found a beauty in the Miss Gay America system that is the dedication and loyalty of its fans and promoters. Year after year, they recruit entertainers and female impersonators that are at the top of their craft. This speaks true for the Miss Gay Illinois Team. I met them at my very first preliminary, and we have developed a friendship throughout my journey."
Myint will be back in Chicago this fall, and he calls Lake View home.
"I love partying in Chicago and have family that reside in the suburbs, so I am not unfamiliar [with the city and sounding area]," Myint said. "My time is consumed with work, so I mainly enjoy passing Whole Foods in the morning and contemplating the 24-hour IHOP that faces my bedroom window as I retire for the evening."