New Beginnings: Curtis Duffy


The renowned chef discusses the opening of his new restaurant and more.

There’s nothing more exciting than a star chef opening his own restaurant, infusing all the knowledge he’s learned along the way into its creation. James Beard Award nominee Curtis Duffy, an alum of Alinea, Charlie Trotter’s and the former Avenues at The Peninsula (he received two Michelin stars there!), has done just that with his new restaurant Grace. If I were you, I’d call today to snag the next available reservation. While you wait, get up close and personal with the master chef.

Describe the food and atmosphere at Grace. Thoughtful-progressive. The food is very approachable but also exciting and interesting, and the atmosphere is warm, inviting and modern.

Favorite part of the job? Being able to create on a daily basis and give my guests an experience they enjoy. To see somebody emotionally moved by meals that you create, it’s like, ‘How is that possible?’ But it is.

Who inspires you? If I weren’t opening my own place, I’d work for Matthias Merges [owner of Yusho]. He was one of my biggest inspirations at Charlie Trotter’s. He was there 15 years – that guy ran the restaurant. I still get inspiration from him. I’d work for him in a second, and there aren’t many people I’d say I could work for.

Where else do you dine? I love Thai food, so TAC Quick. You have to ask for the secret menu – this Thai food isn’t latten in sugar. It’s legit Thai and it’s great. The Thai beef jerky is pretty amazing, and some of their curries are really nice too. And then I love Tiparos on Clark Street and North Avenue. The Tom Kha Gai soup — best in the city.

Favorite fine-dining restaurant? I love what Michael Carlson’s doing at Schwa. I know him personally; when I see his personality come through in a dish, that’s exciting. That’s a personality cuisine. Full on Michael Carlson – it’s bizarre, cool and fun. I also like GT Oyster. Boka’s great – they do a really nice job. And Yusho!

Thoughts on the next food trend? High-end Mexican food that’s ultra refined. I’m telling you, one of the best meals I ever had was at [Rick Bayless’] Topolobampo. Everybody’s perception is that Mexican food is low-end, but at Topolobampo it’s not what you think. When they refine the dishes, the flavors come through. It will kick your ass.

Craziest thing a customer has ever done? When I was at Alinea, we did a total vegan menu for 28 courses. This guy was really strict about it. Got all the way through his meal, then he ordered coffee and asked for cream.

Are you single? I am.

On that note, describe your ideal woman. Upbeat and positive. I really love a bubbly personality, and I like women who smile a lot. I’m not going say I love brunettes, although brunette is my favorite hair color — I don’t think I’ve ever dated a blonde!

And your idea of a perfect date? You’re talking to someone who’d been married for 11 years and is newly on the dating scene. I’d love to have somebody cook for me. That would be a nice treat.

We’ll start brainstorming on a menu!

Sarah Levy

About Sarah Levy Imberman

Sarah Levy delighted millions as the owner and proprietor of Sarah's Pastries & Candies, one of Chicago's most popular confectionaries since its opening in 2004. A graduate of Northwestern University and the French Pastry School, Ms. Levy is the author of Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion and the winner of the Food Network Challenge. She’s been featured in USA TodayBetter Homes and Gardens and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Ms. Levy's now doing business as S. Levy Foods, and is a leader in the airport food concession business.