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Curtis Duffy Dishes Some More About Grace

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 21, 2011 9:40PM

Curtis Duffy. (Image via Duffy's Twitter feed.)
Last week, former Avenues chef Curtis Duffy caused significant waves among Chicago's food media by... announcing the name of his upcoming restaurant. Grace, Duffy says, will be a fuller realization of the "microseasonal" cooking philosophy that won him acclaim and Michelin stars at Avenues.

Chefs like Paul Virant and Bruce Sherman are known for planning their menus depending on what's in season. Duffy takes that to extremes: one dish he came up with during a sabbatical was called "The Life Cycle of Fennel." "Let's say peas are in season is spring, and the peak could be a couple of weeks long," Duffy said when we spoke via phone last week. "I'd like to capture it at the height of the season." Anyone who had the chance to dine at the now-shuttered Avenues can attest that that focus is one of the reasons Duffy is one of the most acclaimed chefs in town.

Since Duffy made his announcement, Chicago magazine managed to get a couple of details out of him. (The actual address wasn't one of those details.) We squeezed a couple of more out of him.

Chicagoist: What are among the major differences between cooking at Grace from what you were doing at Avenues?

Curtis Duffy: Grace will be a platform for spreading my wings. There were a lot of instances where I had to hold back at Avenues. Don't get me wrong: Avenues was a great opportunity, but the resources there were limited were limited. With Grace, I have a good opportunity to expand on what I was doing with the same philosophy.

C: Can you give an example?

CD: Kitchen will meet demands of what I want. Avenues was limited in space and the number of cooks we could have in the space. I'm very excited to have some elbow room

C: What about the design for Grace? Anything you can share there?

CD: The colors in the interior will be soft, to parallel the seasons; it'll very modern yet comforting. So far we sat in over 100 chairs so that people are comfortable when they sit down for a 2-hour dining experience. We want it to feel for the diners like they're sitting at home. We want a warm, inviting, unstuffy environment. One thing we will have are four different bathrooms with themes based on seasonality and color.

C: Why?

CD: We want each bathroom will have a different experience.

C: Who's designing Grace?

CD: I can't divulge the design firm. If it was three weeks, I could.

C: What will be your approach to sustainability and green initiatives?

CD: We'll be green only to extent of using heavily recycled material. We'll also have a recycling program.

C: Have you started testing our menu items yet?

CD: We haven't, but we're also six months away from opening. I have some stuff and dish concepts down on paper. Kind of nice for me to break away and focus on the restaurant.

C: Why did you decide on opening in the Randolph Street restaurant district, instead of another hot restaurant area like Logan Square or Noble Square?

CD: For us, it was never about finding or be part of a trend or where we should be. For what we already do, this restaurant was going to be a destination, regardless. What we wanted to be was accessible to international travelers and downtown. Visitors to city don't want to get in a cab and travel to a restaurant; they want to be close to where they're staying. So we decided to stick to downtown. We looked at spaces four times before deciding on where we're going to be located. We looked at 80 other spaces and this one simply stood out.

(Duffy wold not disclose the address for Grace during our interview)

C: What other aspects of this space made you feel if it was the right choice?

CD: We looked at existing restaurants that were closed or spaces that were total buildouts. Ultimately we wanted an empty space to serve as a canvas to design what we wanted to design.

C: Will the kitchen be open to allow diners to see the bustle on the other side of the pass?

CD: It won't be an open kitchen, per se. Plans right now call for the kitchen to be completely surrounded by glass. We wanted to have a more exciting environment than Avenues. Customers were interested in seeing what was going on behind the scenes, and this will force us to be at our best at all times. Seeing the reaction on diners' faces as they react to dishes also puts under microscope, which is a great thing. To have that experience, see looks on peoples' faces, in turn, cooks look at that reaction with certain dishes where they can tweak them.