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Six Things You Didn’t Know About Grace Chef Curtis Duffy

The new film For Grace, out February 2, documents the chef’s precarious path to success.

Curtis Duffy after Grace’s first dinner service   Photos: Courtesy of For Grace

Back in 2011, it was clear to Kevin Pang, then a Tribune writer, that the wildly talented young chef at Avenues was going places. Pang called film student Mark Helenowski. The duo followed Curtis Duffy from July 2011, when his West Loop restaurant Grace was still a raw space, to late 2012, when its doors opened. The result: For Grace, a fascinating new documentary. Among the things you’ll learn:

1 Duffy’s parents died in a murder-suicide.

In an especially moving scene, the chef describes his parents’ tortured relationship and the day his father shot his mother and then himself. (Duffy was 19.) While reading a letter his father left him, he breaks down. Kitchens remained Duffy’s safe haven.

2 He sets a mighty high bar.

“I want to be the best restaurant in the country,” Duffy says matter-of-factly before zooming down Randolph Street on his motorcycle. (Grace went on to win three Michelin stars.)

Duffy with his parents
Duffy with his parents in 1994

3 Grace’s chairs cost $1,000. Each.

After hours with designers, a rueful Duffy—stressed by the financial side of the business—OKs the pricey perches to achieve a perfect balance between comfort and aesthetics.

4 It’s really, really hard to encapsulate smoked water in a giant bubble.

As 800 dinner guests congregate, Duffy spends an hour trying to pull off this feat. He winds up using coasters to contain the smoke over his dish.

5 His mentor turned on him.

One of the film’s most dramatic moments shows Duffy and Charlie Trotter at the door of the older man’s namesake restaurant on the day of its final dinner service in 2012. Trotter bars Duffy from entering, using some choice language about Duffy, $50,000, and a class-action lawsuit.

6 He doesn’t hold grudges.

Duffy gives Trotter his due: “The way he ran a restaurant . . . the food . . . you can’t take that away from him. I still respect him for that.”

Watch For Grace is scheduled for a February 2 release on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

 

Video: Chicago Goes Inside Grace

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