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Why Graham Elliot Is Closing

A word with the celebrity chef on his past successes and plans for the future.

Two Michelin stars would seem to indicate the sort of dining institution with years of success behind it and to come. The first round of two-stars, however—Avenues, Charlie Trotter’s, and Ria—are all gone. Add to that list Graham Elliot, the celebrity chef’s namesake restaurant, now scheduled to close after New Year’s Eve, the Elliot team announced just before Michelin published last week. Elliot plans a reinvention for next spring.

Graham Elliot the restaurant underwent several reinventions. Originally with lower prices and loud rock music, the place marked a step away from the elite realm of Avenues, where Elliot made his name and earned a four-star review on Chicago’s four-star scale. “When we first opened [Graham Elliot], it was 120 seats and 300 covers,” Elliot says. “It was one of the first restaurants where everyone wore a T-shirt in the front of the house. Beams and ductwork and loud music. It seems a lot of people took that same model and ran with it.”

The latest version turned down the music volume and turned up the fine-dining knobs, taking it from two Chicago stars for the louder version to three and a half. “We took a lot of seats out,” Elliot says. “It was a 6,000-square-foot space now doing a fraction of the volume we used to, so it seems way too large. The guest experience is not the same.”

Elliot says he has a space, a name, and a concept chosen for his new project, but he’s not ready to reveal them. He does reveal that it will be “creative, higher-end” food—what he’s garnered the most praise for—and that he hopes to open May 1.

Till then, the tasting menu at Graham Elliot will consist half of dishes from the future restaurant and half of riffs on his greatest hits—the foie-lipop (a foie gras lollipop crusted in Pop Rocks), truffle popcorn, and a deconstructed Caesar salad. “It’s a deconstruction of the deconstructed Caesar,” Elliot says. “I’m just going to mess with your head.”

Sometimes brash and hot-tempered toward his critics, including some at this magazine, Elliot is soldiering on and trying to mellow. “Every day I will be cooking in the kitchen and making amends to everyone in Chicago, including Chicago magazine critics and food bloggers who I told to fuck off,” Elliot says. “I’m trying to grow up.”

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