Documentary “For Grace” to Grace the Screen at Film Festival

"For Grace" co-directed by Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

"For Grace" co-directed by Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski. Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

The restaurant industry is assessed for its consistency — in quality, in taste, but all too often, we forget that foodservice is turbulent, even choleric, as it is an industry that is entirely human and thrives on catering to people. And as we know, the essence of man is far from consistent.

Foodservice isn’t as clean-cut as its meal prep. The kitchen is heated beyond its food, stoves and ovens: chefs have a fiery passion, tempers flare, risks are high, and ideas are constantly sparked.

These are the stories that make the restaurant and hospitality segment, and these are the stories that make the Foodable Film Festival, the evening part of the agenda.  

“The Foodable Film Festival is specifically focused on the stories of our industry that invoke passion and education, which is what makes this event so special to the restaurant and hospitality space,” says Paul Barron, CEO and Founder of Foodable. “In fact, we are on a mission to help foster a new genre for filmmakers around the world. Our mission is lofty but achievable. We plan to reach 100 films and 10,000 film festival attendees by 2020.”

Young Curtis Duffy with this father, Robert, and mother, Jan.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

Young Curtis Duffy with this father, Robert, and mother, Jan. Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

One of the films screening this year is “For Grace,” a documentary that tells the narrative of Chef Curtis Duffy and his three-Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant, Grace. Like climbing a mountain, with its ledges and dangerous heights, this dramatic story reveals his precarious but successful path to the top.

“Storytelling is part of what it means to be human. It is part into our unconscious, [part] imprinted on our DNA. Cooking our food brought us out of the wilderness. Made us start thinking as communities. We told our stories around the campfire while cooking the community a meal. Food and storytelling are not just important, they are practically one and the same,” says Nathan Mikita, director of new media at Foodable.

“For Grace,” which took four years to complete, was co-directed by seasoned food writer Kevin Pang and filmmaker Mark Helenowski. Watch the trailer below for a sneak peek, learn more through our Q&A with Kevin Pang below, and check out other films screening at the Foodable Film Festival here!

Q&A with Kevin Pang, Co-Director

Kevin Pang (left) and Mark Helenowski (right).  Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

Kevin Pang (left) and Mark Helenowski (right). Photo courtesy of Kevin Pang.

Foodable: What was the motivation behind “For Grace,” and what was the exact moment you and Mark realized this was it?

Kevin Pang: We wanted to show what it takes to build a restaurant, one where the chef has ambitions of it being "the best in the country." We never thought it'd be a full-length film. It wasn't until we sat down with Curtis eight months into filming and started asking about his family, that we realized we had something much, much more than a short video online. At that moment, he [revealed] details of his tragic childhood that made us realize this wasn't a film about food. It was about sacrifice, family, redemption.

Foodable: Why Chef Curtis Duffy? How did you believe his story would impact the restaurant industry?

KP: At the time, the restaurant industry was still mired in the economic downturn. Many notable chefs from high-end restaurants were downscaling their ambitions, doing more relatable comfort food. The fact that Curtis Duffy doubled down in the opposite direction — he wanted to serve food where dinner for two was $700 — was a risky proposition for him, which, for us filmmakers, made for an interesting narrative hook.

Foodable: Did you expect “For Grace” to receive the response it has?

KP: Everything that's happened to our film has been beyond any reasonable expectations. We're just two guys with cameras purchased from Best Buy. And we were able to get a rave review in Variety, we've traveled the world to two dozen film festivals, we premiered at South by Southwest, we landed on iTunes, and Hollywood filmmaking luminaries are telling us how much they love the film. It's mind-boggling.

Foodable: What is the most important message you hope viewers take away from "For Grace"?

KP: From the dining perspective, what we didn't realize was just how little money restaurants like this make. Just because they're charging $350 a person, it doesn't mean they're rolling in cash. The cost of labor is incredible, and shipping in the ingredients required from all corners of the globe can be an exorbitant expense. Most of these kids working in the kitchen are barely making more than minimum wage. Our takeaway is if you're in the restaurant industry, you're only doing it because you're obsessed by it, not by any notions that it'll make you wealthy.

Foodable: What makes a film great? What do you personally look for when watching one?

KP: It's not about technology, nor the cost of your camera body, nor how much razzle-dazzle you could create in post-production. It's all about story, full stop. It's about drawing lessons from millennia of storytelling, and what makes a narrative arc, and how it tugs and eases on our emotion. On top of story, it's about empathy. Ultimately, we want viewers to root for our protagonist.

Foodable: What role does visual storytelling have in both social and cultural history? In the foodservice industry?

KP: Not sure we could answer that in a pithy manner. I mean, at the end of the day, it's about relating to our fellow man, right? And film has the ability to make us cry, laugh, feel, rage, emote like few medium can. I can tell you the restaurant industry requires a lot of sacrifice, but rather than tell, why not show?