Though he got his start working with another member of this list, Curtis Duffy has made a name for himself in his own right. While at Alinea under Grant Achatz, Curtis clearly learned quite a bit from his mentor, as his solo effort Grace combines Grant’s minimalist approach with his own flair for understatement and simplicity. And although the shadow of Grant Achatz is a looming one, Curtis has clearly learned how to step out from under it since striking out on his own.
Curtis’ restaurant Grace has racked up the honors since opening in late 2012. Grace has received 3 Michelin stars (only the third restaurant in Chicago to do so, after Grant Achatz’s Alinea and the now-closed L2O), a AAA Five Diamond Award, a 5-star rating from Forbes Travel Guide, and a 4-star rating from the Chicago Tribune. On top of that, Grace has earned a place on the 2013 “Best of the Best: Dining” list in Robb Report magazine, as well as the title of “Best New Restaurant” from Chicago Magazine. Not content to let his restaurant get all the glory, Curtis himself also won the James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Great Lakes” this year.
Specialties & Resources
Curtis specializes in finding the right flavor to enhance a dish, and it’s no surprise that the overriding spice or taste is listed in capital letters on his menu. At Grace, you’ll find that the menu is separated into two categories: “Flora” and “Fauna.” Flora offers items like celtuce with hazelnut, meyer lemon and tangerine lace, asparagus with brioche, black olive and sorrel, and heart of palm with ginger, mint, and coriander. Fauna offers such varied dishes as rabbit with chanterelle, smoked paprika and green garlic, Alaskan king crab with sudachi, cucumber and lemon mint.
Though he worked with one of the premier molecular gastronomists in Grant Achatz, Curtis has clearly made a name for himself taking a slightly different and more traditional approach to his creations. Keep in mind, though, that “traditional” should not be interpreted to mean “stodgy” or “dull,” as the menu items at Grace (and Curtis’ creations as a whole) are anything but.
Curtis’ daring approach to his dishes consistently results in offerings that challenge the senses and redefine traditional food pairings, and his accolades indicate that so far, he hasn’t missed a step.