Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, December 1

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Friday Foodpic: Pleasant House Bakery All the Holiday Cookies Fit to Print »

Review Tue Oct 28 2014

For Grace: A Moving Portrait of the Birth of a Restaurant

for grace film

From the childhood tragedy that couldn't help but form his behavior traits, to the opening night of what will become a Michelin two-star restaurant, the odyssey of Chicago uber chef Curtis Duffy is showcased in the new documentary For Grace.

Over the course of 40 months, Tribune writer Kevin Pang and his filmmaking partner, Mark Helenowski, developed a trust with Duffy and Co as they documented the birth of his restaurant, Grace. That relationship allowed them to keenly portray the sacrifice needed to attain Duffy's single-minded ambition of having the best dining room in the country.

Duffy's journey to the kitchen began in a mandatory home ec class in junior high. Surprised, he ended up liking it. Trapped in a troubled home life, the kitchen provided refuge. A teacher (or two) saw the spark, mentored him, and our boy blossomed.

It's not so much where he's been, but what he's going to do.

For Grace examines Duffy's hellbent drive to push forward -- one suspects in part to his survival instincts gleaned from his traumatic upbringing. Those same instincts are also a necessary ingredient in the rarefied air at the top of your game.

In Chicago, Duffy is the bridge over the rivers Trotter and Achatz. And with two Michelin stars, Curtis Duffy takes his rightful place as one of the most respected chefs in the world.

Duffy told Pang and Helenowski he'd only be interested in the project if they could capture "the raw, the real... the good and the bad and everything in between." The filmmakers succeed in showing the stressful lifestyle of a high performance chef in poignant cinéma vérité fashion.

"For Grace" Trailer from Chicago Tribune on Vimeo.

Besides luck, in order to build your dream you must posses talent, passion, discipline and creativity. For Grace captures this and more. A well-paced, unflinching look at the personal sacrifices, failed relationships, and the physical and mental stamina needed to consistently exceed expectations.

The restaurant industry is extremely difficult in the best conditions; throw in a depressed market and opening a new high-end place is a ballsy move indeed. When the economy tanked and most were moving away from fine dining, Grace moved forward. Historically, restaurants have small profit margins; with the fine dining segment, they're even smaller. At this level, you're not doing it for the money.

With empty plate as canvas, Duffy's food becomes beautiful, multi-sensory, edible sculptures. Deft manipulations of intense flavors and textures are his calling card. Careful thought goes into four, maybe five elements. Herbal, sweet and savory must be present, along with mouthfeels derived from fat, acid and texture. Balance is imperative.

For Grace is about grace in deed as well as name. About how you treat people and how you accept mistreatment yourself. Based on a humane philosophy of thank you and civility, Grace GM/partner Mike Muser echoes, "It's not what we do but who we are."

A case can be made against fussy food in elegant settings for wealthy people who can afford the luxury of a $300 meal. But whether you're eating at the restaurant or watching the movie at a theater, the flip side is, being amongst a food force to be reckoned with is an excellent way to spend an evening.

No additional screenings of For Grace are scheduled yet; the filmmakers plan to submit it for festival consideration. Keep an eye on the film website and Twitter account for details on future dates.

GB store

Peter / November 6, 2014 9:22 AM

It was the most amazing experience of my life working for Curtis. 3 stars this year ! I know it.

GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

GB store



Drive-Thru on Flickr

Join the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Robyn Nisi,
Drive-Thru staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15