Eschewing that old "chef goes on reality show, chef glamorizes the restaurant industry" chestnut for a bluntly honest look into the process of opening a restaurant, Curtis Duffy is prepared to take the spotlight in a new documentary about the genesis of Grace, one of Chicago's most prized fine dining destinations.
Beyond the glistening surface of the restaurant lies a story about personal strife, professional achievements, and the woes of building a restaurant. The film, aptly dubbed
"For Grace," takes a bow this weekend with a one-show run at the Portage Theater.
Before chef Curtis Duffy ended his lauded tenure at Avenues back in 2011 to work on opening his own restaurant, he was approached by Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski about documenting the dream, examining the process from the final days at Avenues to the opening of his own restaurant.
Although interested immediately, Duffy had one stipulation: "It has to be very real, raw, and have very little editing," says the chef, who set out to depict a candid portrait of the restaurant-opening ordeal and all the ups and downs that came with it. "I didn't want people to think that opening a restaurant was the easiest thing." Rather than play into the culinary reality show hoopla, Duffy and co. sought to boldly go in another direction: straight into the heart of the restaurant industry.
"For Grace" took shape over the course of two years, beginning a month before Duffy's departure from Avenues in August 2011, culminating on Grace's opening night, in which the chef christened his fine dining gem in Chicago's West Loop. Duffy's final shot was around 3 a.m. after closing Grace for the first time to head home.
Filming took place most every day over the course of that time, amassing more than 300 hours of footage to accurately document the steps involved in Grace. For Duffy, the biggest challenges during filming were getting the people around him to ease into it and adjust. "Eventually you didn't notice it anymore," he explains, handily adjusting to the omnipresence of Pang, Helenowski, and their cameras.
The first time Duffy watched "For Grace" in its entirety, two years came rushing back in the form of a consolidated full-length documentary. Even though he lived it, he said the initial screening was hard for him to respond to as a viewer. He watched it again another time leading into the film's public premiere at the Portage Theater on Oct. 26. "It's a great storyline. It's done extremely well, and I'm very proud of it," says the chef.
Tickets for the premiere can be purchased here.