Farm Visit Inspires Menu Development for Grace Restaurant Team

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Chef Curtis Duffy brings the culinary team from his highly anticipated new restaurant to The Chef's Garden to get them excited, inspired and working together.

Chef Curtis Duffy and Grace Restaurant team taste the newest vegetables, herbs and greens available from The Chef's Garden

Chef Curtis Duffy and Grace Restaurant team taste the newest vegetables, herbs and greens available from The Chef's Garden

I brought the team out from Grace to start our menu development, reconnect with all the vegetables and herbs that The Chef’s Garden grows, and remind them where the product comes from.

Once Grace, one of Chicago’s most highly anticipated restaurants opens its doors later this year, Curtis Duffy and Grace are names you will not likely forget. Yet, with the endless details and decisions involved in designing the restaurant, kitchen and menu, Chef Duffy followed in the footsteps of great chefs with whom he’s worked to take the time before opening night for menu development at The Chef’s Garden farm in Huron, Ohio.

Chef Duffy brought with him the stellar culinary crew he’s assembled, including Nicholas Romero, Bobby Schaffer, Dan Bark and Mitch Leinhard, along with his business partner and sommelier Michael Muser. The trip not only offered the opportunity to select ingredients for the restaurant’s debut menu, it was also a chance to get the team excited, inspired and working together in the research and development kitchen at the nearby Culinary Vegetable Institute.

“I brought the team out from Grace to start our menu development, reconnect with all the vegetables and herbs that The Chef’s Garden grows, and remind them where the product comes from,” Chef Duffy said.

This is not the first culinary team to visit the farm prior to opening. In fact, Chef Duffy made a similar trip with Chef Grant Achatz in 2004, prior to the opening of Alinea.

Chef’s Garden owner Farmer Lee Jones explains, “We are always elated to have our chefs come visit us here at the farm. If the chef working alone equals one and the farmer working alone equals one, the symbiotic energy of working together is the power of six. This kind of visit allows us to understand chefs’ specific needs and share what we can provide. Tying it all together is just incredibly powerful.”

The group started their visit with a presentation of experimental vegetables, herbs and greens. “We were able to taste and give feedback to the growers, and they asked us what we would use the product for. The dialogue is inspirational,” said Chef Duffy.

They toured and tasted their way through the farm’s greenhouses, research laboratory and packing facilities. Then they were ready to get their hands dirty. Chef Duffy and his crew harvested beans, potatoes, tomatoes and pineapple tomatillos - a favorite that made its way into dessert later that evening.

After gaining an appreciation for the hard work involved in getting the ingredients from our earth to the kitchen, the team experimented with the ingredients they’d tasted and harvested throughout the day. With new flavors swirling in their minds and on their tastebuds, the experience sparked some fresh ideas that the team can continue to refine as they create the menu at Grace.

Chef Duffy’s micro-seasonal, thoughtfully progressive culinary approach was kindled alongside chefs like Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz, before he went on to become the executive chef at Avenues (The Peninsula Chicago). While at Avenues, Duffy and his team garnered an extraordinary list of awards and accolades, including receiving two stars from the coveted Michelin Guide, perfect four-star ratings from Chicago magazine and the Chicago Tribune, and the AAA Five Diamond Award. In 2011, Duffy was nominated by the JBF as “Best Chef, Great Lakes Region.”

Farmer Jones has high expectations as well. “Based on Chef Duffy’s past experience combined with his own brilliance, creativity and imagination, and then add the exceptional team he has chosen, and of course including The Chef’s garden as a small part of that team, I believe he will heighten fine dining to a fun level of sophistication, exquisiteness and playful creativity.”

The addition of Chef Duffy’s first solo project to Chicago’s restaurant scene underscores the city’s status as a world-class dining destination. Grace will undoubtedly raise the bar.

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ABOUT THE CHEF’S GARDEN
The Chef’s Garden family farm grows artisanal and specialty vegetables, herbs, microgreens and edible flowers for the world’s top chefs. By employing sustainable farming techniques, they produce products with the full spectrum of flavor and nutrition that chefs seek to serve their guests. The Chef’s Garden believes that healthy soil produces healthy vegetables, which ultimately leads to healthier people and a healthier planet.

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Alexandra Scheufler
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