Chicago Celebrity Chef Curtis Duffy
by Ann Flood
Inducted into Escoffier Culinary Hall of Fame
In the 1980s a shy, pre-teen boy enduring those awkward middle-school years found inspiration in an unlikely place: a required home economics class, dreaded by most kids his age. He sought refuge from his rough home life. When a teacher noticed, she nurtured his talent.
Chef and Owner Curtis Duffy of Chicago’s acclaimed Michelin three-star restaurant Grace met Ruth Snider in a sixth grade cooking class. After his family relocated from Colorado Springs to small-town Johnston, Ohio, Duffy became rebellious and unfocused as he struggled to find his place in the world, while family problems at home escalated.
Because of Snider’s gentle influence and instruction, he found his sanctuary in the kitchen. It continued through three years of cooking classes with Snider, and he began to build a remarkable culinary career. Snider remained close as a friend and mentor to Duffy as he rose through the ranks as a chef. She was also there as a friend during a personal tragedy when both parents unexpectedly died. This past November both Snider and Duffy were inducted together into the Escoffier culinary hall of fame for excellence and outstanding contribution as educators in the world of food.
The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is an elite group of more than 20,000 culinary professionals from around the world, whose focus is on the promotion and preservation of culinary excellence in cuisine and world-class culinary education. Duffy and Snider–along with Robert and Sonat Birnecker, founders and owners of Chicago’s Koval Distillery, included for their contribution for distillery education–were all inducted into the culinary hall of fame for their excellence in contribution in the food world.
On November 21, 2016, members of the Disciples d’Escoffier, close friends and colleagues and a select group of media celebrated their induction at Grace restaurant with a seven-course dinner, after a tour of the restaurant and an opportunity to socialize. Highlights on the menu included Alaskan king crab with a Japanese citrus fruit saduchi, cucumber and lemon mint; Miyazaki beef with grape, crème caramel and scallions; and rabbit with chanterelle, smoked paprika and green garlic. Appetizer cocktail pairings included Koval rye whiskey sourced from a local organic farmer collective, and Koval walnut liqueur–with a hint of spice and made from white whiskey.
“The esteemed Disciples d’Escoffier promotes culinary education and apprenticeship and was designed to inspire and encourage others to continue to pursue the highest standards,” said Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Duffy graciously replied, “I am truly honored to be inducted into the Disciples d’Escoffier. This is one of the great honors a chef can receive.” Escoffier also announced that evening a partnership with Chef Duffy to promote the importance of culinary education to aspiring culinarians through a number of presentations and events involving the school as well as a $25,000 Curtis Duffy scholarship program.
Chef Duffy’s rise to excellence over adversity was the subject of the recently released Netflix documentary For Grace, written and produced by former Chicago Tribune food writer Kevin Pang and Chicago filmmaker Mark Helenowski.