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Andrew Zimmern on 3 Up-and-Coming Chefs

Grace Restaurant

Courtesy of Grace Restaurant

Red-golden raspberry "tube" with Chambord, yogurt sponge, basil and mascarpone at Grace in Chicago.

Dining columnists and food writers spend too much time looking backward, keeping audiences up to date on places they’ve been to, things they’ve eaten and chefs who are already well known. It’s an unfortunate circumstance when you write for a monthly, but it’s an accepted part of the system. I eat, I write, you read (sometimes long after the fact). The process is often not current enough for me. Let’s change that up, shall we?

These three young chefs come with different stories, and all are about to break big in the back half of 2012. Curtis Duffy is a mega- talent, a young man responsible for some of the best food I’ve eaten in recent years. He has cooked in the best restaurants, mastered techniques beyond the comprehension of most culinarians and is a bold, brash flavor-thrower. Sue Zemanick is the Crescent City equivalent of a young Suzanne Goin (think elegantly simple foods, French technique, Louisiana inspiration and thoughtful execution). She’s not flashy, she’s not a media darling, she doesn’t flaunt tattoos or hack apart wild animals. She simply cooks beautiful, delicious food. And then there’s the crazy, unbelievable Danny Bowien, who cooks Chinese food the way you’d imagine chefs do for their family and friends on a day off. Three different chefs, all worth noting.


1. Danny Bowien, San Francisco & NYC

THE RESTAURANT: Mission Chinese Food, 2234 Mission Street, San Francisco; 154 Orchard Street, New York

THE CHEF: Danny Bowien is either the most innovative chef in the past decade or simply the ballsiest. Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised, he has taken the culinary world by storm with the bustling Mission Chinese Food. Though he cut his teeth in some of San Francisco’s most notable fine-dining establishments, Bowien had zero experience cooking Chinese cuisine before Mission, but that hasn’t stopped him from racking up fans.

THE CONCEPT: Operating inside a Cantonese-style restaurant, Mission isn’t quite what you’d expect in a top-tier restaurant, but that’s intentional. After years in fine dining, Bowien wanted to work somewhere his friends could actually afford to eat, and a meal here feels more like supper with friends.

THE MENU: Bowien doesn’t give a rip what you ate on your last trip to Hong Kong; his food isn’t authentic Chinese anyway. “Food is so subjective,” he says. “It’s all a matter of taste. I don’t care if it’s not authentic.” With that in mind, expect a lot of Chinese-ish dishes, such as kung pao pastrami and cold, savory egg custard with sea urchin, scallop and winter melon. Bowien focuses on fresh ingredients, relying on classic techniques to build complex stocks and sauces that are the backbone of his craft.

 

       
Lemon pound cake with huckleberry ice cream at Gautreau's. Photo by Chris Granger.        

2. Sue Zemanick, New Orleans

THE RESTAURANT: Gautreau’s, 1728 Soniat Street, New Orleans

THE CHEF: At just 25, Sue Zemanick was offered the executive chef position at Gautreau’s Restaurant, a New Orleans culinary staple since 1983. The young chef found herself replacing chef Mat Wolf and running the kitchen at one of NOLA’s favorite restaurants. Big shoes to fill, but in her seven years as executive chef, she has won the same Food & Wine award for best new chef as her predecessor, and she’s a James Beard rising star finalist three years running.

THE VIBE: Gautreau’s in the residential Uptown neighborhood is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, away from the tourist trap-laden French Quarter. Like much of New Orleans, the dimly lit space creates the feeling of stepping back in time. Call ahead for reservations—it’s tiny.

THE MENU: Zemanick creates perfect balance with innovative takes on cozy, familiar classics. Proximity to the gulf means lots of fresh seafood. Order the citrus-poached gulf shrimp, and you’ll stimulate your taste buds and the local economy. The wild mushroom perogies are a long-standing menu favorite, a riff on a dish of Zemanick’s grandmother. “At the end of the day,” she says, “all I want to do is make people happy.”

 

       
Chef Duffy. Photo courtesy of Grace Restaurant.        

3. Curtis Duffy, Chicago

THE RESTAURANT: Grace (September opening)

THE CHEF: You might not know Curtis Duffy’s name, but he’s been a big player on Chicago’s food scene for more than a decade. He worked under Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant, and then under Grant Achatz at Trio. In 2005, Achatz hired Duffy to help him open Alinea, heralded by many critics as the best restaurant in the United States. His last job at Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel earned Duffy two Michelin stars. But running someone else’s kitchen wasn’t enough. His first solo project, Grace, is slated to open in Chicago’s West Loop in September.

THE EXECUTION: Duffy is obsessed with details. Since leaving his last gig at Avenues, he’s thrown himself into Grace. From the place settings and seating (he had chairs custom-made in Holland), to micro saffron garnishes placed with a tweezers, it’s all executed with intention.

THE MENU: Grace’s dishes are currently working concepts that will change once Duffy begins tinkering in the kitchen. Diners will be able to choose from two tasting menus that will range between eight and 12 courses and will build in size and flavor. Menus will focus on seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs, incorporating lighter meat offerings and sustainable seafood. “I am constantly in search of different ingredients and flavors,” Duffy says. If he’s unable to find a specific ingredient, he asks a couple of the farmers with whom he works to grow it.

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