After our awesome meal at Avenues, we had a chance to interview Chef Curtis Duffy and to talk about the James Beard Award gala, his dishes and to also take better photos to justify his amazing dishes.
Chef Duffy has been in the business for over 18 years. In his career, he has worked with some of the biggest culinary names like Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller. Prior to taking over the helm at Avenues, Chef Duffy worked alongside Grant Achatz as a pastry chef at Trio and as chef-de-cuisine at Alinea. After taking over Avenues, Chef Duffy was able to start with a clean slate to begin the next chapter of Avenues. For a little over 2 years now, he has been creating his own dishes which can be considered an edible art form. His hard work has garnered him 4 out of 4 stars from Tribune, 4 out of 4 from the Sun Times, 4 out of 4 from Chicago Magazine and 5 out of 5 from Chicago Social Magazine along with being a nominee in this year's James Beard Awards.
The first thing we wanted to ask about was the James Beard Awards gala, where Chef Duffy and his team prepared his Alaskan king crab dish for 1200 people. When asked if the dish was ambitious for 1200 people in an unfamiliar kitchen with intricate plating, Chef Duffy replied, "We have it down to a pretty good science, obviously we do it every night for service." What is difficult about this dish besides the number of components and ultra delicate sugar tuile that is suspended in the glass is the short amount of time the chefs have to work with. Sure the bottom portion can be plated ahead of time, but once the ingredients are placed on the sugar tuile, the moisture from the roe, puree and herbs will slowly melt away the disk leaving holes. So the window of time available from plating to serving is short, therefore each crab dish was plated to order. Most importantly, Chef Duffy wanted to showcase the crab dish without any compromise, as if you were eating it at Avenues, since most of the attendees would not have the opportunity to try it first hand. And given this was such a rare opportunity to showcase his ability among many of his peers, journalist and industry folks, it was necessary to literally go big or go home. As Chef Duffy puts it, "You don't go there to make sandwiches or nachos. You go there and do what you do, at the highest level". The dish ended up being a huge success among the crowd and again we'd like to send a big congrats to the team for a job well done and earning Food & Wine's best dish of the night.
Although the crab dish is starting to become synonymous with Chef Duffy, he is obviously more than just a one dish wonder. He wants to be recognized for his cuisine rather than a single dish. You can really see his personality and style in each of his dishes. One would describe his dishes as very natural or organic from his use of herbs, spices and flowers to incorporating sweet into savory and his love of utilizing every part of a vegetable (i.e. root, stalk, leaves, seeds, flower). But for the fans of the crab dish or newcomers, you better go soon while it is still a part of his Spring seasonal menu.
To really give the diners a unique tasting experience, Chef Duffy told us that he works with over 100 purveyors to source the best and freshest along with some of the rarest ingredients around the world, such as snail caviar known for its earthy taste or ohmi gyu (wagyu beef) prized for its highly marbled meat. In terms of ingredients, herbs are his favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen. Chef Duffy explains that it is not used for its aesthetic properties, but "we are able to use herbs in a way to bring texture, bring flavor profiles to dishes without having to add something else. Herbs can be used to substitute salty/sweet/bitter/sour/spicy to the dish. At times it would seem intimidating to see all these small elements on your plate, but when eaten together or in combination, it offers a wide gamut of flavors you wouldn't normally taste. And that is a good thing.
While the quality of food is the most important part of the meal, the dining experience at Avenues ranks a close second. Chef Duffy shared with us that making the diner happy is extremely important. Catering to celebrities and guests alike, the staff at Avenues will do their best to make your meal at Avenues enjoyable. So for the gluten free, dairy free, vegetarians out there, don't be afraid to try Avenues as he can make you something worth remembering. Just be sure to notify the Maitre d' prior to your reservation.
Currently, Avenues is featuring their spring vegetarian tasting menu alongside their chef tasting menu. Each menu comprises 8 dishes. Otherwise you are able to order a-la-car
te. But I recommend ordering the tasting menu and see all that Chef Duffy has to offer. If you are full midway through your meal, you can request the chef to make a smaller portion. For the large eaters, go with the 16 courses, but the 8 will satisfy the hungriest of eaters.
Afterward, Chef Duffy was kind enough to make for us several dishes to do a photo shoot with and allowed us an all access backstage pass into the kitchen to see the staff in action. We had to of course photograph the Alaskan Crab. It's such a a gorgeous dish, delicate and refreshing.
We then spent some time doing some step-by-step photos of his English Peas and a new grain dish he and his staff have been developing.
Making vines by squeezing pea puree and coconut juice into liquid nitrogen
Here's a slideshow of the step by step process it takes to build such an amazing dish.
Apparently we can't get enough of the step-by-step photos... This one is of his new grain dish.
And lastly I was very excited to see this raspberry dish again, since it was one of my favorite dishes of my birthday meal. This time the sorbet is made with red and white raspberry.
Red + White Raspberry
Red + White Raspberry
Thanks again to the Avenues staff and Chef Duffy for your gracious hospitality!
By the way, there's a friendly competition between Chef Duffy and Chef Phillip Foss of Lockwood over at Franks N' Dawgs. Each chef has created a hot dog and the hot dog with the biggest sales wins. For a limited time only, when you purchase a Duffy Duck from Franks 'N' Dawgs, you will receive 10% off at Avenues along with helping to immortalize the Duffy Duck on their menu. This is a win win situation, so don't miss out folks.