Born in Columbus, Ohio, Curtis Duffy knew early on he had a passion for cooking. In addition to having the support of his parents, he was fortunate enough to have his passion recognized and encouraged by two of his teachers, both of whom remain close friends and mentors. To this day, he notes these teachers alongside such culinary luminaries as Michel Bras, Charlie Trotter, Grant Achatz, and Fernand Point as key influences in his career.
While in high school, Duffy started working for Chef John P. Souza at a private golf club, learning both basic and advanced culinary techniques. After six years under Souza's tutelage, Duffy left to work as Chef de Cuisine at another private club while finishing his studies at Ohio State University. Shortly after receiving his Associates Degree in Applied Science (1999), he left Ohio to work at the legendary Charlie Trotter's in Chicago; while at Trotter's, Duffy staged at The French Laundry. The young chef honed his skills at the two restaurants, oft-named #1 and #2 in the country. After three years at Trotter's, Duffy accepted a position as Pastry Chef at the esteemed Trio, where he was recognized as "Best Innovative Pastry Chef" from Food & Wine (2003). Duffy met Chef Grant Achatz at Trio, and in 2004, they left Trio to open Alinea, where Duffy worked as Chef de Cuisine. Alinea skyrocketed to fame, being named the "Best Restaurant in America" by Gourmet just a year after opening, and is widely recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world. In 2008, Duffy took his impressive skill set to Avenues (The Peninsula Chicago) and was instantly celebrated for his thoughtful, progressive, and imaginative cuisine by consumers and media alike.
At Avenues, Duffy garnered an extraordinary list of awards and accolades, including two stars from the prestigious Michelin Guide, the AAA Five Diamond Award , and perfect four-star ratings from Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. In May 2010, to mark the 20th anniversary of the James Beard Awards, Duffy was named a "Legacy Chef." The James Beard Foundation asked previous Outstanding Chef award winners from each of the prior twenty years to select a chef whom they have mentored and who they believe would have a major impact on the culinary world in years to come. Grant Achatz selected Duffy, essentially naming him to the next generation of leading chefs. The following year, Duffy was nominated by the JBF as "Best Chef, Great Lakes Region."
In mid-2011, Duffy left Avenues to begin making plans for his own restaurant, expected to open mid-2012. At Grace, Duffy's culinary style is showcased, reflecting his personal taste and drawing upon his wealth of experience. His micro-seasonal cuisine is best described as "thoughtfully progressive" – thoughtful as he puts tremendous time, focus, research and thought into what he creates, and progressive as he will utilize modern techniques to coax the best out of the ingredients. Each dish is an expression of his personality – progressive but grounded – and puts ingredients at the forefront. He will continue to source the highest-quality ingredients, allowing flavor to trump technique.
When not in the kitchen, Duffy volunteers with the Grand Chefs Gala, a fundraiser benefitting the Greater Illinois Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 2012, he served as the Chef Chair of the Gala; in 2010, he emceed the annual fundraiser and helped to raise $275,000 to benefit the Foundation.
The son of a professional baseball player, Michael Muser grew up loving the game, but had his sights set on a different sport— professional cycling. At a young age, Chicago-born Muser moved to California, where he was introduced to the sport and began racing competitively as a teenager. Muser will tell you those were the best years of his life, but the realization came that a career as a cyclist wasn't in the cards. However, while he was racing in Northern California – this country's greatest wine region – he also worked in the vineyards, and after working his first harvest, he had found his new and lifelong passion.
While studying history and theatre arts at California State University, Chico, Muser worked in area restaurants to support himself and took the opportunity to learn more about wine. After graduation (1999), he studied with the International Sommelier Alliance (ISA), the only formally credentialed wine program in the United States. Muser decided to take a hands-on approach to his studies and left the classroom to spend time traveling throughout Europe. There he worked harvest in Burgundy and Champagne, learning first-hand the winemaking process before coming to Chicago to finish his last two years of training with the ISA. In Chicago, Muser accepted a position as Sommelier and Wine Director for three Lettuce Entertain You, Enterprises (LEYE) restaurants, overseeing their wine lists in the Chicago, Las Vegas, and Maryland properties.
After three years with LEYE, Muser joined The Peninsula Chicago (2006), serving as Wine Director and Sommelier and building the beverage lists for the hotel's three restaurants, its bar, and for all catering functions and private events. He developed award-winning wine lists, and in 2011, Muser was nominated "Best Sommelier" by the Jean Banchet Awards for his work at Avenues, the Michelin two-star restaurant at The Peninsula. The following year, he was honored with the award. Under Muser's direction, Avenues was also a three-time nominee for Outstanding Wine Service from the James Beard Foundation Awards. At Avenues, Muser met Chef Curtis Duffy, and in 2011 the two began plans to open Grace. Muser's style is grounded and deep-rooted in the winemaking process. He cites influence from award-winning sommeliers Alpana Singh, Bob Bansberg, and Wayne Gotts, his mentor and instructor at ISG.
At Grace, expect to see a list that caters to Duffy's cuisine, echoing his penchant for purity of ingredients. Muser focuses on the Loire and Rhone Valleys of France, regions known for wildly expressive wines that are at the same time clean, pure, and honest. Muser lives in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. In his free time, he's exploring the world on the hunt for that next great bottle of wine.
At an early age, Romero’s parents established a love for food by teaching him the basics. They spent countless hours in the kitchen, where Romero began simply as an observer before lending his parents a hand. Although he loved it, at the time Romero didn't think he would become a professional chef . Like many teen boys, he had a need for speed and wanted to fly jets or drive Formula One race cars. Realizing neither of those careers was likely, , he began studying at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, close to his hometown of Scott, Louisiana. While attending college, Romero realized he was less interested in conventional studies and more interested in the professional kitchen, so he switched to a culinary career.
While attending the culinary school at The Art Institute of Houston, Romero accepted a position as garde manger commis at BANK, a Jean-Georges restaurant located in the Icon Hotel. Following graduation (2005), the young chef stayed at BANK, honing his skills and working all stations until he rose to the position of Sous Chef. During his three-year tenure at BANK, Romero was exposed to many new ingredients and techniques; He learned to push himself to the highest levels while at BANK, and cites this experience as being critical in his growth as a chef.
A few of his fellow chefs had recently moved to Chicago, and upon their encouragement, Romero decided to relocate to Chicago and work within the city's challenging culinary scene. Romero staged at the highly acclaimed TRU under Laurent Gras, and was offered a saucier position after one day. While at TRU, Romero met Curtis Duffy, who was doing some consulting in their kitchen. The following year, Romero joined Gras in opening L2O and continued to move up the culinary ranks. A year later, Romero joined Duffy at Avenues, where they garnered two Michelin stars.
Romero views cooking as a form of self-expression, and while his style is still being defined, he favors clean, bright flavors and likes to meld a modern approach with classic techniques. He strives to learn in the kitchen every day, and he believes that both good and bad experiences help him become a better chef. When he’s not in the kitchen, Romero loves to travel and hopes to open his own restaurant in the coming years.
Born and raised in the Chicago area, Bobby Schaffer was running his own kitchen by the age of nine. Admittedly, the kitchen was in his home, but he would regularly print menus, take orders, do all the cooking, and even present his father with a check (which he thankfully paid every time). Though his plan was to follow in his father's footsteps, he soon realized his love for the kitchen was more than just a hobby and left business school to pursue a culinary degree.
After graduating from Kendall College with a Culinary Arts degree (2007), Schaffer was awarded the Young Professionals in Spanish Gastronomy scholarship and spent time in Spain, where he immersed himself in the culinary culture through traveling, cooking, and dining. He completed two six-month stage turns, first at the Michelin two-star rated El Poblet in Denia, where he worked all stations in the kitchen. At El Poblet, Schaffer focused further on pastry – he'll tell you it was here where he "fell in love with pastry." Wanting to learn from the best, he then staged for Master Pastry Chef Oriol Balaguer at his namesake shop in Barcelona, widely viewed as one of the best and most progressive pastry shops in the world. After enjoying a bit of travel, Schaffer returned to Chicago in 2009 to lead the pastry program at the Michelin two-star Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago, where he met Curtis Duffy. Upon Duffy's departure, Avenues closed, and Schaffer accepted the position to develop and oversee pastries for Grace.
At Grace, Schaffer continues to dazzle with his exceptional and creative pastries, with a strong emphasis on chocolate. Schaffer focuses on quality, putting ingredients first and striving for perfection in each menu. Schaffer combines his love of travel with the opportunity to learn and experience something new. Schaffer lives in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.