Believe it or not, the SXSW Film Festival actually had something special for foodies like us this year. In 2014 we were treated to the brilliance of Jon Favreau’s “Chef”, leaving me with a sudden craving for Cuban sandwiches. Despite the inclusion of the perfect “foodie movie” of the year, the festival hasn’t traditionally offered much in the form of food-to-film. However, “Chef” may have sparked an entire new genre of film making in culinary arts persuasion as the the 2015 SXSW Film festival has no shortage of food on film, as it delivered plenty of culinary culture related content in “For Grace”.
“For Grace” is a documentary following Chef Curtis Duffy and business partner Michael Muser, on a dramatic 4 year journey as they build what is regarded one the world’s most outstanding restaurant, Grace. The Chicago based restaurant is a recipient of the highly coveted 3-star Michelin award, rated by the Michelin Red Guide. To put it in to perspective, the award’s importance is arguably more significant than winning an Oscar for best picture. An achievement of this magnitude means dinning excellence is not only prominent, it’s fully expected for each and every patron.
Make no mistake, the film isn’t a cushy Food Network, how-to guide on how to build a high-end restaurant. It’s a dramatic look on the sacrifice and passion that is derived from a history of heart wrenching family tragedy, driving a highly talented chef to fulfill his dream of building his own restaurant. The film starts when Chef Curtis Duffy takes on the boldest risk of his career by closing the popular Avenues Restaurant in the Peninsula Chicago Hotel, itself with two Michelin stars to show for it. With best friend and business partner Michael Muser, Duffy embarks on a journey to fully design, build, and open the a their restaurant with in 1-year. Despite their best efforts, countless delays, expenses and set-backs become the familiar price most pay when undertaking a project of such significance.
The film steps in to Duffy’s past as we discover what defines his drive for the success he has today. He discovers his talents in the kitchen when his high school teacher and life long mentor recognizes his capacity for greatness in the culinary arts, inspiring him to pursue a career as a chef. Duffy’s past is not without conflict when a sudden tragedy rocks his family with the violent death of his mother and father shaking the foundation of his life. Despite the tragedy, Duffy perseveres and uses it as the fuel to drive his exhibited in his career and life as a loving father.
The film’s brilliance doesn’t just lay with it’s subjects. In fact, it was filmed entirely on a Canon DSLR camera worth less than $1000 and edited on a Macintosh computer by Directors Mark Helenowski and Kevin Pang, an impressive feat for any film maker working on a low budget. The result is an beautiful film full of emotion, and a human element that could only be perceived though the story-telling of a documentary such as this.
Remember the great scene at the end of the film “Rudy”, when Rudy Rutiger is carried out of the stadium? Nearly everyone couldn’t help but feeling as if the the story left them with a sense of proud accomplishment for Rudy as he finally reached his life long dream. For Grace leaves me with a similar feeling, as the restaurant finally opens with great success with one final victory in the end, receiving the third star from Michelin.
The dramatic and sometimes painstaking process involved in building a restaurant worthy of the highly coveted Michelin Star from beginning to end takes an enormous amount of dedication, money and sacrifice. After all, when one builds a multi-million dollar restaurant with the sole purpose of becoming the best in the world, there’s absolutely nothing that goes unnoticed – nothing!
Co-owner Michael Muser exemplifies passion and dedication in his attention to the smallest of details, which at this level of dining, can make a tremendous difference. From the quality of the table cloth, to the expense of the chairs at each table, Muser takes absolutely nothing for granted, treating each and every guests as the most important patron they’ll ever serve. He has the utmost respect for his employees and If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation, you can bet Muser will use uses nearly every resource in his reach to research his customers with a laser sharp focus on giving you one of the most amazing dining experiences in your life.
Would you spend $1000 per chair in your own restaurant? How about purchasing almost 100 chairs at $1000 a pop? Michael Muser has no shame in justifying the importance of such an expense. He’s gone so far as to provide a men’s and women’s locker room and a recreational area in the basement of the restaurant for the staff after their shift. Muser’s overall goal is to provide his team with everything they’ll ever need to be successful at their job by taking away any possible excuse or outside distractions that could possibly take away from the overall experience he aims to provide each person lucky enough have a reservation.
If you’re a foodie or food enthusiast of any kind, or your even just mildly interested in seeing what it takes to start a successful business, this film is a must-see for anyone that appreciates hard work, dedication and passion. It reminds us that goals are never easy to accomplish and there’s no short cut to success when greatness is a stake. I can’t wait to see the day this amazing film wins an award for best documentary in it’s category, or at least lands gracefully in the hierarchy of HBO’s Monday night dramatic documentary series. Regardless, this film is not to be missed!