Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Curtis Duffy on Being Green, 'Grand Chefs Gala'

Curtis Duffy, chef de cuisine at Avenues at the Peninsula. (Photo: Peninsula Chicago)

Avenues at the Peninsula chef Curtis Duffy takes sustainable and organic cuisine quite serious. All one has to do is take a peek at his blog, where he gleefully posts pics of his masterpieces.

So it makes sense he's hosting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's annual Grand Chefs Gala (along with Sarah Levy of Sarah's Pastries), which trots out the city's finest kings and queens of the kitchen to cook signature appetizers and desserts for a few hundred folks.

Embracing this year's theme, Green for Life, Duffy, Levy and more than 30 of their peers will serve only local and organic food.

Duffy's whipping up one of his favorite dishes, a chilled Alaskan crab appetizer that's tangy and comes with tiny bites of Steelhead Roe, orange blossom pudding, pickled cucumber and a tangerine lace.

He says this will be a daunting task, as he's used to only making about 40 a night in his haute cuisine resto tucked inside the lobby level of the Peninsula. "We're doing 350 portions (for the event), which is very labor intensive," says Duffy. "It’s the first time we’re doing that crab dish for so many people. It’s going to be a big test of what we do on a mass scale."

Curtis Duffy's signature Alaskan King Crab appetizer. (Photo: Peninsula Chicago)

Duffy's also up for two honors that night in the Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence, which recognizes originality exhibited by Chicago's culinary professionals. He's nominated in the Best Fine Dining (for Avenues) and Celebrity Chef categories. Last year he took home an award for Rising Star Chef.

For Duffy, the local/organic movement is no fleeting trend; it's a lifestyle. He believes in supporting local farmers, especially since their philosophies on food are in line with his. "They put as much energy and time and passion in their products as the chefs do," he says. "They care what they do and it shows. They’re excited to show you the stuff they have."

Additionally, he says, 90 percent of the vegetables he uses are from small regional farmers. "I have a farm in Michigan that will grow fennel for me and no one else. I also have a farmer growing rare herbs for me. There's no way I could get a large corporation to produce these products exclusively for me."

Other chefs participating in the Grand Chefs Gala include Josh Linton (aja) and John des Rosiers (Inovasi)—both up for the Rising Star Chef award; Mark Mendez (Carnivale), Rick Gresh (Primehouse), Jonathan Fox (La Madia), Mark Sparacino (Prosecco), Jason McLeod (Balsan) and Toni Roberts (C-House).

For a complete list of chefs as well as tickets, go here.

The event happens 6-10pm Jan. 29.