Chef Curtis Duffy: From Meeting Farmer Lee Jones to 2020 and Beyond
When Chef Curtis Duffy was working at a private golf club in Columbus, Ohio in the early 1990s, he met Farmer Lee Jones, along with Bob, Sr. and Bob, Jr., as the Jones trio hand delivered their farm-fresh produce. They quickly built a relationship and, because of that—and because of the high quality of The Chef’s Garden products—Chef Curtis has bought from the farm at every restaurant he’s been in, ever since.
“I appreciate,” he says, “how The Chef’s Garden always supplies exactly what I need. If, for example, I told them I’d need 500 nasturtium flowers delivered every week, it would show up on time at the right size, exactly what I’d need when I’d need it. I could even ask for longer or shorter stems.”
Then there’s the quality. “It surpasses,” Curtis says, “what I could get directly from the ground around me. That’s because they focus on growing the best product possible, willingly and deliberately leaving ground fallow and planting cover crops to build up the soil. Their focus on healthy soil is amazing, and you can truly taste the difference.”
Curtis also appreciates crops like ice spinach, where The Chef’s Garden allows it to thaw and freeze, and then thaw again, to condense sugars for optimal flavor. “I wish I lived closer to the farm,” he says, “so I could visit more often.”
Typically, he takes his restaurant team to the farm each year, but it was not to be in 2020. “I hope to take them next year, because I love to mentor young chefs, with a big part of that being to help them understand where product comes from. “Some of them have never pulled up a vegetable from the ground or dug a potato. They don’t see the possibilities yet in carrot tops, know why white asparagus is that color, or understand why soil health is so important.”
When young chefs come to the farm, he adds, “the experience is enlightening and they are reenergized to get their hands on fresh produce, to taste the differences between vegetables just harvested from the farm and ones that have been stored for a while. We talk about the importance of fresh ingredients, picked at the height of the season.”
Chef Curtis Duffy’s Adventures in 2020 and Beyond
In July 2020, Curtis’s new restaurant, Ever, opened in Fulton Market in Chicago. This 6,000-square-foot space features a futuristic design and a mouth-watering menu, with culinary masterpieces served throughout a two and a half hour dining experience.
Because of COVID, the restaurant was opened at a 25 percent capacity, but Curtis says that was manageable for them. “We were going to open with two menus but, because of the pandemic, we opened with one, cutting back on labor and the ingredients needed.”
Shortly after celebrating the three-month anniversary of the restaurant’s opening, though, Ever needed to close because of pandemic-related orders by the governor and is delivery only for now. “Fortunately, we expect indoor dining to be at 25 percent capacity again soon,” Curtis says.
In the midst of this, in December 2020, Curtis also opened Reve Burger, which will complement the operations of Ever. “Reve” is “Ever” spelled backwards, plus it means “dream” in the French language, which gave the team two reasons to choose that name.
Reve is keeping Chef Duffy and his team quite busy. Fortunately, they’d been able to conveniently rent space across the street from Ever to make their double cheeseburgers (two four-ounce beef patties) and fries, with the burgers also containing American cheese, Vienna dill pickles, a Highland Baking Co. sauce—all on a brioche bun. A vegetarian burger is also available, and kids can order grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken fingers.
“All is going extremely well,” Curtis says, “to the point where we’re ready to expand the Reve concept. So, we’re designing a real brick and mortar for Reve that will be completely separate from Ever, and we’re involved in architectural aspects now.”
This 2,200-square-foot space is right next door to Ever, which makes it ultra convenient for Curtis and his team.
Not surprisingly, he is looking forward to spring and summer. For one thing, in 2021, this will portend more possibilities for restaurants, with restrictions likely being lightened. “Plus,” Curtis says, “since my dishes are ingredient driven, I love to cook in the bountiful spring and summer when I can source so many delicious fresh ingredients.”
Note from all of us at The Chef’s Garden and Culinary Vegetable Institute: We can’t wait to order our first delicious Reve burgers—and we’re thrilled to hear that Ever is on the brink of reopening! We’re also looking forward to when you can visit the farm again. Thanks for this great interview.
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