Interviewed June 2011
Danny Grant is head chef of RIA, the main restaurant at the excellent Elysian hotel in Chicago. RIA was awarded two Michelin stars in Michelin's inaugural guide to Chicago.
Q – How long have you been cooking professionally?
I started cooking professionally in 1999, when I was still in high school. I knew that cooking was the only profession for me.
Q – Where did you train to cook?
I first started at home, tasting and playing with ingredients. The joy and excitement I felt doing that quickly helped me to realize that this would be my career. I started working in restaurants at 15, first as a dishwasher and then a cook. I knew that the more restaurants I experienced through travel, eating, staging etc., the more knowledge I would gain and be better able to hone my craft. So that’s what I did.
Q – How would you describe your style of cooking?
A few words that I would use are thoughtful, delicate, restrained, layers. Equally as exciting to look at as it is to eat.
Q – Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
I think the most important thing is that the diners feel welcome and comfortable. Also, a restaurant needs to be able to evolve and to continue to push itself.
Q – Do you have a “signature dish” or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
One of my favorite dishes, not only to make but also to eat, is a perfect omelet. So simple and so rewarding. I think they are best in the winter, covered in truffles.
Q – Do you have a favourite ingredient?
I don’t know if it is my favorite but it’s the most necessary ingredient for the kitchen – sea salt. To me, it is amazing what salt can do if used correctly.
Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
We are closed on Sundays and my favorite place to be is on my couch watching the New York Jets with a taco bar set up from Taqueria Traspasada.
What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
It was a Saturday night, the middle of service, summertime in Chicago. We had a full restaurant and all of a sudden, we lost the power. There was a bit of panic, but we held it together and we were able to finish service under candlelight. It was amazing to see how the whole kitchen came together – holding candles, flashlights etc. all while still managing to put out food. It’s incredible how enhanced your senses become when trying to cook without light.
What would be your “last request” dish?
Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house. It is an all out feast. You feel like royalty.
Is there another chef that you most admire?
Jean-Louis Palladin. His food truly reflected his passion and drive. He was a chef ahead of his time. He put an incredible amount of energy into using local, well sourced ingredients. He cooked with his surroundings, taught his craft and expanded diners minds and palates.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
I would tell them that becoming a chef is one of the most rewarding jobs. It is extremely challenging and demanding. If you are not 100% committed to this profession, it is not a job for you. It’s not as romantic is it looks on TV. That being said, this is the only job for me.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?