Behind the Scenes With Graham Elliot

Tab 1

Fall 2013

Many chefs prefer a behind-the-scenes life. But not Graham Elliot, a Chicago-based Michelin two-star chef who took part in the 2013 Chicago Gourmet’s Grand Cru in September. Sponsored by The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank, the Grand Cru offered culinary tastings from internationally renowned chefs paired with Chicago-based ones.


The Ultimate Foodie Event


“I’ll do anything for attention,” admits Elliot, who’s also a much touted — and tatted — judge on Fox TV’s MasterChef with Gordon Ramsey and Joe Bastianich.


In 2004, at age 27, Elliot became the youngest four-star chef in any major U.S. city and Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef. Four years later, he opened his Chicago restaurant, Graham Elliot. There he was lauded with his first Michelin star (the Michelin Red Guide awards these coveted stars to establishments for excellence) in 2011, his second in 2013, and three James Beard Foundation nominations. His expanding

empire includes Chicago’s Graham Elliot Bistro and Primary Food & Drink, set to open in Greenwich, Connecticut, this winter.


        Graham Elliot at the Grand Cru; photo by Petya Shalamanova                                                       Photography


At the Grand Cru, Elliot rolled up his sleeves alongside another young talent: Anthony Fusco of Lyon, France’s Table Lachassagne. In February 2012, at the age of 27, Fusco became the youngest Michelin-starred chef of the Rhône department, the French department located in the central Eastern region of Rhône-Alpes.

Tab 2

Fall 2013

About Chef Anthony Fusco


Just what the daring duo would do at the Grand Cru, no one knew. After all, the irreverent Elliot, known for his custom white wood spectacles and an inky Elvis pompadour, once arrived at a MasterChef challenge in a flesh-colored, tattoo-adorned wetsuit.


Elliot took a break from traveling and cooking to dish with Reserve magazine:


What made this Grand Cru event exceptional?


Elliot: This was the first time chefs from different parts of the world paired with local chefs [to offer culinary tastings]. It was exciting to work up close with Chef Fusco and see his techniques.


What dishes did you serve this year?


Elliot: We created a risotto homage to the Midwest — almost tailgating food. Instead of Parmesan, we used cheddar, bratwurst, bacon and apples with beer-glazed onions. Our Fois Newtons were little bites of salted shortbread, with stewed figs, foie gras terrine and pistachio crumble. People loved the Fois Newtons. They thought they were cute and delicious! 

How did these dishes speak to your culinary style?


Elliot: They’re humorous, outside the box yet relatable, mixing upscale with everyday.


What was the highlight of the Grand Cru for you?


Elliot: The most exciting part was partnering with a celebrated French chef and cooking together.


There were two other highlights for me: I helped judge 100 chefs competing for best burger in the hamburger hop, and I was the DJ at the Late Night Gourmet after-party. I’m known for my eclectic music and played everything from old punk to ’80s to current stuff.


How does cooking at an event like the Grand Cru differ from cooking in a restaurant?


Elliot: At the Grand Cru, you can’t hide in your comfort zone, the kitchen. I already interact with guests at my restaurants, but the Grand Cru was a good experience for the up-and-coming chefs I brought with me.

Tab 3

Fall 2013

How did you get into cooking in the first place?


Elliot: As a Navy brat, I went to three high schools before dropping out at 17 without much of a plan. I played guitar in a band and got a job as a busboy in a Norfolk, Virginia, restaurant. There, Chef Todd Jurich got me excited about food. I went on to study at Johnson & Wales University’s culinary school and interned under Dean Fearing at Dallas’ Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. But the late [four-star restaurant] TRU Chef Charlie Trotter, is the reason I am where I am today — and I don’t just mean Chicago.


How so?


Elliot: He gave me my skill set and transformed my idea of restaurant kitchens. Great kitchens are a dichotomy of being immersed in a hardcore militant culture — even sweeping the floor

has to be done at the highest level — and finding your own voice, as with any creative outlet.


How do you hope to be perceived as a chef?


Elliot: As a nice guy first and foremost — creative, driven and balanced. I’m not chopping and cooking 18 hours a day. I give my team my point of view and then freedom.


What might diners expect from you next?


Elliot: We’re working on a couple of new restaurant concepts, one out East and one out West. We are also switching to a single menu at Graham Elliot. Guests will enjoy some courses at the table and then go to the kitchen. I’m also collaborating on two books, one introducing my whimsical yet approachable cooking style and the other providing a year-in-the-life story of our two-star restaurant