The Nashville Film Festival is currently in the middle of showing 200 films in seven days, and, while we only picked one film to see, it was the right film at the right time.
For Grace takes us on an unexpected journey of the life and complexities of a famous chef, Curtis Duffy, and the profound luck and talent of the filmmakers, Mark Helenwoski and Kevin Pang a Chicago food writer, As the documentary ended, I was able to meet the filmmakers, and my first thought was that this has to be one of their best life moments as story tellers.
When Curtis Duffy was in the sixth grade, he had to take a mandatory home economics class. Walking to the back table with a chip on his shoulder, a fist ready to pummel and a broken heart from a broken life, Duffy started his recovery and claimed his gift in the culinary arts. He chose to take the next two years of optional home economics classes, inspired and mentored by Ruth Snider, who proves to us that it really does take just one interested person to help a child make it through a rough life without crumbling.
Had Duffy’s teacher not been kind, patient and invested in her students, Duffy’s life could very well be a sad story, for when he walked into her classroom, he was 11 years old and lost.I immediately resonated with Duffy when he said that every time he irons a shirt, he thinks of the teacher who taught him. I took home economics in the 11th grade and every time I level off flour or sugar I think of the nun who taught me. The memory is so powerful that I can remember where I was standing.
There are plenty of breathtaking moments showcasing food that is inventive and stunning. As a food enthusiast, I wanted to taste the food and experience what Chef Duffy is trying to say through it. There is a story of triumph in that food.
For Grace opens with Duffy leaving his position at the Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, in anticipation of fulfilling his dream. It’s not an ordinary dream to open a restaurant, ambitious enough for any young chef. It’s a dream of opening the best restaurant in America.
Duffy dreams big, is driven with a fervor as if he were running for president of the United States, but is not political nor diplomatic. He calls out the inadequacies of a famous restaurant he worked out, Alinea, and he has no problem calling another famous chef a monster. There are moments in this film that a Hollywood writer wouldn’t think to include, because the only thing cliche or happy ending is when his Ruth Snider who is interviewed and talks about him like a son, arrives for the opening night of Grace.
Curtis Duffy is good looking, charismatic, driven and wounded. These things make him almost more interesting than the artfully crafted food he creates, or his attention to detail, choosing $1000 dining room chairs for Grace.
There are so many twists to his story and his journey, including a troubled childhood, the tragic death of his parents, and the teacher who possibly saved his life.
The depth of the documentary is stunning, because there is something everyone can relate to and it doesn’t have to be food, for the prevailing theme that speaks to me and might speak to any blogger, food writer, chef or artist is the power of discovering one’s passion which can be a life saver, sometimes a life wrecker, if not tamed.
There are moments in the film that tell us that Curtis Duffy is not defeated as a human being, and there are times he seems so remote and closed off, focused on opening Grace and perhaps shut down by his family troubles.
The genius of these filmmakers soars when Duffy comes alive and ghosts from the past dead and alive validate him.
The filmmakers were surprised by the level of depth they were able to capture. They were going to do a quick profile of an up and coming chef and ended up making what could almost look like a Hollywood Movie that gets nominated for an academy award.
The editing was perfection and bravo to the filmakers; but Curtis Duffy is such a natural in front of the camera, that one might think he’s more of an A-list movie star rather than a 3 star Michelin chef.
I went in not knowing much about Duffy, and now I feel like Grace has moved to the top of my bucket list because it won’t just be about the food. I want to taste more of the story Duffy is telling.
Good News: For Grace will play again in a back by popular demand, April 25th, Saturday Night at 7:30 p.m. Get your tickets here.