A stranger approached Curtis Duffy a few weeks ago outside Ever, the star chef’s eagerly anticipated restaurant that should open this spring. Duffy would give the man an impromptu tour through the under-construction restaurant on Fulton Market. Duffy then encouraged the man, a cook, to apply for a job and to send in a resume.
Duffy’s longtime colleague Michael Muser, Ever’s director of operations, recalled the story and said the man told Duffy that he’d been camped out in the neighboring coffeeshop for two days waiting so he could hand Duffy a resume. The man had driven to Chicago from North Carolina for a chance to work for Duffy at what should be Chicago’s next fine dining jewel, a venue that could complement the city’s other high-end dining destinations like Alinea, Smyth, and Oriole.
“People enjoy working for Michael and me,” Duffy said.
As Duffy and Muser, the chef and sommelier behind three-Michelin starred Grace, barrel closer to an opening date, they’re reading through resumes, trying to find workers that fit Ever’s culture. Muser wants to fill the restaurant with a “small army” of like minded people who are equally dedicated to excellence.
“There’s not a lot of these people, but they do exist,” he said.
Muser and Duffy have already found a few in announcing the hires of four key members of Ever’s opening team. Two of those four worked at Grace. Chef de cuisine Justin Selk spent four years at Grace. Before the West Loop restaurant closed at end of 2017 due to a well-documented rift with ownership, Selk’s kitchen skills had improved to the level where he was about to breakthrough with his own item on Grace’s menu. That meant he had gained Duffy’s trust. The two have traded numerous texts since Grace’s demise, chatting about what would become Ever. Soon after Grace closed, Selk left Chicago for San Francisco to work at Atelier Crenn.
“If I want to make a grapefruit puree tomorrow, he already knows the direction I’m going,” Duffy said.
Some restaurants are going away from the traditional French brigade de cuisine hierarchy, but Duffy is an advocate. He said it helps reiterate a single voice for the kitchen. Duffy trusts Selk to echo his voice as Duffy won’t always be in Ever’s kitchen. He may be traveling to promote the restaurant at a food festival. That was something his previous employer apparently frowned upon, as ex-Grace owner Michael Olszewski griped about Duffy’s absences in a lawsuit.
Muser and Duffy also hired a general manager they’ve known for more than decade. Amy Cordell worked with the pair at Avenues, the Peninsula Hotel’s former two-Michelin-starred restaurant. She worked as a floor manager and captain at Grace. Muser, Grace’s former general manager. At Ever, he’s taken a new title and is ceding the floor to Cordell, “This is Amy’s dining room,” Muser said.
Cordell was the first hire at Ever. Duffy talked about how mentoring young hospitality workers was important to him, and Muser went on to say this about Selk and Cordell: “They’re just at the right age and experience to take something like this and crush it.”
Having some continuity with Grace was important, but Muser admitted they’ve kept tally as they didn’t want to bring back all off their former restaurant’s staff. They wanted a balance to make sure Ever could be fresh. Rounding out the hires is sous chef Richie Farina (Moto, Monteverde) and pastry chef George Kovach. Kovach worked at Michelin-starred Acadia and Band of Bohemia.
Dinner at Ever will cost $300 to $500 and take about two and a half hours. Snacks will supposedly be plucked from the ceiling. Muser feels lucky that Chicago diners are willing to support ambitious and expensive projects like Ever. But neither Duffy or Muser could point to a particular aspect that would make Ever a quintessential Chicago restaurant. Given Chicago’s reputation as a meat and potatoes Midwestern town, Muser joked about putting a steakhouse standby — the wedge salad — on the menu to give it a pseudo-Chicago feel.
Duffy, who hasn’t divulged many details on Ever’s dishes, asked Muser if he could be sure a wedge salad wouldn’t appear on the menu
“How do you know we’re not?” Duffy said. “You didn’t realize we were opening steakhouse, did you?”
Ever, which likely won’t be a steakhouse, is one of 2020’s most anticipated restaurant openings in Chicago. An opening date should be released soon.
Ever, 1340 W. Fulton Market, planned for a spring opening.