You do the math.
Curtis Duffy was a troubled boy when he began a mandatory, sixth grade home economics class in a small town in Ohio. Ruth Snider, his teacher, had them baking mini pizzas using Pillsbury refrigerated biscuits and tomato sauce for their first assignment.
Immediately hooked, what kid doesn't like cooking something, and then getting to eat it, in school no less? Sure beats studying Algebra.
Teachers can have a turn-around affect on their students. Many children spend more hours in their day with their teachers than their own families. Good teachers help students learn. Great teachers help students become life-long learners. Extraordinary teachers inspire, nurture, enlighten and open eyes and brains to talents hidden deep inside.
Ruth was top-tier.
Home economics gave Curtis something positive in his life, rather than fighting with other kids and committing petty theft. He took home economics again in seventh and eighth grade when it was no longer necessary.
Cooking became his focus, passion and a needed reprieve from his crumbling home life.
Starting as a dishwasher in a local diner earning $15 per day, he rose to become a chef at area country clubs. Success followed him and he became driven to become the best chef in the country. Not county, country.
Ruth was a constant presence in his life since that first day in 6th grade. She was the mother he needed and he was the son that eluded her. They stayed closely connected throughout the horrific Duffy family tragedy and onto his epic rise to fame.
Moving to Chicago, to work with some of the best chefs in town, he made $18,000 a year working 16 hour days on his feet, in a hot kitchen. And you complain about your lousy job and income?
But he was thriving and making a name for himself.
Charlie Trotter's, Trio, Alinea and Avenues all became his food chemistry laboratories. When Curtis couldn't achieve anything further, he and business partner Michael Muser, made plans to realize their dream to open their own restaurant.
And that they did. Grace, in the West Loop, opened with much anticipation and fanfare in December, 2012. Outstanding reviews and accolades immediately followed. But a price had been paid with financial overruns, delays and suffering in his personal life.
There are no shortcuts to success.
Grace went on to win 2 Michelin Stars in 2014 and 3 Michelin Stars in 2015 and 2016.
Earning 3 Michelin Stars is the highest award a restaurant can receive. Most chefs would be honored with one, or even the mention of a Bib Gourmand. Hell, some restaurants would be thrilled just to stay in business for five years. It's that tough.
Think of that the next time you are dining out. In the back-of-the-house, chefs and cooks are toiling away at extremely hot stoves, bending over to plate your food with the precision of a surgeon, on their feet for hours and often earning much less than the server who delivers this edible work of art to your table.
Have I ever eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant? No, of course not. My bank account doesn't allow that. I probably wouldn't be able to pronounce everything on the menu either. I'm a "booth in a Greek diner" kind of girl. However, I do love reading about fine dining at its best and have great appreciation for the sacrifice it takes to get there.
Can you guess who his most "honored guest" was on opening night at Grace?
You got it, Ruth Snider, the home economics teacher from junior high back in a small town in Ohio. This speaks volumes of his integrity and humility to honor his former teacher on the biggest night of his career.
I'd like to think that there are many teachers out there like Ruth. To recognize a struggling, troubled student, show them compassion and encourage their talents whether it be Chemistry, English Literature or Basketball.
Curtis and his staff earned their success by extremely hard work, unfathomable dedication and undisputed, raw talent. However, a rock to stand on and a shoulder to lean on, back when he was just twelve, was given freely by a humble home economics teacher.
The highly acclaimed documentary, "For Grace," written, produced and directed by the brilliant Kevin Pang and Mark Helenowski, tells the unforgettable story of the rise of Curtis Duffy. This film is a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award. I've already seen it twice. It's now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Netflix. Watch the trailer here:
Thank you, Ruth. The Chicago restaurant scene is more delicious, internationally recognized and greatly enriched because you believed in a young boy who needed to find his way. It's that simple. And that extraordinary.
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