NIFF Interview: Curtis Duffy and Kevin Pang Discuss FOR GRACE


There is always someone who keeps fighting for his dream to come true. Never gives up and devotes himself for something he believes that one day all sacrifices he made on his way to success will worth it. Curtis Duffy, one of the country`s most renowned chefs, is building his dream restaurant at the worst time of his personal life.

During Niagara Integrated Film Festival, I had great opportunity to sit down with Curtis Duffy and Kevin Pang, a Chicago Tribune dining reporter/co-director of For Grace to discuss their four years journey of making For Grace.

MOVIEMOVESME: You had a dream to own a restaurant. So how did you manage to hold on to it despite being under pressure all the time to stop chasing your dream?

Curtis Duffy: I think for me it’s always been about being laser beam focused on whatever I set my mind to. So it’s been a dream of mine for some time to have me build a restaurant, so I wasn’t letting or gonna let anything step in my way. I just pushed forward until the opening day and then pushed even further once we’d opened.

MOVIEMOVESME: In one of your earlier interviews you said you didn’t want to lose anything. However, while you were on your way to reach your goal, you had to separate from your wife and your two kids. So was this a sacrifice you made?

Curtis Duffy: I think part of the story or the unknown story is that we were already separated and we were already making those steps to go through divorce before we actually started this restaurant anyway. So I wouldn’t say that building the restaurant was the cause of the separation. I think the long hours and the total overall dedication to the craft is what ultimately separated us. So there’s a lot of sacrifice on many levels in order to try and do something on a very high level. So I guess at the end of it, it just caught up with me.

MOVIEMOVESME: Did you ever regret the sacrifices you had to make in order to get there?

Curtis Duffy: No, I try to live life with no regrets. I think everything in life happens for a reason. I just try to be better every day with my personal life, that’s all I can do now is make sure that I’m making the steps to being in my daughters’ life every single day.

Kevin Pang: To add to that, I think one of the things that Curtis says at the end of the movie is he talks about the hardest part about everything is the balance in trying to find that middle point where you can fulfil professional ambitions, but at the same time maintain those relationships with the family. It’s almost like the old tale of Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill and once he gets to the top, see it roll back down. It’s Sisyphean in the fact that it’s impossible to ever achieve that balance.

Curtis Duffy: I agree, that’s the problem with the industry, there is no balance. You can find enough balance to make it work to some degree but I think in the end, to do what you wanna do, you can’t have both.

Kevin Pang: He wouldn’t have three Michelin stars if he didn’t be a little selfish. You take away one part of your life and put it in the other, it’s a balancing act you can never win it seems.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you find about the characters?

Kevin Pang: I write about food for The Chicago Tribune, I’m a newspaper reporter. So I’ve known Curtis just from covering him. I wanted to do a short video for the newspaper about Curtis creating a dish. We went out for lunch and over lunch he told me he was leaving the restaurant to open his own restaurant, I thought it was a really interesting idea and concept, so I told him I’d like to document that. He agreed to it and we thought it was gonna take several months and it only took four years from beginning to end! In fact I think it was exactly four years ago this week we met for the first time. It is crazy when you think about it.

MOVIEMOVESME: What motivated you to keep going in the hardest moments of your life?

Curtis Duffy: I think realising that my dream was starting to come true. It’s not in my DNA to stop something I started. We were pushing forward no matter what. I think just digging deep within you internally and just moving forward with it.

MOVIEMOVESME: You love to cook for people. What does it mean to you to make someone’s life you don’t even know tasteful?

Curtis Duffy: It’s about creating memories for people. It’s being able to give them something to remember their experience by. If you’re on a date with your wife or someone that you love, maybe it’s your parents, I want them to walk away with having those memories that they’re gona talk about in fifteen years from now. That’s always been important to me and cooking is about making people happy with what I do because I can see that instant graification the moment they eat something, and that always gives me pleasure.

MOVIEMOVESME: Was there any moment or scene when it became very challenging to film? – I asked Kevin Pang.

Kevin Pang: Yeah, the scene when he read the letter from his father. What’s interesting was that moment was the first time we realized about his family. It was eight months into the filming, he never told us about anything, we found out at the same time as the viewer does watching the movie. So for us it was especially emotional because that day began at three thirty in the morning, there’s a scene where he’s working out at the gym and it wasn’t until eight or nine at night that we found out about his family. It was a very long, challenging day I remember driving home with my co-director and we just didn’t say a word to each other, we were so shocked. It was challenging in the sense that it was a surprise but at that point we also knew that we have a movie, not just a twenty minute documentary on a website. We had an actual movie, a film we had to see through to the end.

MOVIEMOVESME: If you had the chance to travel back in time, what would you like to change?

Curtis Duffy: I would have my parents at my restaurant, that’s for sure. For them to sit down and enjoy a meal I created, they never got the opportunity to do that. I cooked for them one time when I started to learn how to cook, so I’d love to be able to give them something I’ve never given them, which is cooking from my heart and my soul.

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