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Danny Grant, superchef of Ria at Waldorf Astoria Chicago: Q&A

Posted by Erin Hartigan on May 2nd, 2012

At twice Michelin-starred Ria restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, chef Danny Grant serves elegant French fare, presenting a symphony of flavour and texture from only a few carefully chosen ingredients.

We’re not the only ones in Grant’s fan club: the chef has just been named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs. We stole a few minutes with him to learn more about his globe-trotting, go-to spring ingredients, and cravings from the hotel minibar.

Ria restaurant in Chicago

How would you describe RIA’s style of cooking?
The cooking incorporates classic French fundamentals, but it’s much more playful. What we do is concentrate on highlighting specific ingredients on a high level. We’ll often pick three ingredients: one primary, with two background notes. And the goal is to really let them speak.Ria restaurant in Chicago

It sounds like a dating show. Will you share an example?
One that we just got on the menu showcases flavours of foie gras, English pea, orange, radishes and pumpernickel. So often with foie, you see a rich liver preparation with something sweet and something crunchy. In this dish, peas are more of a focus. You could say it’s pea mousse with radish salad. We cure and poach the foie gras, remove all the fat, then we almost puree it. Finally, we roll it in candied orange powder. These are simple flavours that everyone recognizes, but we present them in a beautiful way. It’s also very colourful, with red radishes, bright green peas and the orange on the outside of the foie gras.

What’s your favourite spring ingredient? 
That’s tough. It depends what day of the week you ask. I think asparagus. You get beautiful asparagus at this time of year. And the garlics are exciting in spring. [Garlic] scapes are good, and green garlic is such a versatile stage in garlic’s life. But there are also all the little fresh green things: English peas and favas. And, of course, morels.

What would you tell diners to expect at RIA?
They should expect to feel satisfied, incredible comfortable and relaxed. A goal is to make people feel like they’re in their own home. They’re not in a fancy restaurant. They should expect to have good ingredients used in food that is executed at a high calibre with a lot of precision. But they’ll also laugh and maybe hear their server singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s nothing pretentious by any means.

Ria restaurant in ChicagoWhere was your last vacation?
My last trip was to Paris. We close the restaurant for two weeks in January, so I went to Paris. That trip was purely eating at as many three-starred Michelin restaurants as we could in four days. I do two kinds of vacations. The first is when I travel for different kinds of food. On the other trips, I try to forget about everything. I’ll do a summer beach trip or a winter escape into the mountains. But I don’t travel as much as I’d like.

What’s your minibar craving?
That’s a dangerous question. Typically, whiskey and bourbon hold a special place for me in the minibar. And I eat the granola bars. But I guess my go-to is bourbon on the first day, then water the next day.

Try Danny’s spectacular dishes for yourself at Ria in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago (+1 312 880 4400).

Photos courtesy of Neil Burger.

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