Former Blue 13 chef Chris Curren earned acclaim for his imaginative bar food at Stout Barrel House & Galley, but word went out a few days ago that he’d be leaving his post as culinary director for the entire LGN Group, which owns the restaurant. Now he’s been snapped up by another bar and restaurant group as an executive chef, with immediate duties for one of their existing restaurants but a long-term focus on upgrading much of the operation and launching future projects. He’s joining Greg Mohr’s and Scott Weiner’s Fifty/50 Group, whose current properties include The Fifty/50, Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery & Diner, but who recently also announced an ambitious program for the upcoming Acme Hotel including a cocktail lounge called The Berkshire Room, to open this summer.
Curren’s first focus, according to a spokesman, will be Homestead, the seasonal farm-to-table restaurant located on top of the same building as Roots, with its own rooftop farm. Together with his former Blue 13 chef de cuisine Chris Davies, who has been at Acadia and Little Market Brasserie in the interim, he’s taking over the restaurant when it opens in late May or early June. Opening chef John Wayne Formica (a longtime associate of Rodelio Aglibot) is now running the kitchen at Aglibot’s E+O Food & Drink in Mount Prospect; Curren plans to do a collaborative dinner with Formica in the summer and to find ways to keep the open-air restaurant functioning longer into the fall with pop-up dinners. Besides the produce grown right next to the dining area, Curren intends to increase Homestead’s utilization of farmers he’s known from the Green City Market, and to bring in produce from a private “Homestead-only” farm outside the city. He also plans to add a section to the menu called “From the Mill” for pastas using regional grains where possible.
Meanwhile, at The Berkshire Room, Curren will create the bar menu, including a ploughman’s lunch with housemade charcuterie and an oyster bar. And he’ll be working on overhauling the company’s catering and private dining menus. A third Chris— pastry chef Chris Texeira, formerly of Sixteen— has already made upgrades to the bakery and diner menus at West Town Bakery, which will have a branch with a menu tailored to downtown diners in the Acme. (We are told that this plethora of Chrises has forced new nicknames at the company: Curren is now the Chris, Teixeira is “Tex,” and Davies is “Chip,” which comes from how he was once mislabeled in the caption for a photo in the Tribune.) Curren, Teixeira and Fifty/50 and Roots chef Martin Arellano will all be involved in the effort; West Town Bakery already has a significant wholesale and restaurant business for its baked goods, supplying pastries to Levy for its stadium concessions and to various grocers, and bread to about 25 local restaurants, so developing catering and event business is a priority area for the company as a whole. An announcement involving a local non-restaurant company is coming shortly as well.
But will Curren end up running a restaurant with his own clear identity again at any point? (That doesn’t close for winter?) There are no specific plans at this point, we are told, but with the company looking to expand so aggressively, it’s regarded as sure to happen once he’s had a chance to stabilize and adjust the direction of the company’s existing projects. “Chris is the real deal,” co-owner Greg Mohr said in a release. “We’re just excited to have him on board with us. We know as a restaurant group this is a huge step for us.”