Grace Goudie took a chance during the pandemic in the opening of Scratchboard Kitchen in Arlington Heights, IL, a suburb of Chicago, in 2020 alongside owner Danielle Kuhn.
With mentorship from renowned Chef Thomas Keller at Ad Hoc and The French Laundry, Chef Grace picked up meaningful experience and inspiration which brought her to her position as Scratchboard Kitchen’s executive chef. Today, chef Grace Goudie sources from local farms and purveyors for her seasonally driven food from scratch menu. The chef shares her vision for the latest concept and plans for the future.
Can you walk us through your career track and how you found your passion for the culinary field?
My passion for the culinary field came about for a couple of reasons. From a young age, I always watched my Czechoslovakian grandfather in the kitchen. After realizing I had an interest in cooking, he started to teach me what he knew. Then, in middle school, I took my first home economics food class. This is where I first started to follow recipes and see cooking from a more formalized perspective. After a few months of this class, I declared that I wanted to be a chef when I grew up, and I certainly made that happen!
My career essentially started when I was in high school. I began working as a hostess at a local restaurant. I worked in various restaurants throughout my high school and college years. After earning a degree in communications and hospitality management with a concentration in food and wine, I ventured out to California for culinary school. I always knew I wanted formal culinary training. I attended The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. After culinary school, I landed a job with Chef Thomas Keller. This opportunity changed my life and my career trajectory. I learned so many invaluable skills and lessons under Chef Keller, and this time working for him made me the chef that I am today. It allowed me to form foundational skills as well as learning to be a chef with a solid moral compass. My mentors in the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group really shaped me to become who I am today, showing how important mentorship is in this profession.
From there, I spent some time traveling the world, really diving deep into various cuisines and cultures. After traveling, I connected with Danielle Kuhn, the owner of Scratchboard Kitchen. We opened Scratchboard in April of 2020, and have been working hard and thriving ever since!
I’d love to learn more about Scratchboard Kitchen, can you talk me through the concept and what the restaurant specializes in?
Scratchboard Kitchen is a special little haven to come and feel comforted, nourished and welcomed. We have set out to create food that has a nostalgic, indulgent yet feel good spirit, while focusing on seasonality and farm fresh flavors. We have also created a comfortable and fresh atmosphere, unique cocktails and lattes.
Our mission for food and beverage is using local and high-quality ingredients, so that you can feel good from the inside out when you dine with us. This restaurant is truly a labor of love and care, so much soul has gone into our restaurant and it is a truly unique spot in our community.
Scratchboard Kitchen opened at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you share how you successfully launched a new restaurant during this challenging time? What were some of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome?
Opening a restaurant is incredibly scary. Match that with opening a restaurant during an unprecedented time in the world, and that is even more frightening! The first two or so years of our restaurant operations were filled with an intense need to be flexible because the regulations were changing daily. In the first year, it felt as if we re-opened the space multiple times simply shifting from a full take out model, to a hybrid take out/dine in, back to take out, etc. We were simply rolling with the punches and doing what we had to do not only to be successful but to service our community. In our minds, the most important thing we were doing was providing comfort to the community. In that first year, while operating the restaurant and providing comfort for the community we also fed countless front-line workers, homeless shelters and those in need. With that, I believe our success came from our ability to be flexible. We adjusted our concept countless times, rolled out nightly dinners and lunch specials and did things out of the norm to make sure we would achieve our goals that first year. The most challenging part of opening a restaurant during Covid would have to be ensuring that our staff and guests felt safe. The reason we do what we do in restaurants is to make others happy, and provide an unforgettable experience. Doing this during a time where we didn’t know what the next day would hold, was extra challenging but forced us to hone in on our current skills and become even better leaders under this pressure.
What are some lessons learned from previous roles that helped prepare you for becoming an executive chef? How did these lessons shape how you lead Scratchboard Kitchen?
Scratchboard Kitchen is my first restaurant as an executive chef, so like any other job where you are ‘promoted’ there are new skills to learn. Adapting to this bigger role during an uncertain time in the world made it even that much more challenging. I am a goal oriented person, and am driven by challenges, so I was ready for this next step in my career.
During my time with Chef Keller, I was a sous chef at one of his restaurants. My boss and mentor at this restaurant, Chef Matt Alba, prepared me for this role more than I knew at the time. The leadership skills Chef Alba instilled in me matched with the life lessons he taught me while working under him, resonated with me years later when I took the helm at Scratchboard. I think the most important part about being an executive chef, is not about the actual cooking, but about the ability to lead and delegate with respect. It’s about treating every single human that works with you as a dignified employee, and as equally important members of the team. As Chef Alba taught me, anybody can cook, it’s the other skills that take you a step further.
Can you share the inspiration and process of crafting new dishes that reflect each season?
My inspiration comes not only from the seasons, but a lot of it comes through nostalgia. I look for what evokes feelings and memories, while making the dinner feel fulfilled and magical at the same time. After being involved in fine dining, I also realized my style is a bit more rustic, and my mission is to just make the tastiest food while upholding that finesse I learned in those Michelin starred kitchens. If I can put a smile on your face through my food, I will sleep happy.
Tell us about how you source ingredients for the menu. Who are you partnered with and how do you maintain these relationships?
I first start with the local farms. Being trained and having worked in California the majority of my career, purchasing from farms was just the norm. Coming to Chicago, this practice is a little less common, and rightfully so with the lack of year round supply from the farms because of the winter seasons. With that, it is my goal to purchase as much as I can and as often as I can from the farms, despite the cold months. I also try to pickle and preserve items during the summer months to get us through the winter. For example, my current grilled cheese contains a blueberry spread that I preserved using the Japanese umeboshi preservation technique. This is a salt preservation method, so it makes the berries a perfect match for the inside of a grilled cheese.
I maintain my farm relations through having a first name relationship with the farmers and keeping open communication with them. After sourcing from the farms, I then look for quality. I search for the highest quality ingredients. I truly believe a quality ingredient makes a difference in the final product.
With all of the challenges many other restaurants are facing (tied to staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflation etc.), can you tell us how Scratchboard Kitchen manages to overcome these challenges?
There will always be challenges in a restaurant, no matter when we are open or what illness is being spread. This was something I was taught early on in my career. Part of our job is to meet the next challenge with a great attitude and use our leadership skills to help the team through to the next set of challenges. With that, the most recent and most difficult challenges for us has been the staffing shortages. As a leader, I know that when this occurs it is my job to step into those roles that need to be filled. Right now, I am working a station online while expediting and running the kitchen in order to make sure our operations are up to par. As leaders, we do what is needed to make it to the next day.
As for inflation, this is something that every restaurant is experiencing, and it is obviously challenging. Having to continuously raise prices is not something any restaurant wants to do, but at some point, it is something we have to do. With this, it is all about flexibility again. Learning to adapt your dishes and tweak a little here and there, will be the best thing to do.
What is next for you and Scratchboard Kitchen?
Danielle (Scratchboard’s owner) and I are both goal oriented and driven people. We have ongoing conversations on what is next and how to make that happen. Right now we are working to get Scratchboard in a comfortable place to make our next set of dreams come true.
As for the immediate future, we are starting dinner service next month, and I cannot wait to share more of my cuisine with the community! Also, catch me compete on Beat Bobby Flay on The Food Network.