When Chef Darnell Reed decided to open his own restaurant, he was inspired by his great-grandmother’s cooking. And thus he opened Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Chicago. In the restaurant, Reed pays homage to his great-grandmother Luella and her Southern favorites.
Prior to this, Reed spent the first 18 years of his career as a hotel Chef at Hilton Worldwide. He also worked in historic hotels such as the Palmer House Hilton. “I worked for Hilton for 18 years and felt like it was time for a new challenge and thought there was no better way to do it than to open a restaurant where I have the full creative power over the menu,” says Reed, who has traveled the world–from Morocco to London to Finland, among other international destinations.
But despite all his world travels, it was still Luella’s food that Reed was inspired by. Luella brought her Southern cuisine to the Midwest, and Reed recalls spending every holiday event or family get together at Luella’s house, dining on her fabulous food. “The memories have stood the test of time. I remember that the smell of bacon meant it was the morning time and time to get out of bed,” he recalls. Reed’s great-grandmother passed on many recipes to him, including her cornbread and gumbo, among other dishes.
According to Reed, he feels his restaurant offers something other eateries in the area don’t. “I will always give people what they want,” he says. “You do that by having open dialog with your guests. I also feel that Southern food is not a trend, but a staple…the city has great options for Southern cuisine, but for Lincoln Square/Ravenswood, I give them an option of having a true Southern experience.” Reed has his own favorites on the menu. “The menu is full of my favorite items, but the Shrimp and Grits for sure stands out. It’s a Southern fusion of New Orleans style BBQ shrimp and Carolina Low Country style grits,” he reveals.
Other specialties on the menu include: Forever Braised Shortrib Mac and Cheese; French Bread with Cayenne Remoulade and Seasoned Fries; Roasted and Chilled Beets with Cream Cheese Smear; Creole Spiced Pistachios; Balsamic Beignets Southern Fried Dough Pillows with a generous dusting of confectioners sugar; and Strawberry Shortcake Buttermilk Biscuit, Fresh Strawberry Compote and Chantilly Cream.
Still, the restaurant business can be tough. And Reed says he has faced a few challenges. Among them, says Reed, has been “training the team on the fly, because we were much busier than projected in my business plan.” With the business pouring in, Reed is looking ahead to expansion. His long-term goal is to “eventually make Luella’s a household name, at least, in Chicago,” shares Reed. More immediately, Reed has other plans. “For 2016, I want to continue to pursue perfection as well as establish the restaurant as a three-meal-a-day restaurant. We’re opening for breakfast in the spring,” he says.