Danny Grant – Executive Chef/Partner at Maple Hospitality Group
Mario Flores – Beverage Director at Maple & Ash Chicago
Chef’s Roll: Chef Danny, you opened Maple & Ash in Chicago eight years ago. Now, your team operates a second location in Scottsdale, AZ, with several projects in the pipeline. What led you to open this type of concept?
Danny Grant: For me, cooking at fine dining restaurants is a ton of fun, but there’s a lot of explaining, teaching, and gaining trust with guests. I think the idea of us opening this beautiful wood-fired restaurant was that people would already understand what to expect — a steakhouse.
Guests already feel comfortable coming to us for a date or where they can bring their grandmother and kids. Everyone has a level of comfort and expectation, but the fun part is to show our guests the unexpected with our secret weapons and skills. Whether it’s how we cook our food, make pasta, or curate and craft the menu.
We want to challenge our guests even if they stay traditional the first time they come in and order their regular 6oz filet with mashed potatoes and a side of roasted vegetables. Hopefully, the next time they come in, they start with caviar and order our dry-aged New York from a specific farm with beautiful handmade pasta and shaved alba truffles. It’s these kinds of progressions that we’re excited to observe and facilitate.
As we’ve been open longer, I think one of the most important things we do as a company is to continue evolving and challenging ourselves. That keeps it interesting for us and, most importantly, for our guests who have been dining with us for the past eight years.
We have some guests that are in two or three times a week. They’re not even guests to us anymore; they’re family! We have new and returning guests from across the country, and we want to continue showing them something new and exciting.
CR: What has been a constant at Maple & Ash, and what has evolved?
DG: When we first opened, I was scared not to have a shrimp cocktail on the menu. I was afraid not to have, I don’t know, some broccoli or something like that, or a vegetable that people are just so used to ordering. As we’ve evolved, we’ve grown out of that intimidation of being different.
We might still have some of those things, but we’ve evolved our crudo section and the tartare. Adding fun things that are far more chef-driven and not as traditional to a steak house has become the staple of Maple & Ash. Our guests are embracing it and are coming in craving it. That’s been inspiring to see on our side and helps explore our creativity.
CR: How many kilos of caviar would you say Maple & Ash goes through per month?
DG: We are at about 12 kilos a month. We love finding ways to give, sell, or make people experience caviar when they dine at any of our Maple & Ash locations. A bump of caviar here and there, a giant spoonful on a potato chip, or on a classic blini – it’s just so good!
CR:Mario, how has the beverage program embraced the concept of constant vs evolution?
Mario Flores: We knew that we wanted to build a cocktail program that offered high quality, but we didn’t want to be the same as any other steakhouse where guests are used to getting big martini glasses.
DG: Hey, let’s just be clear.I’m one of those people, and I love them. There’s nothing wrong with that big martini glass!
MF: I agree; I love them too! We just wanted to offer something more unique and offer our spin, which has turned into our very own classics.
CR: Speaking of classics, how many M&A Old Fashioneds are ordered per month?
MF: I was looking at the numbers recently because the team always runs a little competition. We are looking at about 5,000 monthly M&A Old Fashioned cocktails between both Maple & Ash locations.
CR: Congratulations on being a Tales of the Cocktail Foundation – Best Restaurant Bar Honoree 2023.
MF: Thank you. I was very excited when I got the news. Tales of the Cocktail is such a huge deal for the industry and the bar world. So, just being able to have that nomination was amazing for me and the Maple & Ash team!
CR: Your past is in fine dining, and you have garnered two Michelin star recognition from your time at RIA.Is there a difference in style between the BOH/FOH team at Maple & Ash and your team at RIA?
DG: Service and atmosphere is something that has always been very important to me. We use our fine dining skills and all the stuff we’ve learned but do it in a new, fun, and playful way. I think people have enjoyed that.
CR: What’s included in the I Don’t Give A F*@K Tasting Menu?
I think it’s an evolving menu. When we first launched it, we wanted to use it as a vehicle to give our guests a tasting behind the foundation that Maple & Ash is built on. Now, I wouldn’t say it’s a traditional tasting menu but a way for us to focus on new, great seasonal products. It allows us the space and ability (since it’s not for every single guest and at a higher price point) to be a bit more playful by serving new, fun, engaging, and intricate dishes. It’s a good playground for us to have fun with, which is very important for our BOH/FOH teams.
CR: Finally, what’s the No. 1 off-menu offering most ordered at Maple & Ash?
DG: I would have to say our off-the-menu “pasta back”! It stems from ordering our seafood tower.
We would see all this amazing broth left over from the seafood towers brought back to the kitchen night after night. Growing up in an Italian family, I thought, let’s get some bread and soak that up. But then I saw some fresh pasta and thought, “Even better!” So now guests that are in the know will order it, and we make this beautiful pasta tableside with all the leftover broth from the seafood tower.