Chef Darnell Reed Opens new Southern Kitchen

As with many exceptional chefs, Darnell Reed’s passion for food and cooking began at a very young age. Born and raised in Chicago, his first memories of food include the wondrous dishes prepared by his great-grandmother, Luella, for whom the restaurant is named. She was passionate about her Southern family recipes and Darnell lovingly remembers the delicious aroma of her kitchen as she prepared these unequalled creations. “My great-grandmother showed me how food could bring people together,” he says.

Darnell also remembers, as a child, being caught up in the entertaining world of TV chef Justin Wilson. “My mom told me she knew I would be a chef someday, because while other kids were outside playing I was watching his show,” he recalls. “When I was a kid, I didn’t fully grasp the concept that he was a Southern chef. I just knew that he entertained me.”

Darnell took his love of cooking seriously and after high school he completed his studies at Chicago’s Washburne Culinary Institute. He began his professional career in 1997 at the Palmer House Hilton where he served as Restaurant Chef at the French Quarter and the Big Downtown. In 2005, he was promoted to Executive Sous Chef at the Embassy Suites Chicago Lakefront where he handled banquet functions for up to 700 people. In April 2007, Reed was promoted to the dual Executive Chef position at the Hilton of Oakbrook and Hilton Garden Inn of Oakbrook. In May of 2010, he accepted the Executive Sous Chef position at the Conrad Chicago Hotel and was promoted to Executive Chef in 2011. He earned a Manager of the Year award in 2005 and a Leadership Award in 2008.

His years in the Hilton organization were very rewarding, and he considers his two supervisors there, Daniel Lagarde and Jason Milanese, to be important mentors. “Lagarde taught me to be disciplined and to value teamwork and Milanese showed me that you could be disciplined and still have fun at work,” he says. “I always dreamed of starting my own Southern restaurant, and the skills and attitudes they instilled in me will definitely be foremost in my mind as I launch Luella’s Southern Kitchen.”

Even though Darnell is a well-rounded chef, his heart always takes him back to Southern cuisine. “My favorite dish to prepare is Seafood Gumbo and my favorite ingredient to use is sweet potatoes. I just love their versatility and how sexy they look on a plate. I’ve used them in pies, as a side item, breads, cakes, fries croutons, biscuits and cobblers. I also love to prepare Shrimp and Grits. My tip for preparing them is be sure to remove them from the pan before the sauce is done. You do not want dry, overcooked shrimp.”

Darnell’s favorite dish of all time is the Bread Pudding Soufflé at the famed Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans. “I can taste it just thinking about it. It is so airy, yes airy, which is not what you think when you think of bread pudding. The sweetness is on point and the Whiskey Crème Anglaise puts it over the top. I order this every time I’m in New Orleans.”

Luella’s Southern Kitchen will be a small, intimate restaurant, and this is in keeping with Darnell’s belief that building relationships with guests is paramount. “I like to get to know my guests and get their feedback. I’m more than happy to adapt my menus to meet my guests’ needs, and I’m flattered if one of my guests asks for a dish that was featured on a previous menu. My biggest pleasure is when a guest tells me that something I’ve prepared reminds them of back home.”

As a disciplined chef and now also a restaurateur, Darnell strongly believes his team should strictly follow recipes, because consistency is very important. He also sets high standards for his service team. “I work hard to ensure that my servers and managers really know our food,” he says. “Guests should feel that their servers are knowledgeable, because it builds trust and helps the server to give the guests what they want.”

As he now moves forward with his first restaurant, he is inspired by his favorite celebrity chef, Bobby Flay. “I want my kitchen to be as talented as any of Bobby Flay’s kitchens. I have enjoyed his food at Bolo in NYC and Mesa Grill at Cesar’s Palace Las Vegas numerous times. I really enjoy the flavors of his cuisine and can tell that he has fun in the kitchen just from reading his menus.”

This is the beginning of an exciting chapter in Darnell’s life. In addition to the launch of Luella’s Southern Kitchen, he is soon to be married to his fiancé, Jocelyn, and they are expecting a new baby. Together with her two children from a previous marriage, he has a delightful built-in family. “I cherish every moment of every day. You do not get one second back to relive the great times again.”

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Luella's Southern Kitchen
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