By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt’s pursuit of two Michelin stars as the fulfillment of his take on the American dream is chronicled in this intimate documentary tracing the rise and demise of 42 Grams, the chef’s much-lauded restaurant. This refined temple of haute cuisine, located for a time in a repurposed fast-food joint in Chicago’s seedy Uptown neighborhood, grew out of an elite supper club that Bickelhaupt and his then-wife Alexa hosted in their small apartment, serving 15-course dinners to small groups of guests. Director Newell follows the trajectory of the dream, as hope, ambition and success are newly seasoned with discord for an unexpected recipe for the future.
“42 Grams” caught my eye—not only for the delicious looking, out-of-my-taste buds creations—but also for the drive and commitment that Jake and his wife put into their new restaurant. It was more Jake‘s surly attitude that kept things going, but as I have seen in other movies centered around the success of restaurants and the owners vying for that coveted Michelin stamp of approval, the aggressive approach at managing is often needed.
Jake’s ambition and that of his wife, who quit her full-time job, and small staff paid off, as the restaurant won wide local, national and international acclaim. This was a great accomplishment, considering that the couple started off in their one-bedroom apartment as the go-to spot for experimental culinary delights.
By creating an “underground” restaurant in their own living room that served friends and foodies alike, Jake and Alexa turned the renowned (and sometimes too-traditional) Chicago culinary scene on its head. Their willingness to go all in on the biggest risk of their lives not only changed the trajectory of their own future together, but completely redefined an entire industry’s understanding about how things in the restaurant world are done.
While there are not many Blacks—either as staff members or diners—in this documentary, it is a great film that breaks down all the mechanics of a successful niche restaurant. The success, however, came at both personal and professional losses for the couple. However, one icon of Chicago’s restaurant scene is given his just desserts—no pun intended. Jake and another employee easily mention the late Charlie Trotter as a great mentor in the business. Another employee named Hayward who comes in as the dishwasher once worked at Inspiration Café in Uptown, and Haywood admits that he was once a drug addict who is now clean and has meaningful employment. I trust that this employment for Haywood opened up avenues for his own American dream, as it did for the owners of 42 Grams.
“42 Grams” is playing during the Siskel Film Center’s “Stranger Than Fiction” series, running from January 27 through February 1 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, located at 164 N. State St. For more information, visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org. or www.42.gramsfilm.com.