John Francis Gran. That is a name that will ring in your head. Known as Johnny to his nearest and dearest has an infectious smile and is under the helm of Chef Thomas Lents Two Star Michelin restaurant Sixteen in the Trump Hotel of Chicago. Johnny is not new to Michelin accolades, though. He ran up the ranks of Alinea for 5 years where he was fortunate to work alongside many talented individuals. Johnny rides his beloved Surly Long-Haul Trucker daily and he is also a “recovering” musician. He’s going to be famous one day.
Elisa: Johnny, Thank you for taking the time for an old friend.
JFG: My pleasure, thank you for thinking of this old broke-down front of the house hack.
Elisa: You have worked with some of our industry’s best. What is the best advice you can give to the next generation of hospitality professionals?
JFG: Stay humble. It can be a very stressful and challenging path, but also very fulfilling and rewarding. There is always more to learn and always something to improve in your game. Lean on your friends and colleagues when the going gets tough. I’ve cleaned plenty of bathrooms and swept plenty of floors and polished lots of glasses. No task is beneath you. It’s all part of the big picture.
Elisa: What time did you wake up this morning?
JFG: A little after 1 PM. It was brutal.
E: What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up this morning?
JFG: Easy question. Unoriginal but honest answer: Coffee.
E: Describe what it was like working with Sommelier Dan Pilkey?
JFG: Pilkey was great. Eccentric. Irreverent. Great smile. Fun-loving. He was very generous with his vast knowledge and his clear passion for wine was inspiring. Our new Sommelier Parag Lalit is absolutely brilliant as well, but he is way more…how do I say? “Proper”. They’ve both been tremendous colleagues.
E: Do you have a favorite wine on Sixteen’s list?
JFG: We were pouring 2005 Saint Chamant Blanc de Blanc by the glass for a while. It tasted like Sherry but it was from Epernay. Go figure. Now we’re “slumming it” with 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires. Apparently I love Chardonnay (or just Champagne in general).
E: What’s your favorite after work beverage?
JFG: Beer. Hydration is essential after a long shift, and I’m told that there is lots of water in beer…
E: Green or yellow Chartreuse?
E: How many shots of Chartreuse do you think you’ve done in your life?
JFG: How many ingredients are in Chartreuse? Somewhere in that ballpark would be my best guess.
E: Hey, now. I ask the questions John Francis Gran! 😉
E: What’s the first thing you think of when you meet someone new?
JFG: “Does this person like Townes Van Zandt as much as I do? Probably not. I’d better leave them alone.”
E: How do you feel about horoscopes?
JFG: I don’t rely on them personally, but I’ve been told I’m a textbook Scorpio from more than a few people over the years. Maybe one’s sign is significant after all…
E: Sparkling or flat water?
JFG: Sparkling. I wish Gerolsteiner came out of my faucets at home.
E: In three words describe Chicago.
JFG: Impossibly harsh winters
E: Bears or Blackhawks?
JFG: The Blackhawks have given Chicago a lot of civic pride recently. Obviously, the Bears have fallen on hard times of late, but they are still the team that defines the city.
E: Do you believe that music is made by the mad man for the sad man?
JFG: There is definitely some truth to that. Look at some of the “greats” and unfortunately, you’ll find all sorts of madness (and sadness). I’ve known some happy-go-lucky musicians though, too.
E: What is the name of your beautiful, wooden bass guitar?
JFG: I’m one of those lame musicians that has never named his instruments…she is a lovely fretless bass though.
E: How many glasses can you carry at once with your hands – no tray?
JFG: Probably not too many. Most of my career has been spent at places where carrying glasses without trays is practically grounds for immediate dismissal, so I’m out of practice.
E: Do you believe in free will or destiny?
JFG: It’s questions like that which keep me up all night and in bed until 1 P.M. Destiny is a little too tidy and convenient for me. Free-will seems to more accurately reflect an actual human existence, with all of it’s chaos and consequences, infinite variety, and trial-and-error.
E: Which person dead or alive would you love to have dinner with?
JFG: Bill Murray
E: If you allow me, my last question is a quote of my favorite heroine; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan.
E: “Please, tell me. Does Chicago miss me?”
JFG: Of course, Chicago misses you. You’re just on loan to New York right now. You’ll come crawling back one day…Thanks for interviewing me, this was fun. Keep up the great work.