Every once in a while we cross paths with a chef whose resume blows our mind. Not because he or she worked with the best chefs in the land, but rather the chef in question could have gone down many other career paths and been a major success. Such is the case of Kendal Duque, the executive chef of Sepia in Chicago.
Duque, born in Ecuador, has a biochemistry degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in literature from Berkeley. He was on his way to getting a Ph.D in literature from Harvard, but fell in love with the Berkeley food scene and never looked back.
His foray into cooking, after attending Peter Kump's Cooking School in New York, was an internship with Julian Serrano at Masa's in San Francisco. He describes the experience as a life-changing event and Serrano as his mentor. He would later work again with Serrano during the opening of Picasso at the Bellagio.
Eventually, Duque relocated to Chicago, where he worked with Jean Joho at Everest and at Tru with Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand. He also worked with Sandro Gamba at NoMi, but not before a detour to New York to work at Union Pacific with Rocco DiSpirito.
Despite his biochemistry background, Duque eschews molecular gastronomy. At Sepia, he's cooking simple, but elegant Italian food. For his efforts, he was named a Best New Chef by Chicago magazine and Sepia was declared a Best New Restaurant by Time Out Chicago.