Alinea’s Chef Grant Achatz
Chicago is eagerly anticipating the opening of Alinea, chef Grant Achatz’s new restaurant, which has already been dubbed America’s best new restaurant by Food & Wine’s Pete Wells. Achatz (AH-kitz) was selected best new chef in 2002 and has learned from some of the best – at The Culinary Institute of America, Charlie Trotter’s, French Laundry, Trio – but all this schooling and apprenticing has certainly not resulted in traditional cuisine. Achatz’s own very unique style comes through quite clearly with highly refined dishes that sometimes require science lab or industrial products to prepare and always include imagination as an ingredient (eek!). Check out these tasty snippets from Wells’ beautifully written piece:
-The outside will be crisp; inside will be something juicy. A grape, of course. But there will be something else, something sticky and totally, utterly familiar. You’ve known this taste since before you could tie your own shoes. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich! And you will wonder: Just what kind of restaurant is this, anyway?
-Achatz describes the philosophical break that he and a few like-minded chefs have made with the so-called market-driven school that still dominates American cuisine: “We know we can get awesome shrimp. That’s not good enough for us anymore. How can we manipulate it? We’re still dealing with the same ingredients, but we sit down and say, ‘What’s a shrimp?'”
-The food looked like one thing (ravioli) but behaved like another (a Shanghai soup dumpling, Freshen-Up gum). Most crucially, some action by the diner (biting down) unlocked the transformation. A playful intellect was bound together with a sensual instinct; one mouthful sent you on a quick trip from the ordinary to the unexpected by way of real pleasure.
-Some of the architecture is meant to mimic the playfulness of the food. “When you finally make it to your chair and sit down,” Achatz says, “I want you to be, like, ‘I can’t wait for this to start. Because it’s already been exciting, and all we’ve done is walk to our table.'”
-Achatz tried seasoning lobster with rosemary, but the herb was too strong. This led to the idea of rosemary vapor: The waiter would bring the customer a plate of lobster and a dish of rosemary branches, then pour scalding water over the rosemary. The diner inhaled the vapor, which powerfully altered the experience of eating the lobster without masking the flavor.
-Achatz, for all his interest in chemistry, physics and mechanics, only views them as means to an end. And that end is you. When he manipulates a shrimp or a tomato, what he’s really thinking about is how that manipulation is going to play out in your head.
According to Chef Grant, 31, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don’t know…making a daydream reality.” Photos here.