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Everything posted by chefg

  1. When I entered school I knew I would someday own a restaurant, at that time I told myself I would do it before my 30th birthday. I didn’t quite make it, missing by about 9 days. I also knew that I wanted to cook at the highest level. Upon leaving school I realized that in order to combine those two I still needed to learn a great deal. So as you know I worked for the best. I think it is beneficial to have a plan and some written goals. Accomplishing them is almost not the point….but it forces you to think about it, and makes what you need to do next more clear. We are not worried about running out of ideas based on techniques or additives. There are plenty of avenues of creativity to pursue. Not really.
  2. Brett: When I entered school I knew I would someday own a restaurant, at that time I told myself I would do it before my 30th birthday. I didn’t quite make it, missing by about 9 days. I also knew that I wanted to cook at the highest level. Upon leaving school I realized that in order to combine those two I still needed to learn a great deal. So as you know I worked for the best. I think it is beneficial to have a plan and some written goals. Accomplishing them is almost not the point….but it forces you to think about it, and makes you realize what you need to do next more clear.
  3. A large mortle and pestle arrived this morning via fed ex.
  4. I never felt like I needed to vindicate myself. We all believe in what we do…even when people criticize it. The critics definitely have an impact on what we do….but in our case in a positive way. I never have and never will pull a dish based on someone else’s opinion, diner or critic. If that were the case Yellow Truffle would not have enjoyed the bacon the last time he did, after a well-known food critic proclaimed his displeasure of it. We have to cook for ourselves to a certain degree. Like I said, when a dish goes on the menu we know how it tastes. Believe me at that point we have tasted it 50 times, we know which dishes are going to have wider acceptance when they are conceived…every dish can’t or shouldn’t be a black truffle explosion. When we craft a meal we look big picture and bite by bite. When someone…anyone, makes a negative comment about a dish it gives me insight to the reason. If the comment is something that I agree with, like the tingling qualities of the tarragon wafer…I think to myself…good the dish was prepared as we intended it and the displeasure of that particular dish was based on person taste…but if the comment points to a technical problem…like limp bacon…than I make sure the dish is being executed in the manner it was conceived. As far as being motivated by the media…in an obscure way yes….but really it is our own motivation and their scale. We all have goals; in some cases these goals are achieving a status given out by certain media types or organizations. So when the restaurant opened I told the staff we will not stop until we get four stars from the Tribune and Chicago Magazine. That simply means we wanted Alinea to be in the best class possible. In the same way that when Michelin comes to Chicago we will be pursuing a three star level. But really it means little, because in fact we pursue that level daily…whether a critic is in the house or not. See up-thread Tough call…like picking the favorite of your children. My favorites thus far include: Pear-Celery-Curry Beef A-1 Pheasant with burning leaves From Alex: Dry Caramel Matsutake Cake See up-thread
  5. I agree…it was fun to show a few things before we opened. Actually we really enjoyed the challenges opportunities that a venue like that creates. Like I said up thread it would be really cool to do some type of edible art installation, and I would welcome an opportunity to work with Martin to create another serving piece that is designed to feed several people at once. But the problem with these events are they pull us away from the restaurant. Obviously once the building was secured we went through a series of design meetings with the interior designer and architect. Certain aspects of the design were important to us during the development of the space. We knew we wanted to try to create elements of the design that would mimic the philosophy of the cuisine. We identified certain areas that were more suitable to “be creative” and others that we felt best to fall on the more conservative side to ensure guest comfort. The entry was an area that we all felt we could push a little. We went through several iterations of the entry…all of them involved aspects of building anticipation creating a journey leading to the table, evoking a sense of intrigue by hiding the actual entry door, and in some cases producing disorientation from various perspectives. In the end with the decision to place the stairway mid-building the long wedge entryway was chosen. People seem to enjoy it…and from the comments I have received it does exactly as we intended. Furthering the journey leading to the table I wanted to have a staircase that walked people on several different levels while giving them a 360-degree view of the space. By using glass and drapes to create penetrating views the stairs become a journey for the traveler and provide a constant sense of movement for the seated. For the tables we wanted to buck conventional standards and go for a linen-less dark wood surface that would help define the clean modern lines of the space while framing the white and stainless service pieces. I really enjoy seeing and feeling the grain of the wood. I think it also adds a warm organic note to the space. The chairs were designed for comfort. We sat in the chairs several times before it was sent to production…the dimensions and back pitches being tweaked slightly to provide comfort for the long meals. The wine program relies heavily on our tasting program but we decided in the end to invest in a cellar that had great depth in rare and special bottles as well. As it turned out we have a list of over 600 selections. Over 65% of guests choose the tasting program. Joe Catterson sources unusual producers and varietals to match with the cuisine. We feel strongly that the pairings add a great deal to the overall experience. We have brought back the black truffle explosion for special occasions and rumor has it that a table received a mozzarella balloon course…I will not confirm nor deny this…but it only lasts a night or two. I have been very tempted to bring certain dishes back for an encore but we just can’t. We said we were starting over at Alinea and we have. Maybe that is a valid concept for a second restaurant…as the dishes run their course at Alinea they find a home at restaurant X? Never.
  6. Generally I devote time after the staff has left, typically between 2 and 3:30 am. During this time I research, sketch, and jot down ideas. Alex and I are always here at least one of the two days we are closed, and that is when we actually try the ideas that were conceived on paper. Being that both Alex and I are very involved during the prep each day it is nearly impossible to experiment with new concepts Wednesday thru Sunday. To recharge…not much. I spend my free time with my fiance and kids.
  7. YT: Generally the dishes continually evolve until they are taken off the menu. One of the best examples of that would be the Rib eye A-1. When it was first conceived it looked far different than when it was taken off the menu. The original version didn’t even have the sheet of potato. That dish in particular went through several more minor tweaks during it’s lifetime including the addition of the garlic blooms, chive flowers, the size of the actual sheet was changed for aesthetic appeal, the addition of tamarind, and some saucing changes. I always feel the dishes improve as we change them, obviously the reason for doing so in the first place. Sometimes new ingredients become available, as was the case for the blooms of chive and garlic, or after plating the dishes for a period of time you start to see them differently. Obviously if a diner happens to experience a dish on the first night…or close to it (like you with the first Opah/Honeycomb dish) the changes over time are very apparent. Most of the dishes follow the same arch…changing drastically the first week or so as we discover what we like and dislike about it or what is working or not working. At some point we are content and the dish won’t change much. The longevity of a dish depends on a few things: seasonality, if we have a dish waiting in the wings that we are excited to get on the menu…something might get bumped, or if we are bored with a dish it will get whacked. When I come into the dining room it is more to see aspects of service and how the dish reacts at the table. For instance…the first couple of times we served the pillow of lavender air I would sneak out to see how precarious the plate was atop the pillow, or another example is the first couple wax bowls that were sent …I wanted to see how the diner interacted with the pin and how comfortable they looked eating directly from the bowl. The first couple of antennas that were served at Trio made for good people watching. No, San Francisco, Shanghai, Chicago That was the reason for the LED lights…and we have changed the colors about 5 times over the course the 9 months. On New Years for instance we pulled back the curtains…which I thought changed the dynamic of the space a great deal. Obviously the service pieces and centerpieces will continue to change, which due to their sculptural nature I consider them part of the interior look. The accent pillows change seasonally, both color and texture…and the floral changes weekly, which also make the rooms feel much different. Also some of the art has rotated and will continue to do so. Looking forward we have talked about changing wall colors, carpet, adding linen to the tables, adding different sculptural elements to the wedge and staircase area, and even knocking out the wall that separates the back two dining rooms We are currently documenting all of the dishes as they are developed and at key stages throughout their evolution. This material will someday be used to create a book. Certainly the technological advances in both the cooking and other industries can aid in the creative process, but for us it actually plays a small part. TV...sure. IC...no.
  8. don brings up a good point - how do you get a "read" on your diners' experiences? do you find that most (or enough) clients are open and responsive enough during the meals for your staff to pick up on winners/losers among the courses? u.e. ← See my post upthread.
  9. Generally I don’t cook a lot at home. One …because I am rarely home…but mostly because my fiance is a great cook and typically makes some great pot pies, awesome pork with this dried fruit sauce and quinoa and if I am very lucky carnitas. When I do cook though it is usually either pasta or some type of curry. There are so many great restaurants in the city right now…had a good meal at Green Zebra a while back…a good meal at Avec…a long while back…and a very tasty meal at Avenues. I am looking forward to checking out Schwa, and I need to go back to Moto…my only visit there was two weeks after they opened…I don’t get out much
  10. Don: If a dish goes on the menu it is successful in our eyes. People’s tastes vary and inevitably in the span of a multi-course meal nearly everyone will encounter a flavor or texture that they are not fond of. In this case I suspect the tarragon wafer numbed your tongue, which was off-putting to you? When in fact that was the intent. The anesthetic numbing quality of tarragon, the sensation that it provides, is what we enjoyed about the bite. We feel these sensations are a dimension to eating that is overlooked. The same qualities were sought after in the tobacco-blackberry-smoke bite that UE mentioned up thread, and currently in the Kumquat-Olive-Aquavit. While we feel everything should ultimately taste good, the qualities mentioned here are also valued just as a texture, flavor combination or temperature. Thanks, Don Moore Nashville, TN
  11. John: It is impossible to point to any one thing that inspires us, when in fact it is everything or nothing. I think the inspiring element is the act of creating. Once you have that everything you see and touch becomes inspirational in itself. Dishes have been conceived directly from listening to music and the way the tempo abruptly changes. Other examples are when my girlfriend called me from a garage sale and asked me if I wanted one of those old air popcorn poppers…I didn’t really…but I said sure. It sat on the shelf for a few weeks..then one day I plugged it in and started putting stuff in there…all kinds of seeds, nuts, and grains. Certainly we watch our peers and what they are doing. We also do a lot of homework. Reading about food, researching the way it reacts, brainstorming….literally me sitting in the dining room at 3am with a piece of paper jotting things down. The most exciting case for me though is when the food directly inspires. When we have an ingredient in our hands and it just becomes obvious what we should do to it. It is rewarding to figure something tricky out, like using gellan to produce a unique effect…but I get more excited when the food itself guides us. Challenging idea….that probably goes back to the balloon of mozzarella. That actual dish came from the idea of using the siphon to inflate food. At first I tried sugar, than fruit roll-up type foods, than finally cheese. I recall blowing up the first one and knowing that it was going to work….the guys in the kitchen were watching me shaking their heads…knowing it was going to become the next ulcer for somebody. (They weren’t too easy to do in the beginning) At the time it was March….obviously not tomato season in IL….so we waited until late May to put it on the menu An idea we have had for a long time…nearly a year that we will figure out here very soon is using a dehydrated sheet of either fruit or vegetable and with the use of a bag sealer creating a sealed packet containing solid and liquid garnishes. The idea first came to us last year when we were brainstorming for idea to serve at the Food and Wine Entertaining Showcase at the MCA here in Chicago. Since it was held a modern art museum we wanted to create an art installation with the food that hundreds of people would eat. Our idea was to use transparent apple leather in this packet form that held various garnishes. The bite-sized packets would actually be hung from the ceiling, suspended on monofilament the transparent qualities of the leather would be enhanced by the lighting in the museum. We invisioned hanging 600 of these in a relatively dense field slightly higher than 6’…the guests would walk under this field of suspended food, reach up and pluck the bite from the line. We imaged it to be beautiful…600 of these ornaments creating a field of colorful light…like pieces of stained glass almost. The museum prevented us from attaching anything the supporting structure of the building so the idea was set aside in place of the “mass antenna”. I tried to work on it again in preparation for Albert Adria’s meal at Alinea…but I ran out of time. I plan to work on this month…hopefully we will figure it out soon. Obviously at Alinea it will be suspended from the bow…not the ceiling….but maybe someday a museum will consider an edible installation. I expect you can expect more of the same from Alinea… which of course is always different. Thanks for your time and creativity and best wishes for much, much more of both!
  12. Snowangel: It is tough to be surprised really. Certainly we are very excited by the amount of positive response to the restaurant, both from the point of business and critical review. Both of those aspects have exceeded our expectations. As I said before, the actual building and opening of the restaurant surprised me. The amount of work when starting from scratch is staggering really. Now that we are 9 months old and have settled into operations there a few design things we would have done differently. Some of them we will change, others we will just have to get used to. Some minor changes to the kitchen and service areas will happen over time… but on the whole it is a great space to work in. Currently we are closed for a two-week winter break so we are taking the opportunity to do a great deal of maintanece to the space, repainting, carpet cleaning, table refinishing…that sort of stuff. I guess that has been a surprise to me….the wear the restaurant has received in a span of 9 months. As we neared the break I started to critically look at the space to determine what needed to be done during the closure. With the restaurant empty and the lights up it was apparent what 80 ppl. a night 5 days a week can do to the carpet, tables, chairs, walls….I am sure it seemed exaggerated to me because I clearly remember what it looked like May 4th 2005…that brand new car without a scratch.
  13. Bryan: I suspect that depends on how you define “multi-concept” and “shaping fine dining”. Certainly chefs like JG have made huge impacts on American fine dining, and at the same time have several restaurants under their direction. Do you consider Chef Keller’s group multi-concept? He now has four restaurants, a bakery, a catering division, and soon to be an inn..yet he has shaped American high end dining like no other. At a different end of the spectrum are operators like Nobu (several locations worldwide), and as you mentioned Jean Georges (several locations worldwide) but even chefs like Batali…how many restaurants does that group have now? I have eaten at two of them and had two great meals. It is a natural trajectory for successful chefs to grow..look at these examples: Wolfgang, Joachim, Nobu, JG, Danny Meyer on and on…what about Ducasse? To answer your question directly..yes I think they will continue to shape the dining scene. Generally all of them have grown from a single flagship of high quality, that is where and when the “shaping” happens. The additional restaurants that open under their umbrella should continue to elevate dining in general, making great food more readily available to more people. If Keller opened 15 more Bouchons (or any restaurant concept for that matter) across the country, I think that would be a good thing for foodies and diners. As long as these groups focus on quality, whatever the concept is …I think it is a positive for the dining public.
  14. UE: 1. We infused the tobacco into the cream with the intent of producing the “burning or tingling” sensation that tobacco sometimes gives. The Bee Balm Bloom also has an inherent spiciness to it. We viewed this course as a “transitional”. It was always placed after a substantial savory with dark flavors, and right before a course leading into dessert. In its composition were intentional elements of tobacco, dark fruit (blackberry), smoke (smoked salt), spiciness (Thai Long Peppercorn), and herb notes. In their basic forms they are quintessential flavors in several red wines. The cream base gave the bite a full mouth feel and gave us the medium to introduce more sweetness. 2. The pistachios and sunflower seeds are simply cooked in water, butter and salt for about 2 hours…at a simmer. We have now “braised” several seeds and nuts. Currently the mustard seeds on the salsify dish are cooked in this way. We really like the textural change they go through. 3. With every new menu there is a clear “new favorite” and without a doubt whenever I look back the “old favorite” never seems that exciting. I would say the current Bison with the Juniper Branch holds my top position right now….but that will soon change I am sure.
  15. Why only 90 bowls, but 100 pillows? ← If we send food to the dining room and a guest is not seated the food comes back and is thrown out...that means if the pillows have been punctured they are not re-usable, obviously they deflate...but if a "Hot Potato-Cold Potato" goes out and comes back untouched we can re-use that wax bowl...but the food is lost.
  16. Martin made us 15 molds that cast 3 bowls per mold. So the chef de partie casts a set before he leaves at night....and than another first thing when he walks in the door each day... It is time consuming...taking probably at least 45 mintues to hour of that persons day to cast, clean, unmold and re-cast the wax. As a staff we talked about this right before the winter break....it seems strange to have items on the prep list like "make wax bowls" or "seal and cut 100 mace pillows" but we find ourselves going in this direction as the serviceware and the actual food become more specific to eachother.
  17. Mindbender is correct; the bowl is made from food grade paraffin wax. This is another Crucial Detail design. Martin designed a four part molding system that we use to cast the bowls daily. As part of one of the chef’s mise en place he is required to make 90 wax bowls each day. The use of wax was chosen for a couple key reasons. It allows us to pierce the bowl with the stainless pin used to keep the hot potato separate from the cold potato. The soft feel of the wax itself is very nice in the hand and on the mouth, and the translucent qualities of the thin wax are aesthetically appealing on the dark table.
  18. Yes, we hope to keep the site fresh by frequently updating menus and images as things change.
  19. Can you expand on what you mean by "perhaps fleeting"? ← The honeycomb centerpiece is producing a large amount of unused honey. We decided to squeeze and jar the honey that remains in the comb after the tableside service, and give it to the guests after their meal. ”Fleeting” because around January-Feb. we will be out of honeycombs for the centerpiece concept.
  20. Viewing all of the dishes side by side from evolving menus becomes a very unique tool for me to gauge progress and overall style change. As you cook through a year it is very difficult to see progress. We can use tools like these to help us not only keep moving forward but also analyze natural patterns in aesthetics, technique, menu flow, and ingredient combinations. Later this will help us avoid duplicating these characteristics or remind us of the patterns that worked well.
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