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smoz

El Bulli 2007 reports

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I think you had the icy truffle of meringue instead of the fever tree tonic.

Can you elaborate on the technique (since when Adria has used it etc)? And do you know

if the sweet frost fruits or the rasberry with wasabi were done similarily?

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OK from what I've seen:

Beetroot meringue: is done just in the oven. Pastry does it though so I can't guarantee that.

Fever Tonic meringue: in a siphon with soda charges and gelatine sheets.

Pistachio meringue: in siphons with cream charges and then freeze dried.

Pine meringue for the daquoise: they mount pine infused water with several things I can't recall and then pipe it in sheets and put it in the dehydrator overnight.

So they are applying a whole bunch of techniques to come up with all those textures. Out of those the tonic is wet, and the rest are completely dry.

I have noticed that once they get a product they like they go crazy with it. To an extend that to me is bad. Like for example I think this year they are going way overboard with the algae. Since the beginning of the season I have seen like 20 different ones used, but there are a few of them that they just use and use non stop. They try not to put the same thing twice on a persons menu. For example in the razor clam dish with the algae salad, if they are served a new dish now that has an algae they call "Codium", then they put a substitution on the other dish's salad. But it's getting to a point where a couple of them I have seen used in like 6-8 different plates throughout the season. So in that sense I think they are overdoing it.

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Forgot these ones:

Icy Truffle meringue: that was carrot juice that was mounted similar to the pine meringue, and then also piped in little dots on sheets and put overnight in the dehydrator.

Sweet Frost Fruits: That meringue I recall has many different things, including Xilitol which is a type of sugar that's commonly used for "sugar free" chewing gums that doesn't promote dental cavities and feels cool in the mouth. They cover blackberries with it and sculpt it by hand and again put it in the dehydrator overnight.

The raspberry with wasabi: is just a raspberry that is dipped in hot "Manitol", which is a type of sugar that comes in powder form and is heated until it melts completely into liquid state and can reach very high temperatures with no color change. It is just like a one second dip and then taken out and the freshly scrapped wasabi is put on top and it goes with the raspberry liquor.

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Forgot these ones:

The raspberry with wasabi: is just a raspberry that is dipped in hot "Manitol", which is a type of sugar that comes in powder form and is heated until it melts completely into liquid state and can reach very high temperatures with no color change. It is just like a one second dip and then taken out and the freshly scrapped wasabi is put on top and it goes with the raspberry liquor.

Funny thing is that mannitol is a sugar used for therapeutic purposes. We give it IV to induce a diuresis from the kidneys. It is most commonly used during neurosurgery. I love the way Ferran Adria and Co. take elements from different contexts and apply them in novel ways.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Funny thing is that mannitol is a sugar used for therapeutic purposes. We give it IV to induce a diuresis from the kidneys. It is most commonly used during neurosurgery. I love the way Ferran Adria and Co. take elements from different contexts and apply them in novel ways.

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Funny thing is that mannitol is a sugar used for therapeutic purposes. We give it IV to induce a diuresis from the kidneys. It is most commonly used during neurosurgery. I love the way Ferran Adria and Co. take elements from different contexts and apply them in novel ways.

I remember reading somewhere that it was not recommended to overdo it with sugar-free gum/candy because it did have diuretic consequences! :laugh:

True, but since much of these sugars are not absorbed through the GI tract the diuretic effects can be somewhat different. :wink: The diuretic effects can indeed be dire! :raz::laugh:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Just as a fun fact, in tonight's service the special guest was non other than "Yukio Hatori" (hope that's spelled good), the main commentator from the original Japanese Iron Chef show! The kind of chubby one with the white hair. The whole kitchen staff including the Adria brothers seemed very excited to welcome him.

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Just as a fun fact, in tonight's service the special guest was non other than "Yukio Hatori" (hope that's spelled good), the main commentator from the original Japanese Iron Chef show! The kind of chubby one with the white hair. The whole kitchen staff including the Adria brothers seemed very excited to welcome him.

Gabe, Yukio Hattori is not only an Iron Chef commentator, but the head of one of Japan's most prestigious cooking schools if I recall correctly...


We''ve opened Pazzta 920, a fresh pasta stall in the Boqueria Market. follow the thread here.

My blog, the Adventures of A Silly Disciple.

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Hi Gabe.

I was at elbulli as a stagier in 2005 We hade som alges ther allredy then. Do you know the names of the ones you use now?

And then I whod like to know if som of the chef de parties is stil ther?

I miss the place.

:sad:

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Funny thing is that mannitol is a sugar used for therapeutic purposes. We give it IV to induce a diuresis from the kidneys. It is most commonly used during neurosurgery. I love the way Ferran Adria and Co. take elements from different contexts and apply them in novel ways.

I remember reading somewhere that it was not recommended to overdo it with sugar-free gum/candy because it did have diuretic consequences! :laugh:

True, but since much of these sugars are not absorbed through the GI tract the diuretic effects can be somewhat different. :wink: The diuretic effects can indeed be dire! :raz::laugh:

mannitol can be a very tough ride!


2317/5000

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Gabe, I just wanted to thank you for your explanations on how the different meringues

were made.

I went to the German 3 start restaurant Dieter Müller this weekend and it was the first time that I

was asked if I wanted to have a look at the cookbook during the meal.

This would have distracted me too much at El Bulli but it was quite nice to be able to look up

how parts of the food I was eating had been perpared.

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ElBulli, August 20, 2007

Apologies in advance for length. I figure if you’re interested you’ll want as much detail as possible.

OK, here goes. Last year I managed to get myself a reservation at elBulli. Several faxes and emails were fired at the restaurant from mid-October onwards, and I was deliberately ambiguous, asking for a table at ANY TIME in the 2007 season. The weeks passed, no reply. Nothing. I checked the fax cables. I tested my email. I was grumpy.

Then in December, an email arrived offering me a table for two in August. Remaining calm, I replied that I’d take the table, and I booked my flights almost immediately. And the day before yesterday, we set off to Roses, via Barcelona.

Now, hotels-wise, Roses isn’t exactly Monte-Carlo. Last time I went to elBulli I stayed at La Terraza, which is a pleasant enough place on the beach by the old sea fort, but in August they (understandably) don’t like short-stay reservations. So, the only place we could find was the Prestige Mar Y Sol hotel, right in the middle of the town, just by the beach. And y’know, it’s not bad at all. It’s an apart-hotel, so the rooms are big, and there’s a fridge, which is handy. Good TV, reasonably comfortable beds, really BAD breakfasts. Honestly, the coffee tasted like Mellow Birds that had been set to reduce gently in April. Avoid.

However, the attached restaurant is a very pleasant seafood joint, and I had one of the nicest grilled lobsters I’ve had in ages. The folks split a turbot, which was quiveringly fresh and grilled before our eyes in the corner of the dining room. We drank a smashing petillant rosé called Cresta Rosa, which was just the thing for seafood – light, crisp, tasty and cheap. It was one of *those* places, where there’s a merry sound of amiable chatter mixed with the clink of glasses, and the room enveloped in that sweet fug of grilling seafood, zested lemons and warm Mediterranean air. Recommended.

The next day provided a challenging 18 holes at the Pitch & Putt in Empuriabrava (beautifully manicured greens, and some tricky water shots on the second nine), and a trip to the Butterfly Park, which is always fun. Some absolute whoppers flitting around, including a couple of awesome Atlas Moths, still wrinkly from their cocoons. Massive, they are. Not the sort of thing you’d like bumping into your bedside lamp, I can assure you.

Then came the evening, and we headed off in our cab to elBulli. Situated a few miles around the steep coastline, it’s about 25 minutes from Roses, or 15 minutes if you happen to pick the lunatic cab-driver we did. He actually genuflected as we headed out of the suburbs and up into the stunning scenery of the wild pine-strewn hills and coves.

Arriving at elBulli is a very exciting thing indeed. You enter the building, which is an unassuming yet beautiful beach villa, set amongst pines, and built of thinly-stacked slate-like stone, and smooth white plaster. Julio Soler, the “director”, shakes your hand, and invites you through to the kitchen. Here, a waiter shows you around a bit. We met the man himself, Ferran Adria, who wished us a pleasant meal, and then we were shown back outside onto the terrace. What followed was about 2 ½ hours of unremitting genius, and I think to do it justice I’ll stop all the travelogue bullshit and simply list what we ate, with a few side-notes.

Firstly, we’re asked what we’d like to drink, and if anyone has any special requests or allergies. This having been established, our Cava arrived, along with the first ‘course’. Off we go…

1) Hibiscus Maragarita – a chilled martini glass filled with a deep, viscous hibiscus juice (I think there was pomegranate juice in there too), into which the waitress spooned a bright pink hibiscus ‘meringue’ – basically a freeze-dried puree of slightly salty hibiscus. It was nice and sour, and kicked off proceedings nicely.

2) Virtual Olives – Now these were fantastic. Olive-sized gelatine spheres, filled with a green olive purée and olive oil, scooped from a parfait jar where they’d been infused with thyme and garlic. The things popped on the tongue with minimal pressure, filling the mouth with an intense olive hit. Wow.

3) Golden Nuggets – A truffle-sized golden shape was handed to us to be eaten in one go – it was a few cubes of a crunchy parmesan foam wrapped in gold-leaf-flecked caramel. The flavour took a long time to come, but when it did, the jolt of cheese was intense.

4) Goat Cheese “Mercedes” – I ate this without photographing it – sorry guys. Basically it was a minuscule filo pastry tartlet filled with a powerful sheep’s cheese cream and with a tiny marigold (I think) flower on top. Such a brilliant reduction of flavour.

5) Crunchy Olive – this was a freeze-dried black olive foam in the shape of an olive, topped with a little dusting of what tasted like scallop powder. A bit odd, and, I thought, slightly burnt-tasting.

6) Beetroot and Yoghurt Meringue – 4 large freeze-dried ‘meringues’ of slightly sweetened beetroot purée which exploded in the mouth, yielding a deeply vegetal beetroot flavour.

7) Salty Macadamia – A large truffle-like shape, containing a huge fresh macadamia nut, surrounded by barely-sweetened chocolate and bitter cocoa dusting. Really strong, dark flavours.

8) Salty Chocolate – Amazing. Wafer-thin mini-bars of chocolate. One white chocolate with yoghurt (and something really tingly and sharp, like citric acid crystals), one dark with pureed crispy blackcurrants, and one made with pistachio. All of them very tasty, and surprisingly good with the savoury elements so far.

We were now led inside, to our table. The interior of elBulli is hugely incongruous with the space-food that’s served here. OK, the tables are beautifully laid-out, with a large white platter in front of each guest, a Riedel water goblet and a sinlge rose in a plain vase. The napery is thick and soft. But the rooms themselves are filled with amazing tat. To our right was a glass-doored cupboard containing a selection of the most appalling pottery bulldogs. It was like they’d got grandma in to decorate the place. And everywhere one looks, there’s an odd chair, a gaudy cushion, a knick-knack. Very odd. I fully expected there to be a print of the ‘Green Lady’ lurking on a wall somewhere. At the very least, a large stuffed donkey wearing a sombrero. Still, I spent 90% of the time staring incredulously at my plate for the rest of the evening, so the unusual décor wasn’t really a concern.

9) Tangerine Bonbon, Peanut & Curry – Sorry again, I got carried away and ate the peanut/curry thing before remembering to use the camera. This was the first of the truly stunning flavour combinations of the evening. A smooth, super-rich peanut purée set into the thinnest coating of curry-flavoured chocolate (well, I say chocolate, because it had all the texture of chocolate, and kind of melted the same way, but strangely there was no sense that it actually WAS chocolate). And to be eaten straight after this, a cube of the same chocolate-y stuff, filled with a chilled mandarin juice. The taste left in the mouth after these two tiny bites was amazing.

10) Pistachios With Honey & Roquefort – A small spoon arrived in which sat three beautiful plump green pistachio nuts resting in a blob of warmed honey, topped with a tiny cube of Roquefort. Gulp. In it goes. Wow – the intensity of the salty cheese faded gently to allow the honey and the nuts to follow through marvellously. So simple, so delicious. My mind is racing.

11) Pistachio Sponge & Milk Mousse – Two of the now-familiar lyophilised (freeze-dried) crispy sponge things, this time flavoured with pistachio. To one side, a simple acidic milk foam to be spooned onto each sponge and popped into the mouth in one go. Sparkly flavours. Each course seems to draw a line – it’s like an endless parade of palate cleansers. The woman behind us tries to eat hers in two goes. Big mistake. Dry cleaners tomorrow.

12) Sesame ‘Brioche’ with Miso – The next WOW dish. A cone-shaped cloud of jet-black ‘bread’, smeared with a little intense miso paste. I go for it in one go. The hit of black sesame is truly astonishing, the miso just adding some welcome salt from the ‘umami tsunami’. (I should copyright that one) It’s quite simply one of the best things I’ve ever had in my mouth. After that I’ll need something sharp and clean. Oh look, here it comes…

13) Raspberry Fondant & Vinegar – Another brilliant dish. A single fat raspberry, perfectly ripe, coated in a thin veil of fondant icing, and with a tiny point of horseradish paste on top. To the left, a teaspoonful of raspberry vinegar. The idea is to eat half of the raspberry, slurp the vinegar, and finish the fruit. Brilliant. Raspberries and horseradish. Who’dathunkit? I’m seeing a fillet of oily fish with this combination in my mind’s eye. Genius combination.

14) Tiger Nut Milk Flowers – A frozen tray is proffered, on which sit 4 delicate ‘flowers’ made of frozen tiger nut milk (Horxata, a traditional summer drink). We are advised to grab them quickly and eat them straight away. They melt away to nothing instantly, leaving a clean, almondy flavour in the mouth. Smashing. Nice techniques at work, too.

15) Oysters & Yoghurt, PX Tempura – a glass espresso cup of chilled oyster soup, topped with a delicate lemony foam. To be drunk in one shot, we’re advised. Wow! A hit of fresh seawater, with the milky citric taste following through. To one side, a tiny tempura-fried oval of PX sherry jelly. Brilliant juxtaposition of texture and temperature. By now, everyone in the room is smiling like a loon. This is FUN.

16) Haricot Bean With Joselito Ham – Another absolute belter. In a shiny bowl sit two ‘virtual’ haricot beans (more of the gel-capsule technology, this time filled with an intense bean puree) sitting in a delicious broth redolent of the slightly thickened brine one gets tinned beans in. Topping this were slivers of Joselito’s award-winning jamon. It’s brilliant stuff – almost liquefied fat and teneder meat, translucent and heady. To one side, a skewer of Korean black garlic – soft and chewy, with a slight garlic-y flavour, but smooth and wonderfully complementary.

17) Cashews & Yoghurt – After all that savoury, this came as a truly refreshing change. A little yoghurt foam, some Szechuan pepper flowers and a caramelised cashew nut (like all the nuts that night, huge and as fresh as a daisy). Into the bowl was spooned a frozen powder of cashews (made in the Pacojet machine) which melted on the tongue. Lovely.

18) Fig Soup With Its Own Fat – Funny one, this. Thinly sliced fig flesh (although the red centre with the seeds had been removed) with a kind of virtual ham fat (some form of alginate or gelatine), a little fig foam, a tiny bonbon of sherry vinegar and some fennel pollen. Now for me, this was a bit of a dud. The faux fat was interesting, but the figs tasted of very little, and the fennel pollen muscled in a bit too much.

19) Gorgonzola Shell, Celery, Walnut, Apple – Perhaps the star of the show. A thin, frozen dome of Gorgonzola cheese, under which sat a celery foam, with cubes of apple, and toasted walnuts. The effect was rather like licking a Waldorf Salad ice-cream. Utterly brilliant in both flavour and execution.

20) Polenta Gnocchi With Coffee – A bowl of tiny ‘virtual’ gnocchi, just set on the outside, with liquid polenta within, dusted with toasted coffee and a tiny amount of ‘yuba’ beancurd with super-intense saffron. Very delicate flavours at play here, with the faintest whiff of cheese in the polenta.

21) Fresh Walnuts – Curious. A bowl filled with a delicious, salty, sheep’s milk cheese liquid, and on one side, some of the freshest, palest green walnuts, with a few thyme flowers. On the other side, an evil-tasting syrupy walnut liqueur (British readers may think of Benylin at this time) which ruined the otherwise clean, clear flavours for me. A shame. I have never eaten nuts so fresh.

22) Ackees Ravioli – Brilliant. Back on track. Three delicious ‘raviolis’, the ‘pasta’ made from gelled meat stock, wrapped around poached ackee, with ackee leaf shoots (very succulent and astringent) and a hefty shaving of white truffle. Amazing, and really, truly delicious.

23) Razor Clams & Seaweed – Two colossal razor clam meats, barely cooked, served with a little briny foam and fronds of various seaweeds, with a little summer savory adding a nice herby touch. Not my favourite, as I found the texture of the clams a little hard-going at such a cool temperature, but it tasted like the freshest sea-water, and reminded me how much I miss my scuba-diving.

24) “Fiduea” Of Mushrooms With Clams – A brilliant humorous take on the Catalan speciality ‘Fiduea’, which is essentially a paella made with noodles instead of rice. This version used tiny strands of mushroom (it says Shimensi on my menu, but I’d swear they were enoki) in a strong shellfish-y broth, with a little seaweed and some tiny fingernail-sized clams (Donax). These clams were delightful, sweet little things, ice-cold against the hot, rich, savoury mushrooms.

25) Sea Cucumbers With Roe & Seaweeds – Stunning. Three little ‘envelopes’ of sea cucumber, filled with the tiniest ‘virtual’ seafood-flavoured roe (presumably made in the same way as the famed fake fruit caviars), alongside two tasty folds of sea-lettuce with samphire. Nice.

26) Eel & Custardapple – A thick-ish unsweetened ‘custard’ of cherimoya, atop which sat a single piece of fresh eel (still nicely jellified, East-End readers please note), and two tiny cubes of caramel-coated foie gras. All very nice, but a bit timid, flavour-wise.

27) Hare Juice – The ‘main course’!!! – A fabulous gellan-y jelly of apple (fading from deep red to clear in the centre), around which sat some tiny capers. A pan of rich, intense hare ‘gravy’ was poured around. This reminded me so much of my dad’s excellent bunny stew, which he was chuffed to hear. He agreed, and pointed out that a beef bone is the key to a good rabbit concoction. This was great, though, all rich and gamey, and absolutely the perfect way to bid adieu to the savoury part of the menu. Brows mopped, collars loosened, we are given several minutes’ grace to get ready for the desserts.

28) “The Wool 2007” – This was bloody magnificent. As a lover of really good Bourbon, this was like a glass of George T. Stagg, taken apart and put back together again. Under a slightly toasted ball of candyfloss sat some pieces of crunchy vanilla meringue, and a smear of bourbon-barrel syrup. This was the most wonderful woody flavour. A bit like tasty varnish. The whole thing was dynamite.

29) “Coquito” – Hilarious course, this one. A ‘virtual’ coconut, which was a smashing dense buttery coconut ‘macaroon’ in the shape of a coconut, coated in a little cocoa to give the desired effect, and ‘smashed’, then served with a chilled glass of clear, fresh coconut water.

30) Banana – A nice finish – a frozen ‘banana’ made of something with a texture similar to kulfi, atop some date flesh, accompanied by an intense banana sauce and some crunchy vaguely-liquorice-y things, similar to amaretti.

31) “Morphings” - A couple of morphings accompanied our coffees (and my excellent 21 YO Bowmore) – a strawberry topped with a ‘pearl’ filled with reduced balsamic vinegar, and then we were handed a large truffle-shaped object each, and told to scoff it in one go. It had a frozen centre, then a chibouste-type cream, then the thinnest crispy coasting and cocoa around that. It reminded me of a Toffee Crisp. It was ace.

To drink, we had a couple of glasses of Agusti Torello’s Gran Reserva Cava, our white wine was a straight Xarel.lo from Pardas in Penedes, and our red was a magnificent Bierzo from Bodegas Estefania. With dessert I drank a glass of a most excellent PX, put in cask when I was only a year old, made by Toro Albala.

And there we go. It’s all over….

The taxi arrived, we said cheerio, and off we sailed into the night, happy as anything. It really is a wonderful place, and the food is utterly extra-ordinary. A few things didn’t work for me, but the majority were excellent, and a couple were simply astounding.

The photos should be here, in order, starting with that massive moth.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/11917848@N07/...57601603256727/

Yer details:

http://www.prestigehotels.com/portal/Prest...Roses/mar-y-sol

http://www.hotelterraza.com/

http://www.butterflypark.es/paginas_ING/principal.htm


Ready to order?

Er, yeah. What's a gralefrit?

Grapefruit.

And creme pot... pot rouge?

Portugaise. Tomato soup.

I'll have the gralefrit.

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Excellent report and photos. I always enjoy seeing what is the same and different about others meals at elBulli. There were certainly a number of similarities between our courses, but also a number of new dishes in your meal. Thanks for sharing!

BTW, I never knew that butterfly place ever existed there. I may just check that out if I am ever fortunate enough to find myself there again.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Nice report Stephen. Just one thing to clarify, not to disappoint anyone, but the roe inside the sea cucumbers is real trout roe that they just buy in a jar.

The only caviar being made now (by myself I might add :raz: ) is olive oil caviar made with alginate that has been colored black with squid ink. So it looks like real caviar. That is then seasoned with salt and miso paste and goes with the dashi gelatine plate in the little caviar tin. And it's done with a special machine they have to encapsulate oils inside alginate, not in the old fashioned way like the melon caviar.

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Wow. Thanks for the update.

I've never tasted roe like that before - it was so very crunchy.

Nice to see that, on occasion, nature really can come up with the goods...


Ready to order?

Er, yeah. What's a gralefrit?

Grapefruit.

And creme pot... pot rouge?

Portugaise. Tomato soup.

I'll have the gralefrit.

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I am going to El Bulli in two weeks - it's great to get an introduction via these posts!


Nathan

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I am going to El Bulli in two weeks - it's great to get an introduction via these posts!

I will be looking forward to reading of your experience and take on this year's offerings. Have you been before?


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I had dinner last night at El Bulli! It was a dream come true, and the experience was as incredible as I could have hoped for. I got to speak to the man himself at the end (he signed my book :))...I told him I'm studying food science and he told me I could visit his lab. I'm so excited!

Pictures to come soon :)

-Charlie

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I was there last night also - it was another incredible experience (third time for me). Just amazingly good. The stunning thing is the combination of technical excellence with incredible taste combinations.


Nathan

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gallery_39172_5154_665249.jpg

just wanted to add the main course when I visited at the start of the month. Hare Royale. Looks like the Hare Juice from previous posts only with Foie Gras. Visible at the top is fried foie, underneath the Hare gravy is further foie. Stunning dish, the temperatures of the foie cubes, hare juice and foie mouse at the bottom was hard to pin down, with them all morphing into one savoury, sweet, livery liquid. Fantastic

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Hello everyone

Well I got a very unusual and interesting report from today. We had our typical meeting before starting the day and there were 5 guys in the kitchen there just watching. And they spent the whole day today walking around and filming everything and the chefs were all explaining to them all the techniques and things we were doing. And they told us the reason they were there. They were all spanish, and the reason they were there was because they are in the process of developing a VIDEO GAME based around elBulli!!!!!!!

This is like beyond reason. I have no idea what it will be like or when it'll come out or anything. All Albert Adria told us at the meeting is that those guys are game developers and will be working on making a videogame based on elbulli. They asked everyone in the kitchen who played video games and the people who raised their hands they told them to talk to the guys later to give them some imput. Needless to say we joked all day as to who could play the villain :raz:

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I wonder if it's for the Wii, what with all the weird games they are producing (have you seen the ads for the surgery game, fun for all the family as you remove someone's spleen). A game where you are a 3 star chef and you have to run the plate could be pretty cool....... I can see it now a pan on the screen with some foie gently sauteing, and the Wii controller is the handle......It could work!!! :laugh:

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For all of you who were wondering how they did the oil caviar for the dashi dish, I present to you the oil encapsulating machine from elbulli.

gallery_46172_5184_204645.jpg

You can see the machine in action right there. Basically here is how it works. On the left side you see a line with olive oil coming in, and on the right side is the second line with the alginate mixed with squid ink (to make it black obviously). The oil is pumped by a syringe that you charge everytime and it goes into a motorized lever that pumps it. The alginate goes into a bottle where there is an air pump and it forces the liquid out into the line. Inside the machine's central unit where both lines meet, there are 6 pivots and it joins both fluids, and so what comes out are drops which have oil in the center, surrounded by the ink alginate. And that falls into a Calcic bath to create a basic spherification. The thing though is that the machine doesn't just run perfectly by itself, so you have to constantly be observing the drops coming out because sometimes the oil is not "encapsulated" so it just falls into the calcic bath and makes a mess of oil and solidified alginate. So it needs tweaking all the time. Pretty interesting though.

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      Recently I picked up a few different types of emulsifiers in bulk powder form when I saw them in passing at a catering wholesaler.
       
      Having never used powdered emulsifiers before in cooking or baking, I figured I'd find pretty comprehensive instructions for their use on the web - but I can't.
       
      I'm not a stranger to food science but nor am I a chemist. I understand that emulsifiers are at least sometimes prepared by pre-mixing them into a (heated?) liquid or fat and then using the resulting solution in the actual recipe, which may explain why a lot of commercial emulsifier mixtures are packages as tubes of gel or paste. I've also checked several industry-level textbooks about emulsifiers and while they are fantastic for in-depth explanations of the chemistry behind each emulsifier, they do not (as you might imagine) provide guidance on how a lowly baker or cook would actually use a powdered form.
       
      So does anyone know how to prepare and use a dry powdered form of any of the following in a real recipe?
       
      Specifically I am most interested in enhancing baked goods and adding stability to sauces, but would also like to know how to use them for other processes such as sausage-making too.
      E471 Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids E481 Sodium stearoyl lactylate E482 Calcium stearoyl lactylate E472e DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides)
        Thanks.
    • By mjbarnard
      I cooked two turkey breasts sous vide. This year had access to the Meater+ thermometer probe which I managed to vacuum seal in the bag without difficulty (it is small). Since it works wirelessly I was able to monitor and it records the internal temperatures at the thickest part of the breast.
      I thought the results were interesting. I cooked at 60C for 8 hours. I have always used https://www.chefsteps.com/activities/a-better-way-to-turkey-cook-that-bird-sous-vide-for-the-best-feast-ever which gives long cooking times at lower temperature. I have found that as according to this page https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/11/sous-vide-turkey-breast-crispy-skin-recipe-thanksgiving.html that 55C gives turkey which is just a little too pink for most tastes. Over the last few years have increased the temperature up to 59/60 and I find it perfect - very moist and tender, but pale not pink.
      See attached images. I changed my mind a couple of times and started at 58 then 60 then 59 again, so ignore the slight variations. The thing I found interesting was that the thickest part (of a large breast) reached 55C in around 1 hour 40 mins and target of 59 in 2 hours 30 mins. Now I appreciate that sous vide is a combination of temperature and time or duration, but the data make me think that around 4 hours would be sufficient, as per the seriouseats table. I have previously used the chefsteps 55-58 for their much longer advised times, up to 12 hours and the meat is still quite pink at the end, so I dont believe 55 for 12 hours would effectively be the same.
      From now on I will watching the internal temperatures with interest. This has always been the (relative) unkown for sous vide amateurs. 


    • By chefg
      I have to say designing the Alinea kitchen has been one of the most exciting experiences thus far in the opening of this restaurant. I have been fortunate to have been “raised” in some of the best kitchens in the country. When I arrived at the French Laundry in August 1996 the “new kitchen” had just been completed. Often times you would hear the man talk about the good old days of cooking on a residential range with only one refrigerator and warped out sauté pans with wiggly handles. When I started about 50% of the custom stainless steel was in place. The walls smooth with tile and carpet on the floors. I recall the feeling of anxiety when working for fear that I would dirty up the kitchen, not a common concern for most cooks in commercial kitchens.
      The French Laundry kitchen didn’t stop, it continued to evolve over the four years I was there. I vividly remember the addition of the custom fish/canapé stainless unit. Allowing the poissonier to keep his mise en place in beautiful 1/9 pan rails instead of the ice cube filled fish lugs. Each advancement in technology and ergonomics made the kitchen a more efficient and exacting machine.
      When I returned to the Laundry this past July for the 10th anniversary I was shocked that it had metomorphisized once again. The butcher room was now a sea of custom stainless steel low boys, the pot sink area was expanded, the walk-in moved, and an office added to the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen as I left it in June of 2001 was beautiful and extremely functional, of course it is even more so now. It is the relentless pursuit of detail and concise thought that allows the French Laundry kitchen to be one of the best for cooks to execute their craft…..16 hours a day.
      This was good motivation.
      When it came time to design my kitchen I drew on experiences at Trio, TFL and other kitchens I was familiar with to define the positives and negatives of those designs. We were faced with a 21x 44' rectangle. This space would not allow for my original kitchen design idea of four islands postioned throughout the kitchen, but ultimately gave way for the current design which I think is actually better than the original. But most the important aspect in shaping the final design was the cuisine. Due to the nature of food that we produce a typical layout with common equipment standards and dimensions do not work. Here is where the team drew on our experiences from Trio. By looking at the techniques we utilized we came to several conclusions.
      1. A conventional range was not our main heat source. We do need the flat tops and some open burners for applications such as braising and limited stock work. But our overall use of this piece of equipment is somewhat low. Given that we wanted four open burners and two flat tops with two ovens I began to source out a reliable unit. We settled on the Molteni G230.

      2. Upon analyzing our other heat source needs we decided to place a large focus on induction. By utilizing portable induction burners we are allowed the flexibility to give as much power as needed to a specific station in the kitchen. Obviously induction’s radiant heat is very low, and this allows us to keep the temperature in the kitchen reasonable, yet the power is quite high. 31,000 BTU's of highly controlable heat. But the main reason for choosing this flexible source of heat is the fact that each chef typically employed at least four different cooking applications on a given night. This huge flux in technique and the realization that the menu would change entirely in 8 weeks time meant that we had to design a kitchen that could evolve on a nightly basis. And last, we are very specific with temperatures; induction makes it easier for us to hold a liquid at a predetermined temperature for long periods of time without fluctuation. They operate between 85 and 500 degrees farenheit. We did a great deal of research on the different producers of induction and favored Cooktek. The fact that they are the only U.S manufacturer of commercial induction cooking equipment and located in Chicago made the decision easier. Their innovative approach to induction may prove to be even more exciting as we are already talking about new product development in the future.

      3. a. The complexity of the presentations and a la minute plate-ups of the food require a great deal of surface area devoted to plating. This was one of the most critical factors in determining the basic shape of the kitchen. The size of some of today's popular plates, the amount detail in each composition, coupled with the fact that producing tasting menus vs. ala carte means sometimes large waves of same dish pick ups made it necessary for us to have over 44' of linear plating surface.
      b. Virtually nothing goes vertical above the 36” counter top in the space. All food, plates, equipment, and dry good storage are contained by under counter units. There are a few exceptions such as the infrared salamanders, the three-door refrigerator, and the hood. This allows all the cooks a clear line of communication between each other and the front staff. It allows me an easy sight line to survey the entire kitchen’s progress with a quick glance.
      Given these two points it seemed obvious that we needed to combine the two and create custom pieces that would fulfill both needs. Large spans of plating surfaces with all food and equipment storage below. As you can see we ended up with two 22’ long units. Each function as a pass and under counter storage.
      The building is 21’ wide wall to wall. This allowed us just enough space to create two lines on each exterior wall with their passes forming a 60” corridor for the pick up of plates and finishing of dishes.
      4. We decided to add a station to the kitchen. At Trio we had five including:
      a. pastry
      b. cold garde manger
      c. hot garde manger
      d. fish
      e. meat
      Now that we had more space, and the ability to give each station multiple heat
      sources regardless of their location in the kitchen, we could spread the workload even further. We also realized it doesn’t make much sense to identify each station by classic French Bragade terms. A saucier did not solely cook meat with classic techniques and prepare various traditional stocks and sauces…in fact quite the opposite. This holds true with most of the stations, with the exception of pastry, but even they will have very unconventional techniques, menu placement and involvement in the kitchen systems. We will add a station that will be responsible for a large majority of the one-bite courses both sweet and savory.
      5.Given the size constraints of the building we realized a walk-in would not be possible in the kitchen. If we were to have one it would be in the basement. Having experienced this at Trio we decided to design the kitchen without a walk-in, making up for the space in various lowboy locations and a three-door reach-in. I experienced the walk-in less environment when I worked at Charlie Trotter’s. It is certainly different, but as with most things if done properly it provides a very efficient environment. It works best in situations where fresh products are brought in daily for that days use. And prevents ordering in large quantities. It also provides us with very specific units to house different items. We will utilize the 3-door refrigerator to store the majority of the vegetables and herbs along with some staple mise en place, and items that cannot be made in very small quantities like stocks. Raw meat will have it’s own lowboys as well as fish, dairy, and all frozen products.
      6. At Trio we found ourselves using the salamander a great deal. It is very useful for melting sugar, bringing on transparent qualities in things like fat and cheese, cooking items intensely on only one side, and it is a highly controllable non-direct heat source. Due to the air gap between the foodstuff and the heat elements the cook can control the degree of heat applied to the dish based on the technique he is using. It becomes a very versatile tool in the modern kitchen, so much so that we will install three Sodir infrared salamanders.

      Again, this is to insure that all the cooks have access to all of the techniques in the kitchen. As I said before it is important for our cooks to be able to sauté, simmer, poach, fry, grill, salamander, and freeze at the same time and sometimes for the same dish.
      We have a few unusual pieces of equipment in the kitchen; the most is probably a centrifuge. A few months ago Nick and I were driving home from a design meeting and ended up talking about signature dishes and menu repetition. Of course the black truffle explosion came up and he asked if I would have it on the menu at Alinea. I replied a firm no, but shortly thereafter said I would enjoy updating it. We threw around some tongue and cheek ideas like White Truffle Implosion, and Truffle Explosion 2005….I said it was a goal of mine to make a frozen ball with a liquid center….but then dismissed it as nearly impossible. Within a few minutes he said …”I got it…we need a centrifuge” His explanation was simple, place the desired liquid in a spherical mold and place on the centrifuge…place the whole thing in the freezer. Within days he had one in the test kitchen. I guess this is better suited for the kitchen lab topic that we will be starting in a few weeks…
      We are working on a upload of the kitchen blueprints. When those post I plan on going into more detail about certian aspects of the design. Doing so now would be pointless as the viewer does not have a reference point.
    • By ronnie_suburban
      It’s the first day of cooking in Alinea's Food Lab and the mood is relaxed. We’re in a residential kitchen but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Chef Grant, along with sous chefs John Peters and Curtis Duffy are setting up. The sight of the 3 steady pros, each in their chef’s whites, working away, does not match this domestic space. Nor does the intimidating display of industrial tools lined up on the counters. While the traditional elements are here in this suburban kitchen: oven, cooktop, sink, so too are the tools of modern restaurant cookery: pacojet, cryovac machine, paint stripping heat gun…wait, a paint stripping heat gun?
      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “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.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
    • By ronnie_suburban
      Sometime this week, at an undisclosed location in the city of Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz begins the next leg of his journey to open his new restaurant, Alinea. Grant will christen the 'food lab' where the menu for Alinea will be developed. eGullet will be trailing Grant and his team throughout the process -- not just in the food lab but through every facet of the launch. Over the next six months, we will follow the Alinea team as they discover, develop, design and execute their plan. We'll document behind-the-scenes communications, forwarded directly to us by the Alinea team. We will be on the scene, bringing regular updates to the eGullet community. And Grant will join us in this special Alinea forum to discuss the process of opening Alinea. eGullet members will have the opportunity to ask Grant, and several other members of the Alinea team, questions about the development of the restaurant.
       
      A Perfect Pairing?
      By the time he was 12 years old, Grant Achatz knew that he would someday run his own restaurant. The story of Alinea is the story of Grant's personal development as a chef and a leader. Grant was brought up in a restaurant family. He bypassed a college education in favor of culinary school, after which he ascended rapidly to the position of sous chef for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In 2001, Grant took the helm of Trio in Evanston, Illinois, which had previously turned out such noted chefs as Gale Gand, Rick Tramanto (Tru) and Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra). In 2003 Grant won the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award, and other prestigious awards followed. By 2004, Grant was recognized as one of the most influential and unique voices on the international culinary scene.
       
      In January 2004, Grant met Nick Kokonas, a successful entrepreneur who was so obsessed with haute cuisine that he had traveled the world in search of it. After globe-trekking specifically to eat at such culinary meccas as Alfonso 1890, Taillevent, Arpège, Arzak, and the French Laundry, Nick was in near disbelief when he realized that the "best food in the world was 10 minutes from my house." Nick had not previously consideredbacking a restaurant, even though he has both relatives and friends in the industry. But in Grant, he saw an opportunity to help create something great.
       
      Through Grant's cuisine, a bond formed between the two men. So inspired was Nick by Grant's culinary ideas that he returned to Trio almost monthly. Finally, he challenged two of his friends, one from New York and the other from San Francisco, to fly to Chicago and experience Trio. He wanted to prove definitively to his skeptical, coastal buddies that Trio was the best and most important restaurant in the country, assuring them that "if the meal at Trio isn't the best meal you've ever had, I'll pay for your meals and your flights." Nick won his bet: his friends were blown away.
       
      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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