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MobyP

The Fat Duck 2004

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I'm not surprised - the restuarant is tiny - 12 (or 16 - i forget) tables

we were there from just after 1 'till well after 5 so he's hardly packing them in

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Directors' salaries were £129,000 compared with £143,000 the year before, when the restaurant made an £18,000 loss

Maybe it is different in the States, but generally a "director" would be an investor and not be on salary. Any money returned to them would be after all expenses were paid (return on investment). What would a "directors" job be in the everyday workings of a 15 table restaurant (other than scarfing up free food, which is a bad thing if it is allowed)?


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Directors' salaries were £129,000 compared with £143,000 the year before, when the restaurant made an £18,000 loss

Maybe it is different in the States, but generally a "director" would be an investor and not be on salary. Any money returned to them would be after all expenses were paid (return on investment). What would a "directors" job be in the everyday workings of a 15 table restaurant (other than scarfing up free food, which is a bad thing if it is allowed)?

I don't know about the catering world, but in most small businesses the directors include the people running the business as well as (sometimes) investors.

If Heston isn't a director I would be most surprised. His job probably involves something to do with the cooking and the running of the place. :wink:

Without checking the companies house records, I would guess his wife is probably another director, and quite possible the only other director.

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May I ask the final score?

i'm still in denial...

250, gulp. 85 x 2 for food and it helped a lot by having the champagne as gift.

not cheap but certainly stunning (there's more than a little congitive assonance going on here). in fact, on refelction, this was one of the best tasting menu's I've had anywhere - much much better than Le Manior, The Square, The Capital & Foliage and a few other. only Gagnaire's was far better (not better - more in a league of its own)

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It could be completely my imagination, but did I read in one of the many interviews with Heston, that there are plans for another restaurant, possibly in London?


Edited by Spam (log)

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That's not something I remember reading :hmmm: For some reason, I can't imagine TFD working in London. Maybe The Riverside Brasserie in London - That would work. Talking to Heston I got the impression he wouldn't want to open in London, although the acquisition of 3 stars may have changed his view on that.

Incidentally, I would love to see TFD move to London, the journey to Bray and the lack of reasonably priced accomodation is a pain in the arse :rolleyes:


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I've e mailed Heston to see if he can provide a definitive answer, I have to admit I don't remember seeing a reference to a move to London in any o f the recent publicity, but I could easily have missed it. I know on the past that he has said that he wants to stay well out of the London scene, but as you say the 3rd star may have prompted a re-think.

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An e mail from Heston today:

"Hello Andy

Just for the record, there are no plans to go to London. I don't know where that came from?

Heston Blumenthal"

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Truly an exceptional lunch at the Fat Duck yesterday (Sunday), thanks to that Olympic gold medal-winning reservationist Tarka.

Two things surprised me. Although we had the tasting degustation, this is a menu you would want to explore like a beautiful building; corridors leading off in all directions. Unfortunately you have to commit to a direction; and if you decide on one path, then by necessity it's too big to return and take the others as well. As it was the temptation was too great, and we ordered a couple of courses in addition to the 18 provided; two portions of the lasagne of langoustine and pig's trotter in the middle, and a tarte tatin for the table to share at the very end.

The second thing was how approachable the meal was. Everyone around our table had a dish they were anticipating would be an ordeal - for me, the Oyster and passion fruit jelly; for Jack the Snail Porridge, for Tarka, the foie gras. For all of us, perhaps, the sardine on toast sorbet. But as Heston has said, at the end of the day it has to taste good - and most of this food tasted but seriously good. The presentations - as is the style these days - were beautiful and (I think) French Laundry inspired. Plenty of futurist and cubist sculptures supported or mounted with perfect quenelles. The style of the meal was a multitude of half and one-bite dishes

The courses were understandably small. Everyone, I think, had a point in the meal where they stopped, and said: I could have that 17 more times. And everyone's choice was different.

I'm going to skip through this meal, as most of it has been described before, and stop on the highlights. Fortunately, there were a stupid number of them.

The Pre-Amuse: Nitro green tea and Lime Mousse with vodka - this is exactly as good as you expect it to be - unless you don't know it's coming, in which case it's much better. A frozen shell on the outside, which turns into a creamy vapor in the mouth. (On a side note, on several occasions a man walked through the restaurant carrying a bucket of liquid nitrogen - minus 192 degrees Centigrade. If he tripped and the bucket went flying, what would happen? The man at table 14 loses his nose?)

Oyster and Passion Fruit Jelly: I can't stand oysters; I can't even stand to hear about oysters; if you once knew an oyster when you were a child, kept it in your pocket, let it sleep on your pillow at night, and told it stories around the camp fire - I'm not interested. Really. The only good oyster is one several thousand miles away, underneath a bulldozer that's gone out of control, fallen off a pier, and killed it's entire oyster family.

Still, this dish was pretty good. The texture of the jelly and Oyster were exactly the same, or close enough. The sweetness repressed the ocean salinity. For the Oyster fans - there was much applause, and closed eyes, and groaning.

Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream, Red Cabbage Gazpacho. This sounds very odd - and was my first aesthetic hurdle (mustard ice cream?) to handle, but was delicious in all respects. A tiny quenelle of ice cream, balanced on a small pool of beautifully purple soup.

Quail Jelly, Pea puree, Cream of Langoustine, with a quenelle of foie gras parfait on top. I loved this; the different textures and levels of flavour revealing themselves on the tongue. BLH thought it was musty - but I found the tastes to be very clean.

Snail Porridge, Jabugo ham: this was a surprise - a beautiful savoury texture, resembling a perfect risotto (as someone noted) - but deeply garlicky, and notes of parsley. Every now and then a tender morsel of snail - not big rubbery lumps. And the jabugo ham adding a texture and saltiness.

Roast Foie Gras with almond puree, cherry, chamomile - this was a let down for me, though not for others. It wasn't bad, but I didn't think it was exceptional. The texture of the foie was the same all the way through, and it was luke warm. The puree was a little sweet.

Sardine on Toast Sorbet, Ballotine of Mackeral - We thought this was going to be a test, but the ice cream was v. nice. You could just get a hint of the buttery toast flavour - which was very odd, but fun. The mackeral was a little strong for my tastes.

Salmon poached in Liquorice, vanilla mayonnaise, and 'Manni' olive oil - a definite highlight. The texture of the flesh was beautiful, the vanilla mayonnaise really vivid, the liquorice (almost a gelatin layer) restrained. And the olive oil (at 150 dollars for about 100ml) gave it a nice earthiness.

Sweetbread cooked in Salt Crust with Hay crusted with pollen, cockles, and Parsnip Puree.

The best sweetbreads I've ever had. From the description, I expected them to be soft, but they were perfectly crunchy on the outside, and immensely creamy within. The puree had at least 13 kilos of butter in it. A lovely dish.

Lasagne of langoustine with Pig's trotter, black truffle. This was nice, with plenty of langoustine, but I didn't get the earthy taste of "caramelized" trotter I was expecting. The pasta was silky. (This was an extra course).

The deserts were a mix of bizarre and fun. High point for me was definitely the smoked bacon and egg ice cream, french toast, and salted caramel ("put all the flavours in your mouth at the same time" said our waiter). It was like having all your 'treat' foods in your mouth at the same time. It was fantastic. And the tea jelly - marvelous. What they should really do is figure out something to do with sausage and baked beans, and make it a full caff breakfast dessert.

Low point for ex-smokers at the table (myself included) was tobacco chocolate - which left you with that 5 cigarette taste in your mouth, without the buzz of nicotine or satisfaction of a lung-full of smoke.

Also, in addition, we ordered a tarte tatin. This was a bit protestant for my tastes - a bit restrained. However as Suzi is completing a life-long study of tarte tatins, we felt it a matter of conscience.

Overall the meal took, roughly, four and a half hours. But at no point did we feel we were hanging around. And after all of that food, including the two extra courses, none of us were uncomfortably full.

It would be silly to say this was a surprise, but it really was. I was expecting a 'difficult' or 'challenging' meal - and what I found instead was exceptional cooking and innovative taste pairings. Once you've read about or tasted the 'surprises' - the nitro-foam, the beetroot jelly - you're left with food that has real soul to it. I'm looking forward to his reinterpreting of the classics as apparently he is considering. Even as it is, there are many different meals to be had at the Fat Duck, not just the tasting menu. And I'm looking forward to returning.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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On a side note, on several occasions a man walked through the restaurant carrying a bucket of liquid nitrogen - minus 192 degrees Centigrade. If he tripped and the bucket went flying, what would happen? The man at table 14 loses his nose?

It is possible to put your hand into a bucket on liquid nitrogen and splash it around a bit - your hand is so hot by comparison the N2 evaporates. This was one of the tricks of the person who ran the carbon dating section at the british museum.

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I've never been to Fat Duck, but i can't understand the amount of grief Blumenthal seems to be getting in the press! Obviously alot o fpeople love the food, but it seems alot of people are slagging him and the premise of his food off as being rediculous, playing to the inspectors, greedy, inedible etc... etc...

I think food should be reviewed in the same way whether it be at an un-starred restaurant or molecular gastronomy. The fact he is trying such brave and different food does not make him anmything apart from a brave chef, and it seems a lot of the stick he has taken has stemmed from jealousy that he has been awarded the third star so soon.

I say well done to him. The food he is giving us is absolutely cutting edge, and the fact he has made it work in a small village in the English Countryside says alot. Critics may not like the food, but you can't deny his place at the top of the British food chain so to speak!

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I wrote this before reading this thread. It looks like I had exactly the same menu as two previous posters. Oh well; you get to read about it a third time.

Bruce

*******

You know it's going to be an interesting meal when someone wheels a Dewar flask filled with liquid nitrogen to your table.

The Fat Duck is a UK restaurant in the small town of Bray, near Windsor. Chef Heston Blumenthal is known for serving some of the most interesting food in Britain.

The restaurant is simple and unassuming. From the outside it looks like just another squat row house. Inside, the furnishing is spare, with a lot of low beams that the waitstaff has to keep warning tall customers about.

I came for lunch on a Saturday, during a seven-hour layover at Heathrow. I landed from Chicago at 10:00 AM, hung around the airport lounge for an hour and a half, and then took a taxi to the restaurant. I figured on a two-and-a-half hour meal, and I would be back at Heathrow by 3:00. Plenty of time to catch my 5:00 flight to Islamabad.

My choices were a three-course lunch menu, an interesting selection of a la carte dishes, or the tasting menu--which I ordered. And which began with a Dewar flask of liquid nitrogen cascading vapors all over the place.

A waiter appeared with a pressurized canister, which he said was filled with green tea, lime, and egg white. He was going to make a ball of the stuff and then "cook" it tableside in the liquid nitrogen. I was to eat it in one bite, immediately after he took it out of the Dewar flask.

Okay. The stuff that came out of the canister looked like shaving cream, and it sputtered a bit as he dropped in the nitrogen. When it was done he put it on a plate and handed it to me. I did as I was told. It was a ball of mostly air, crunchy on the outside and a creamy vapor on the inside, with hints of the tastes he described. Kind of like a savory sorbet, kind of not--really like nothing I had ever eaten before. A fascinating palate cleanser.

This is going to be interesting, I thought.

Next came two small squares of gelee: an orange one and a beetroot one. Again, instructions: "Eat the orange first." It was okay, but the beet gelee was delicious. Another savory dessert-like item.

Then I was served an oyster covered in passion fruit jelly--another absolutely delicious morsel. The menu claimed that there was lavender, but I couldn't taste it among the passion fruit and oyster flavors. It was, again, kind of dessert-like but not. The pairing of oyster and passion fruit was delicious. I wanted another.

Instead I got another dessert: mustard ice cream served with red cabbage gazpacho. A stunningly beautiful dish: a small ice cream quenelle in the middle of this vivid purple soup. Again, amazingly delicious. Again, strong and interesting flavors that combined together well. Again, I wanted more.

Next up: a parfait. It had three layers: langoustine cream on top, quail jelly in the middle, and pea puree on the bottom--topped with a small piece of roasted foie gras. This was the most decadent dish so far. I loved the way the flavors and textures blended. I loved everything about this dish.

And I still hadn't gotten my first course on the menu.

Time to catch my breath. I had just eaten five absolutely delicious tiny dishes, each interesting in itself and together interesting as a progression. The flavors moved from simple to complex, from spare to decadent. They were all clearly designed to startle and delight. And clearly, blending flavors in an interesting way is Blumenthal's strong point.

The first course was snail porridge, topped with small slices of ham, fried fennel, and some walnut oil. It looked a lot like green risotto. This was clearly not dessert, but it was again an interesting blend of interesting flavors. Snails are strong and earthy, and the ham and fennel accented it perfectly. There was garlic too, of course. A delicious dish.

The second course was roast foie gras. The foie gras was topped with little bits of chive--I think--and chamomile. The plate had cherry puree, amaretto jelly, some sort of cream, and a couple of almonds. Again, a fascinating and delicious blending of ingredients I wouldn't have put together.

And every dish so far was presented beautifully: everything artistically arranged just so. That kind of thing is commonplace at these sorts of restaurants, but I thought it was done especially well here.

The third course was the same story. Blumenthal has written about trying to capture comforting tastes from youth. This dish was called "Sardine on Toast Sorbet." There was no toast, but there was a sardine sorbet that tasted like tinned fish. He topped it with a few salmon eggs, and served it with a mackerel ballotine. This was a very strongly flavored dish: all three flavors were loud on the palate. But they blended excellently and interestingly.

Next came a piece of poached salmon crusted with licorice. It was served with baby asparagus, some of the strongest mayonnaise I have ever tasted, tiny shreds of grapefruit, very strong olive oil, and shavings of a strong licorice. Again, this wildly unlikely combination of ingredients was delicious. Mayonnaise and grapefruit--definitely. Who knew?

Course five was sweetbreads cooked in a crust of pollen and salt in a fire made from hay. I have had dishes cooked with hay before, and when it works right the result has a hint of hay-like smoke. This technique calls for a mild meat, and sweetbreads was a good choice. It was served with very pretty light-green cabbage, parsnip puree, and a couple of cockles. This was the weakest dish of the night. It was all good, but it didn't come together like the other dishes did.

Then, a break before my desserts: a small disk of white chocolate topped with caviar. Better than I expected, by a lot.

The first dessert was called "Mrs. Marshall's Margaret Cornet." I got a little card explaining who Mrs. Agnes B. Marshall was and how she invented an ice cream maker and was the first to make an ice cream cone, back in the late 1800s (seventeen years before it was "invented" at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, according to the card). This cone had apple sorbet on top, and orange/ginger mixture below. Very good.

Another break: pine essence and sugar, eaten with a small piece of vanilla bean. This was supposed to evoke some comforting taste from British youth, but of course that was lost on me. But it was important that I eat it, I was told, to prepare me for the pine dessert to follow.

That dessert was three things on a plate: some mango and Douglas fir puree, a bavarois of lychee and mango, some blackcurrant sorbet. This was served with blackcurrant and green peppercorn jelly. Fir is not a common flavor and while this was interesting, and tasty, it was not awe inspiring.

Next, some more things not on the menu. A carrot and orange lollypop, really just a sliver to crunch and eat. Then some orange and beetroot gellee, this time mixed together and sweet. And a basil bavarois.

And then it got really weird. I was served a gold paper box in a bowl, and some parsnip-infused milk in a small pitcher. Inside was "parsnip cereal," I was told. I hope this wasn't another one of those comforting tastes from British youth. While it was interesting, and good, I was glad that there weren't more than a few spoonfuls. It was very strong.

Finally, the eighth (and last) course on the menu. On the plate was a small scoop of "smoked bacon and egg ice cream" over tomato jam, a small piece of French toast, and a small scoop of caramel covered with morels. This was accompanied by a small dish of tea jelly. The right way to eat this, I was told, was to eat everything on the plate together and to use the jelly as a palate cleanser. I did, and while it was all interesting, I didn't think it worked all that well. The ice cream was just weird, the tomato was...well tomato. (Cooked tomatoes are a standard British breakfast thing, so that's probably where it's coming from.) Caramel and morels is definitely a good idea, though.

I wasn't done yet: next came chocolates. I got four: pine, oak, tobacco, and mint. There was some confusion in the beginning, as the waiter wasn't sure if the second one was oak or leather. But it was definitely oak. I didn't care for the tobacco, and I've never liked mint with chocolate. The pine and oak chocolates were okay.

I declined coffee, so I was done: two and a half hours total for lunch. My taxi was waiting for me, and I spent the entire drive back to Heathrow wondering what leather-flavored chocolate tasted like. And I made my plane with lots of time to spare.

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Did you not get the little bowl of white powder with the stick of vanilla? You are meant to lick the stick and then stick it back into the powder and lick it... and so on until the powder is gone...

Sort of like those monkeys trying to get ants out the anthill...


www.nutropical.com

~Borojo~

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Schneier - superb report. What conclusions did you come to about the experience?


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Schneier - superb report. What conclusions did you come to about the experience?

Conclusions? None, I guess.

I generally don't think of dining experiences as conclusion-reaching.

Bruce

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Did you not get the little bowl of white powder with the stick of vanilla? You are meant to lick the stick and then stick it back into the powder and lick it... and so on until the powder is gone...

Sort of like those monkeys trying to get ants out the anthill...

I did. It's in there.

Bruce

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I enjoyed a sublimea meal there - everything from the fois gras to the goats ilk ice cream was sublime - for some it may be too modern but i thought it was a real gastronomical experiece. Well done Heston.

This link is worth following, for an update.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england...ire/3645315.stm


Martial.2,500 Years ago:

If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts.

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In this week's Restaurant magazine (no link available), Pierre Gagnaire lables The Fat Duck as the most important 3 star place in the UK, because unlike White or Ramsay, it's the first European restaurant that hasn't tried to be French.

It's true, isn't it.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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In this week's Restaurant magazine (no link available), Pierre Gagnaire lables The Fat Duck as the most important 3 star place in the UK, because unlike White or Ramsay, it's the first European restaurant that hasn't tried to be French.

It's true, isn't it.

Absolutely. It's trying to be Spanish. :wink:

Is he saying it's the first European 3 star that hasn't tried to be French, or the first UK 3 star?

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The first UK 3 star. I think he's doing something very different from EB. Interestingly, he might be heading more towards bourgeois French than he was with the proposed selection of new dishes (i.e. sole veronique et al). I don't know if he's thinking of serving them pureed up in a shot glass with a syringe full of liquid squid spleen - but we can only hope!


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

Flickr Food

"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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Depends on what accounts you see Andy, theres the accounts the VAT,Bankmanager and Tax man sees and then theres the real accounts :wink:

actually..to make myself clear..i didnt want to see THE accounts ledger....just wondering about about how they price dishes etc...$ going into a dish vs cost of dish...how much percentage does it actually cost..plus of course..the overheads...labour/wages...TAX...rent etc...i have been speaking to a couple of people and it seems that real estate is one of the major roadblock that determines survivability...fat duck in bray probably doesnt have the burden of rent as would a fat duck in..lets say..london...at the same time, fat duck in london probably would attract more customers..i remember someone mentioning(at one of blanc's manoir debates, i think) that most resturants have to do something else other than the business of serving people food in order to stay alive in the business....like running a manoir'esque kinda joint, i suppose..now...is that such a bad thing?

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      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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