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The Fat Duck 2007

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The one and only time I ate at FD we ordered ALC, and I still regret it. With the exception of the bacon and egg ice cream, most of the dishes I had were nothing to write home about. They weren't in any way bad, just fairly standard fare. There is no doubt in my mind that if and when I get the chance to return I'll go for the taster menu. I don't think there's any shame in wanting to sample dishes that I've heard and read about, and it's not merely to tick it off some imaginary list.

Of course if the hoi polloi continue to order the taster menu, then obviously the real connoisseur has to do something else. In fact, only the basest savage orders off the printed menu at all. The exalted few know the secret handshake and the password that unlocks the door to the REAL kitchen...

Si

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The Fat Duck

The Fat Duck, surely one of the galaxy’s most famous dining destinations, tucked away in the London exurb of Bray, is in fact two of the world’s most creative restaurants. The problem is that they do not always fit together harmoniously. One is to be applauded for its culinary brilliance; the other for its cleverness. One is Per Se, the other April Fools. One produces astonishing food; the other forces astonished diners to question what food really is. Is food anything that a chef dares to place on the plate? One is modern cuisine, the other hyper-modern games and molecular buzz.

The Fat Duck appears a rural inn from its pubby name to its exposed beams and white walls. The only signal that this is other than small-town Britain is a few abstractions on the walls in yellow and chartreuse. As is so common, service in the temple of modern cuisine is attentive and gracious; service at the house of games is demanding and controlling. At the first the diner is king; at the later, he is a pawn. And throughout the meal The Fat Duck sells itself from the small placard on the table that encourages the purchase of Chef Heston Blumenthal’s cookbooks to the several odd objects emblazoned with the name and visual markings of the establishment. Blumenthal has not moved as far as some in turning himself into a brand, not yet opening branches in Dubai and Las Vegas, but perhaps the time is not so far off. The current chef, overseeing the cuisine at The Fat Duck is Ashley Palmer-Watts, who deserves much credit for the day.

One’s tasting menu begins with play. A server appears with a smoking kettle of nitrogenated ice in which she places a white sphere: a immediate freeze by one of MacBeth’s witches. This is the opening palate cleanser of Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mousse. I am informed that it is to be eaten whole; and when I chose to consider the dish in two bites, I am chided for my effrontery. So much for clichés about the client’s authority. The ball itself is tartly citrus with a smidge of vodka. As advertised, it is a clarifying moment.

The second amuse brings a plate with two small squares of jelly: one orange and one beet red. The server orders me to eat the orange first. I follow instructions despite a growing desire to rebel by combining half of each. What’s up? The orange gel tastes of beet; the red square tastes of orange, just like those experiments in home economics in which green food coloring is added to cherry ice and red to mint. As it always has been, this is a cute idea for a class in food science to demonstrate the power of expectations, but the idea triumphs over the senses.

This experiment was followed by a lovely, little thing: a fresh oyster with passion fruit jelly and a sprig of lavender. Although the lavender didn’t add much to this particular dish, the combination of fruit and bay was delightful. This is the first of the dishes that demonstrates that the kitchen can cook – although if one is discussing raw oysters, “cook” is not precisely apt.

The next small treat was “soup,” although soup that one needed a magnifying glass to spot, Red Cabbage Gazpacho, served with a micro-scoop of Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. The soup was luscious, luminous, and light, all that one expects of a chilled soup. I only wish I had a bowl and not a tumbler. The flavor of cabbage was distinctive, but not overwhelming, and the royal purple contrasted smoothly with the tan custard.

The following intersecting courses were described as an “Homage to Alain Chapel.” How the late chef might feel about such an honor will never be known. I was informed that I must first lay a small film infused with oak flavor on my tongue, waking me for the touches to come, adding a whispered note of terror, if not terroir. However, this Sleeping Beauty trick was neither deadly nor delightful. Set on my table was a bonny package of oak moss that was flirtatious enough, but even when a liquid infusion caused it to smoke vigorously, it was more a proposition than than a passion. Here was molecular cuisine at its most jejune. A jest of the dark woods at table. This complaint does not neglect the insistent flavors of the dishes served as sides. The oak moss and truffle toast was carefully plotted and an evocative of the fungal bed. Compact, tightly bound, and explosive with aroma. Better still was one of the finest preparations of the day, an inspiring parfait with layers of quail jelly, langoustine cream, and foie gras mousse. Each satin sheet was urgently composed and together was an amorous moment. This parfait was as much a climax as an appetizer could be.

And now the meal became serious and profound – for awhile. The first of the larger course was Chef Blumenthal’s signature Snail Porridge, served with Joselito ham and shaved fennel, described by the organizationally immodest server as “our famous snail porridge.” The snails might speak for themselves, but whether famous, infamous, or anonymous, this was a breakfast of champions – fusing two of the meal’s motifs: breakfast in the woods. The green porridge, the translucent fennel, the rosy ham, and the dark snails made beautiful harmony. Flavors that seemed far distant became as one. This porridge wakens the limp and restless.

Following the porridge was is tribute to Foie Gras, what each fat duck will be without: Roast Foie Gras with Almond Fluid Gel, Cherry Sauce and Chamomile Jelly. Here was foie gras marzipan with bursting cherry notes. The fruit was cherry cubed, so intense was its flavor. Not only was the dish symphonic in taste, it was fluid and expressionist in presentation. A magnificent treat.

And then “The Sound of the Sea.” Here was molecular cuisine as wack. The server brought out a large conch shell with earphones which I was ordered to wear. Inside the shell – why? – was a small iPod – why? Putting on the earphones, one heard the sound of waves – why? And I sat for perhaps five minutes experiencing a cross between vexation and bondage, feeling little of the wispy shore breeze in this snug little cottage by inland Bray. Let me be blunt: it was dumb. The chef’s desire for discipline outweighed any hint of pampering.

As I began to lose hope, fearing that I would be dunce for the afternoon, perhaps feeling a touch nauseated, the food arrived. If the dish was not among the finest creations of the tasting menu, it was far more evocative than the attempt at Radio Free Bulli. The chef sculpted a shore scene with tapioca sand, sea foam, fried baby eels, razor clams, cockles, and a quartet of Japanese seaweed species. It was a curiosity, too clever by half for greatness, but a thoughtful attempt to build on an unusual mix of textures.

Finally arrived the crux of the meal: an indelible dishes, a creation of gustatory renown: Salmon Poached with Liquorice, Asparagus, Pink Grapefruit, Vanilla Mayonnaise, and Olive Oil. The salmon, moist and succulent, was enveloped by a dark, mysterious, potent, slightly bitter film. Served on a plate by its lonesome it would have been splendid, but the companion tastes, each paired in a bite were gravely symphonic. Modern cuisine does not get better than this, and inspires me to forgive – sort of – the fooling before and after. I was tempted to ask for Hester’s technique, but then realized that my evening fumblings might tarnish my memories of what Chef Blumenthal unfolded.

The meat course was perhaps the most “traditional” of the afternoon: best end of lamb with onion and thyme fluid gel with a potato fondant. The best end of lamb included tongue, neck, and sweetbreads, leaving this lamb silenced – along with part of the lamb’s rack. This was a fine, sturdy dish – and a rich and thoughtful one, unafraid of the dense flavor of the thyme gel. If it was an anti-climax – and in some measure it was – this evaluation was a function of what came before.

The liquid palate cleanser was labeled “Hot and Iced Tea.” Two distinctly textured liquids – one rather warm and gummy, the other cool and fresh within the same cup. The trick was that the cup appeared to contain a single liquid, while actually constituting a science experiment. Like teaching a dog to waltz, it was more impressive in theory than in practice.

This was followed by a small dish, “Mrs. Marshall’s Margaret Cornet,” named after a frozen dessert pioneer: apple ice cream with orange and ginger granita. This small cone with its smooth flavors and elaborated decoration was a nostalgic reference to the days when visiting the ice cream parlor was an occasion, not merely an errand.

I could have skipped the “Pine Sherbet Fountain” – sugar powder with a pine aroma. First, oak, now pine, soon poison ivy. I scooped the power with a vanilla bean that added some taste, but didn’t persuade me that this was other than a tease of the late afternoon heat.

The main dessert – Mango and Douglas Fir Puree with a Bavarois (Bavarian cream) of lychee and mango with an intense blackcurrant sorbet – was precisely presented, a stunning picture. As a serious presentation, the dessert was welcome, although I felt that the flavors did not merge as well as some earlier courses. It was a plate in which the sum of the parts was more impressive than the combined taste.

After this effort of the pastry kitchen, we returned to ideas, forgetting gustatory triumphs. First, I was served a Carrot and Orange Tuile – a high-end lollypop - with a beetroot jelly square, a reference to the earlier surprise but with the color matching the taste.

As the meal ended – perhaps most appropriate for those evening repasts that concluded in the wee hours – I received a box of parsnip cereal – Fat Duck brand - served with parsnip milk. Perhaps one can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, but apparently Chef Blumenthal can tease breast milk from a parsnip. Cereality indeed.

I concluded with the second course of a molecular morning repast, another Blumenthal signature: Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream with Pain Perdu and Tea Jelly. Like the opening nitro-Green Team and Lime Mousse, this was a tableside presentation. The kitchen wizards infused an egg in its shelf with bits of bacon, When cracked into a pan, mixed with liquid nigrogen – kazaam! – ice cream resulted. Cuteness trebled, cooled and warmed through magic. Better living through chemistry, although I prefer better living though stovework. It was an impressive end, although not the most impressive in flavor. The conjurer’s trick seemed designed to wheedle a standing ovation. The breakfast was somewhat in-between brilliant and curious, in-between funny delightful and funny odd.

With the weak American dollar a tasting menu at The Fat Duck is an investment in reverie, and has some rough patches. Yet, it is not an experience that I would have missed. Perhaps The Fat Duck is two restaurants in one – one molecular, one inspired – but both reveal how magical a meal can be. This is a cuisine agape. I left with my heart aflutter and my mouth agape.

The Fat Duck

High Street

Bray Brkshire

+44 01628 580333

http://www.fatduck.co.uk

Photos available at:

My Webpage: Vealcheeks

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Just got back from London (dinner at St John, 7.5/10, hardly world class but pretty good, and probably the manliest restaurant in England) and saw some chappy on the train carrying one of those fashion boutique style bags, with the Fat Duck logo on. Anyone have any idea what's going on there?

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Just got back from London (dinner at St John, 7.5/10, hardly world class but pretty good, and probably the manliest restaurant in England) and saw some chappy on the train carrying one of those fashion boutique style bags, with the Fat Duck logo on. Anyone have any idea what's going on there?

Doggy bag?

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Just thought I'd mention the Heston Blumenthal ice cream stall that's been in Manchester throughout the festival that has been running here. Finally made it down there yesterday. 3 "chilled summer treats" on offer.

The first was a pea sorbet with mint gel, mint granita, peanut brittle and dried bacon. Served in a cornet, it was amazingly sweet and retained all the essence of fresh garden peas. Really very impressed.

Next was a chocolate-wine slushicle with Millionaire's shortbread. Served as a giant ice-pop, it was a frozen red wine and chocolate ice. The flavours came through beautifully. Iw was served with an unbelievably rich slice of Millionaire's shortbread. The caramel was salted and extremely gooey. The shortbread, made with olive oil, melted in the mouth. This was topped off with sea salt and gold leaf.

The final one was a vanilla and strawberry sundae with olive and leather. The ice-cream was beautiful; a really rich vanilla ice-cream that was as good as any I've ever come across. The sundae was layered with strawberries, strawberry sauce and a Kalamata olive and extract of leather sauce. In all honesty, I couldn't make out the leather, which may have been a result of the heavy drinking session the night before. The black olive flavour, however was a revelation. It balanced the sweetness of the other ingredients and made for a remarkable ice cream.

The stall was remarkably busy, considering it was pissing it down, as it has been for the whole duration of the Manchester Festival. People seemed genuinely interested and it seems to have been a success. Considering each one was £5, it shows an interest in Heston's cuisine is alive and well in Manchester.

Adam

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Heston Blumenthal’s Chilled Summer Treats

gallery_54840_5008_255455.jpg

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It’s already been a month now since Blumenthal served his summer treats as part of the Manchester International Festival but I still wanted to post some photos of the dishes.

Mushy Pea Sorbet with Candied Bacon and Mint Syrup

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The pea sorbet was very mild and it’s smooth texture was a nice contrast to the sweet strips of bacon.

Strawberry & Vanilla Sundae with Olive and Leather

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The leather aroma that came in the form of an articficial (and therefore vegetarian) oil was barely noticeable compared to the taste of olives. I guess it was mostly there for the fun and for the attention it would get. I would have found this out of place at Fat Duck but I think it fitted under these circumstances. There was also a surprise element to this dish: some poppy candies that exploded in your mouth.

Chocolate Wine Slushicles with Millionaire’s Shortbread

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The chocolate wine slushicle was extremely rich. And what made the shortbread a „millionaire’s“ one were the gold flakes placed on top of it. The snack was served with a napkin on which a culinary history of the chocolate wine slushicle was printed.

The thing that most struck me the day I visited Blumenthal’s beach hut is how many parents took their children there. It was great to see the children’s reactions to the mushy pea sorbet and the sundae. Some were reuctant and didn’t want to try pea sorbet. Others got a kick out of the fact that they were eating leather and seemed very excited. Assuming that not many kids are usually dining at Blumenthal’s restaurant I found this a great way of introducing unusual flavour combinations to children and have them think about what they are eating.

I also found that Blumenthal’s event at the Manchester International Festival would have been a good alternative to Ferran Adrian’s decision to participate at Kassel’s Documenta by simply hanging a menue at a wall and flying two diners to El Bulli every day. To have a snack stand in addition wouldn’t have compromised the cooking at his restaurant while giving more people an idea about his take on cooking.

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Great pics Neu. Is this the first time that Blumenthal has staged something like this, or does he participate every year?

first time this year but it will probably happen next year aswell thanks to all the feedback even though it was pouring down almost all the time this year.

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The Manchester International Festival is a biannual event that tries to only feature newly

commisioned work. Under these circumstances I think they wouldn't invite the same restaurant/chef again.

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Assuming that not many kids are usually dining at Blumenthal’s restaurant I found this a great way of introducing unusual flavour combinations to children and have them think about what they are eating.

I'm not saying you are wrong in that assumption, but the first time we went to the Fat Duck was in a party which included two children.

The staff were great with the children: the baby got a tour of the kitchens and the restaurant. When she obviously enjoyed the beetroot jelly her mother asked if it was possible to have another one and they brought out an entire plateful. The older child also got asked in detail what sort of things he liked and also got a tour of the kitchens (and his mother was turning green at that).

That was in the good old days when they did a cheaper lunch menu. I doubt many children have gone for the full tasting menu, apart of course from Jay Rayner's visit for the Observer.

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That was in the good old days when they did a cheaper lunch menu. I doubt many children have gone for the full tasting menu, apart of course from Jay Rayner's visit for the Observer.

:laugh: yes and jonathan ross was in with his three kids the otherday they were hepling cooking the bacon ice cream. kids have very open minds its important to educate them about food and a good restaurant experience can change them forever.

Mag

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That was in the good old days when they did a cheaper lunch menu. I doubt many children have gone for the full tasting menu, apart of course from Jay Rayner's visit for the Observer.

:laugh: yes and jonathan ross was in with his three kids the otherday they were hepling cooking the bacon ice cream. kids have very open minds its important to educate them about food and a good restaurant experience can change them forever.

Mag

When I was there I recall children being present.

I totally agree Magnus about kids having very open minds about food, it is the adults who have strange beliefs such as, 'children won't like that' or ' ...this type of food is only for grown ups' etc, which often leads to closed minds. Hence the proliferation of cloned kids menu's across the country.

My daughter has had tasting menus at Juniper (13+ courses), Sat Bains, and Anthony's, which like the menu at the Fat Duck are fun and kids like fun.............

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I’m putting together a Fat Duck (homage) menu for a dinner party Sunday and having made the elements of Quail Jelly, Cream of Langoustine, Parfait of Foie Gras, I just realised that I have assumed that this is a cold dish. Is this right?

Not having had the benefit of going to the Fat Duck, I wondered if one of the ‘regulars’ could help me out?

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From what I can remember, this is a cold dish. None of the elements, of course, are served very cold or chilled.

Are you adding Oak Moss and Truffle Toast as well? What a fantastic show effect this would be in a private setting!

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Hey Baggy

Yes, the Quail Jelly dish is served cold. The jelly is kept cold in a fridge already set in the serving cups. If I am not mistaken there are also 3 radish cubes and pea mousse at the bottom below the quail jelly. Then when they are ordered they are taken out of the fridge, the langoustine cream is added to cover the jelly, and a quenelle of the froie gras parfait is taken out from the parfait mold from the fridge also. There is some sea salt and freshly ground pepper and chives added to the parfait and then a little square of fig tuile inserted on the quenelle and that is transferred to the middle of the jelly.

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ameiden, Gabe Quiros – thanks for the confirmation. I had spotted the pea purée; but no time to stock up on radishes. And thanks for solving the mystery of the wafer – the fig tuile will appear next time.

I would love to have had the theatre of swirling mists associated with the Oak Moss dish, but as is my experience with trying recipes from the avant-garde chefs, it is difficult to track down the ingredients/equipment. It seems to take an inordinate amount of time researching the often sketchy detail when a dish first appears and it only becomes practical to try the dishes once the techniques and ingredients become more widely available – usually 2-3 years after the dish is first created.

I followed the recipe for quail jelly given in Caterer, using the deep fry and blend technique given in the Guardian, and whilst the final dish was a wonderful combination of complementary flavours, I was disappointed at the way the star anise flavour comes through. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to this very distinctive flavour, but next time I’ll try using tomato to add the umami effect.

Not having first hand experience of the real thing, I plated the dish as quail jelly with a teaspoon of pea purée, followed by foie gras and partially covered with langoustine mousse (served from a cream whipper). However, I can see why the mousse needs a touch of xanthan gum, as it broke down quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to research this beforehand.

On the other hand, the snail porridge was a resounding success and I will definitely be trying a number of versions before settling on one for my standard repertoire.

Other dishes, in particular the Beetroot and Orange jelly, and Parsnip Cereal are wonderful surprises but like many jokes, can’t be repeated too often and don’t sem to have the flavour profile to make them a ‘standard’. I do wonder if the orange jelly idea could be developed further in the same way as a sorbet is used as an intermezzo.

Thanks again for the help. Next time I’ll ask earlier so I can incorporate everything.

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No problem Baggy. I spent some time there last year and although I don't have exact recipes I remember various elements of the dishes, so ask anytime.

I'm sure you've seen it before but this is what the final plated quail jelly dish looks like:

quail_jelly.jpg

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On the other hand, the snail porridge was a resounding success and I will definitely be trying a number of versions before settling on one for my standard repertoire.

Snail porridge is definitely very moreish. You may have already found it, but there is a recipe for snail porridge on the BBC food website.

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I had a great time eating all those desserts at the Manchester festival.

I also really enjoy talking to the Pastry Chef at the Fat Duck, the Scottish guy who told me how to make edible films with Methlycelluose an answered all my questions.

However, forgot to ask about the Candied bacon!

Any ideas? I think it must have been brined in a stock syrup then placed in a dehydrator?


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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I had missed the BBC Food recipe for Snail Porridge – I used the one published in the Guardian. The two recipes are very similar (HB also publishes the link on the FD site).

adey73 – are you willing to share your new found methylcellulose knowledge?

On another subject, I’m intrigued to hear why Sole Véronique appears on the ALC menu. It seems to be a dish that makes its appearance on the menus of many of the leading chefs at one time or another. I can appreciate the delicate flavours, but think that sole might be a bit overrated in terms of flavour. What does HB do to make it a top class dish?

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It's the same as printed here on page 16 http://khymos.org/hydrocolloid-recipe-collection-v1.pdf

His main point (the pastry chef) was that Methlycelluose has a particularly aggressive chemical feeling tase about it so use only 1% by weight.

I asked him what was the best ingredient to whip beer into a stable foam/sherbert because I've read that Sam Mason used Methylcelluose with high and low gellan. He recommend using Lecithin. We also talked about making a chocolate consomme. He was very forth coming about techniques used and methodology, but then some old guy turned up and wanted to tell the Fat Duck staff about his WW2 experiences. The interrogation ended.

(What made me laugh most was that the two women in the stall were on Stages one from the U.S. the other from Oz and both looked miserable, presumably because they weren't learning anything at the Fat Duck but rather dishing out premade desserts under the leaden skies of Manchester!!! Muwhahahhahaha)


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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I had a great time eating all those desserts at the Manchester festival.

I also really enjoy talking to the Pastry Chef at the Fat Duck, the Scottish guy who told me how to make edible films with Methlycelluose an answered all my questions.

However, forgot to ask about the Candied bacon!

Any ideas? I think it must have been brined in a stock syrup then placed in a dehydrator?

First appeared at FD around 1998 as one of the first petits fours, a derivative of Albert Adria's candied bacon slices and a precursor of the egg and bacon ice=cream I would guess.

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I had a great time eating all those desserts at the Manchester festival.

I also really enjoy talking to the Pastry Chef at the Fat Duck, the Scottish guy who told me how to make edible films with Methlycelluose an answered all my questions.

However, forgot to ask about the Candied bacon!

Any ideas? I think it must have been brined in a stock syrup then placed in a dehydrator?

hi, try making a dry caramel, dry some strong cured bacon very dry so it will crumble in your hand(serrano better than parma otherwise just too salty, set the caramel, then blend to a powder with the dried bacon. melt into shaped strips on a silicone mat in a gentle to moderate oven.

hope this helps


after all these years in a kitchen, I would have thought it would become 'just a job'

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

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ok I'll give a go this weekend. Thanks


“Do you not find that bacon, sausage, egg, chips, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and a cup of tea; is a meal in itself really?” Hovis Presley.

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An unexpected pleasure, but I’m off to the FD tomorrow – my first time.

Even though I have followed the menus and tried making a number of the dishes, I feel very unprepared; like going into an exam. Creepy!

I shall try to resist the temptation to spend my entire meal writing notes and try to concentrate on the food.

We shall probably have the tasting menu, but really can’t be bothered with the fast changing tastes of the matching wines. I prefer to have consistency as a foil for the flavours of the dish (although I might have a change for the salmon in liquorice). We prefer red, generally French and nothing fruity. Any suggestions as to what we should try?

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      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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