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Chamber Vacuum Sealers, 2014–

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On 3/26/2019 at 9:47 AM, lemniscate said:

Does anyone have any experience with LEM brand vacuum chambers?

 

No, but I have experience with other LEM products.

Customer service is horrible.

The products were sub-par.

I wouldn't buy anything from LEM.

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~Martin :)

"Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, self-reliant homesteader, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse, curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!"

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it! 

 

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It arrives :)

 

just curious how far on the gauge you can get the needle? I can get about half way through the green zone. 99 second vacuum with filler plates. It kind of maxes out after about 30 seconds. Is this normal?

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9 hours ago, CanadianHomeChef said:

It arrives :)

 

just curious how far on the gauge you can get the needle? I can get about half way through the green zone. 99 second vacuum with filler plates. It kind of maxes out after about 30 seconds. Is this normal?

 

I get almost all the way to the end of the green zone after 30 seconds.  Check that your lid gasket is in good shape and properly seated.  Also check that the rim of the chamber which the gasket seals against doesn't have any dents or deep scratches and that your oil level is at 1/2 or a little higher on the sight glass.

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3 hours ago, Coogles said:

 

I get almost all the way to the end of the green zone after 30 seconds.  Check that your lid gasket is in good shape and properly seated.  Also check that the rim of the chamber which the gasket seals against doesn't have any dents or deep scratches and that your oil level is at 1/2 or a little higher on the sight glass.

Oil is about 3/4 full (more towards the max limit than the min). No issues with the gasket that I can see 

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Actually upon closer inspection, I noticed this near the Center part of the backside. I’m assuming the gasket is supposed to be all one piece. 

B1FB2088-0495-4499-AE79-43B014433C71.jpeg

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Nope. Looked up the replacement part and it is just a straight piece rather than a complete circle. So that little bit seems to make sense. Unless it’s suppose to be tighter? 

 

I’m not really a science person, but maybe it could have something to do with my altitude? I’m in Calgary at 1045 metres /3428 ft (according to Alexa)

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3 minutes ago, CanadianHomeChef said:

Actually upon closer inspection, I noticed this near the Center part of the backside. I’m assuming the gasket is supposed to be all one piece. 

 

I don't know this specific model, but gaskets are basically long silicon strips that are pushed into a seam. At one point, the two ends do have to come together. 

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Found this:

 

1. Perfect Vacuum: is the absence of all air. A perfect vacuum, if such thing even exists, is the absence of air, or any molecules. There is nothing, only space.

4. Absolute Pressure: is the pressure referenced to perfect vacuum.

 

Elevation vs Absolute Pressure

As the altitude increases, the absolute pressure decreases. The fact is that the absolute pressure is always the same given the same altitude regardless where on earth (excluding pressure changes due to Temperature). This is why an absolute pressure gauge can be used to measure altitude.

 

https://www.sanatron.com/articles/high-altitude-package-testing-utilizing-an-acrylic-vac-chamber.php

 

I get to just under 0.09 MPa where the gauge seems to max out at 0.1 

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Okay. I think I’m good! 

 

Found this: As a general “Rule of Thumb”, for every 1000 feet above sea level, the maximum possible vacuum is reduced by approximately one in-Hg (0.491 psi). By using this rule one can quickly determine the maximum possible vacuum for the area. 

 

https://vacmaster.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/article_attachments/202402637/Effects_of_Altitude_on_Vacuum_Systems.pdf

 

According to Vacmaster the maximum vacuum that can be achieved in Los Angeles at sea level is 29.92 in-Hg. Using the rule of thumb, I subtracted 3.5 (round altitude to 3500ft) and got 26.42. Punched that into a google conversion calculator and got 0.089468389 MPa, which is pretty much what my gauge reads. 

 

Now I don’t fully understand everything that I did , so if anyone with a better grasp of the science could confirm (or not confirm) my calculations, that would be great. Just want to make sure I’m getting maximum function out of my

machine.

CA822B39-093A-4E50-931F-526777F5033D.jpeg


Edited by CanadianHomeChef (log)

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But so far it’s only the gauge that’s causing me worries. Without it, I’d think the machine was working mighty fine. 

 

Here is is a package of bacon I reseated after taking a few pieces. 

F0C36A91-FA61-4F85-A234-01CABC781C0E.jpeg

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FWIW,

You can check the gasket fit by placing a small piece of typing paper incrementally in spots the entire way around the seal, close the lid, and press down lightly.

If there are any problem areas the typing paper will move freely.

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~Martin :)

"Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, self-reliant homesteader, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse, curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!"

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it! 

 

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20190407_061942.thumb.jpg.f6f7783c79bf51d988eeb72a292ce6d1.jpg

Here's how my gasket looks, the ends should be butted up right next to each other to minimize leaks.  If your machine was new when you got it the gasket should be in good shape and you might just be able to tug the ends together a bit to close the gap, just be gentle so you don't tear it.  If you got the machine used and the gasket is worn or hardened you can get replacement ones pretty cheap.  The machine should work fine for most things as-is, but you might have an issue trying things that require a strong vacuum like vacuum compression of fruits.

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Anyone know if you can vacuum seal yeast? I always seem to buy too much of it, and I hate to see it go to waste. But I could see it killing it off.

 

Also what about products with yeast in them (e.g. pizza dough)? If anything, I'll just it to nicely seal them in a bag that's not vacuum tight.

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4 hours ago, CanadianHomeChef said:

Anyone know if you can vacuum seal yeast? I always seem to buy too much of it, and I hate to see it go to waste. But I could see it killing it off.

 

Also what about products with yeast in them (e.g. pizza dough)? If anything, I'll just it to nicely seal them in a bag that's not vacuum tight.

Fresh yeast? I've bought it vacuum sealed so I suspect you can. I certainly vacuum seal my dry yeast and pop it in the freezer until I need some more to replenish the fridge bottles.

 

Pizza dough usually gets the non vacuum seal bag treatment in my house.

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as above.  SAF instant yeast is sold vacuum'd

 

I add the sealed original ti a new bag and vacuum that , as sometimes the initial bag has a leak.

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I am a home brewer and also wanted to store extra yeast slurry. I contacted a couple of yeast manufacturers and the one that replied said it should not be a problem. So I tried it, and it has worked fine. The yeast is viable for months as it was when I used other vessels. 

 

I don't take pains to pump down all the way, I do about 70-80% vacuum, just in case a harder vacuum might be bad for the little guys. 

 

In the case of beer, if there is any sugar left in the liquid, they will continue to ferment it and produce CO2, even at fridge temps. A few times I have had to re-bag yeast after a couple of months when the bag swells. 

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If I can seal "awake" liquid yeast, dry should be no problem at all! 

 

if I were you I would do a little experiment: seal some at max vacuum, and some more gently. See if you can discern a difference in vitality. My guess is that there will be little difference since I have seen big bricks of yeast in the store that look like they are sealed very compactly. 

 

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Good idea horseflesh. If it works, I think I'll be doing a lot more baking.

 

I just went through my pantry last week and sealed a bunch of flours and stuff that normally get thrown out well before I use them all. This included some OO flour for pizza making. Today, I went to go use it. I just cut a little slit in the corner of the bag. So easy to just pour out what I need and then vacuum seal again! Much easier than scooping it out of a bag :)

 

 

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And I thought I was crazy when I first bought this thing. It's proving to be much more useful than I could have possibly imagined. 

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10 hours ago, CanadianHomeChef said:

Anyone know if you can vacuum seal yeast? I always seem to buy too much of it, and I hate to see it go to waste. But I could see it killing it off.

 

Also what about products with yeast in them (e.g. pizza dough)? If anything, I'll just it to nicely seal them in a bag that's not vacuum tight.

 

One could vacuum seal instant yeast but I have never seen the need to.

 

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I've been pondering the purchase of a chamber vac too.. Never owned a regular sealer, but chamber vac just seems like so interesting device in all its' modernist uses along with more basic sealing of various things. Now, I've narrowed my options thus far into two. On one hand there's the VacMaster VP215EU version, which I assume is exactly the same as VP215, except it's with EU plugs. I can get that shipped for 900€. The other option currently is Henkelman Mini Jumbo with the high lid. That combo is about 1300€, though they promised bags worth of 100-200€ to come with it. 

 

I talked with the Henkelman distributor, and one thing he mentioned was that the 0.3 kW / 4m3/h pump is sort of small-ish. He compared it to driving in the motor way with a car that has a small engine, it can work but a) it affects durability and b) it's slower. Does anyone have views on whether that's just sales talk or is that something to worry about in home use? I don't think speed of vacuuming is going to be an issue at home? I'm not sure, but as I've understood it, VP215 has the same sized pump (1/4 HP I suppose converts into something close to 0.3 kW or little less, someone correct me if I'm wrong!). 

 

Also, I'd be really keen on sealing canning jars. I've got a collection of jars, ranging from under 9cm in height all the way to about 11.5cm. With the high lid in Henkelman, I think the chamber height gets to 13cm or so. VP215 seems to be 12.7cm. I read that during vacuum, that compresses somewhat as the lids push down? Are you able to put a 11.5cm jar in the VP215 upright? 

 

Additionally, I know there are at least a lot of people with VP215, so does it (or the Henkelman if you happen to know) allow you to seal bags without pulling a vacuum? In other words, to use the sealing bar alone? And other random questions to which I haven't been able to find an answer to.. Does VP215 have soft air release? Do they require some special oils or can you buy "bulk" oil for both? Does either have "cyclone operator" to protect pump from water and debris (yeah, I read this from MC..)? Any other considerations anyone has? I guess Henkelman's Busch pumps are the A-class, but I'm unsure whether it's that much better than the VP215? Much appreciate all help. 

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Im extremely happy with my VP215.

 

it has an oil pump , which is important to get viz water vapor damaging non-oil pumps

 

I had nopt thought of jars.  I took out the one ploy board I use all the time in the VP

 

it decreases volume in the machine , thus makes Vac-ing a little faster.

 

the jar I used that cleared the top closed ( I didn't have the machine plugged in for obvious reasons )

 

was 5.25 inches = 13.335 cm.  something a tiny bit taller might have worked , but I didn't have anything

 

incremental at hand to check.

 

bags are o course far less expensive for chamber vacs than the textured kind for regular vac's

 

I get mine at 

 

https://vacuumsealersunlimited.com/product-category/commercial-chamber-vacuum-sealer-bags-pouches/3-mil-chamber-bags/

 

I have 8" x 10 "  and 10 " x 13 "

 

I sometimes cut the larger bag in 2  , to make narrower bags for ground herbs which I then freeze

 

I open the narrow long bag , take out what i need and reseal that same bag and pop it back in the freezer

 

keeps everything ' fresh '

 

in terms of sealing w/o a vac , there may be an official way to do this 

 

but you might just be able to push the ' stop ' button as soon as you start , which creates a seal

 

I have 30 seconds set as my seal time , but I watch the pump and seal just after the second to the last

 

' tick ' on the pressure gauge.

 

I have no issues w the time it takes to seal my bags , re: pump ' pull '  if I really wanted something faster

 

mine seal in about 20 seconds , depending on size , I could put a piece of wood or something in the chanmber

 

to take up ' dead space '  but I don't ming 20 second seals.

 

if I had to seal 100 bags in a session , one at a time , that might be different.

 

I can't say how much bags are gong to cost you , or how many bags you might use in a year

 

shipping on bags is relatively expensive as they are heavy  500 and 1000 bags are the optionns

 

ive used.  so look into where you can get bags for your VP-215  before you buy,

 

I don't know anything about the Henkelman Mini Jumbo  I assume it has an oil pump.

 

look into actual bag costs , for both machines , size , number / box etc

 

Id also look into guarantee's and servicing .  Iva had no problems a the VP-215 so far.

 

good luck and please report back when you get the machine of your choice.

 

 

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a P.S. on the jars ;  the bottom of the chamber in the VP-215 is sloped.

 

so unless you make something for the jars to sit on so they are perfectly vertical 

 

the jar will be sloped a little.

 

I took a pic  w the 5.25 " jar :

 

1097761608_JarVac.thumb.jpg.df5f190613a68e1f9709303b124c5f07.jpg

 

its hard to see the slope 

 

but its not as pronounced as I though.

 

make sure you know exactly what bags come with the Henkelman.   100 EU's is signifinact

 

and how many thou get and what they cost viz the ones that you might get for the VP-215

 

they probably are the same  bags.  3 MIL are fine.  Ive never tried a 4 MIL bag

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      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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