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ronnie_suburban

The Alinea Project - General Discussion

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Fellow members of eGullet, it is with great pleasure that we launch this forum. Here is where we will discuss our continuing coverage of Alinea, as it progresses to its opening in early 2005.

We hope you enjoy the coverage and please...let's discuss :smile:

=R=

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chefg   

Myself and the entire Alinea team are excited about this opportunity to document the development and creative process of a restaurant trying to push the limits.

Thank you to eGullet and the eGullet community for this opportunity.

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Ronnie and chefg:

Has this ever been done before? This is exciting, provocative and instructional -- I'll be waiting eargerly for the progress reports. Thank you both.

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Fat Guy   

Maggie, while restaurant openings have been chronicled in various ways in the past, I'm quite sure nothing of this scope, depth, immediacy, and variety has ever been attempted. But talk is cheap: watch it develop and be amazed.

Chris, you're probably navigating through "New Posts" so you're missing the forum we're in. Start reading here: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=49670

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tan319   

Very, VERY excited about this.

Thanks to all for letting us be part of this process, and much good luck and best wishes to Grant, Nick, and the Alinea team!

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What is planned for the scope of the project in terms of media types? Will this be online text and images only, streaming video, actual video that could potentially become a documentary, a flash movie involving mutant gerbils? Will the content primarily be here, or will some of it seep over to the Alinea website?

I think this is terrific - even if this has been done before, it certainly has never been done with a chef like chefg - for obvious reasons. :)

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Fat Guy   

We have a flash movie involving mutant gerbils in the works, but we're going to focus on text and images for the time being. Later on, we'll see what we can do within the limits of our resources and technology. If a good reason to use media outside our current repertoire -- such as the imminent need to document the comings and goings of mutant gerbils in real time -- presents itself, we'll try to pursue an appropriate course of action. But primarily the depth and breadth we're striving for are in the types of information we plan to present. Anybody can talk about a restaurant opening: we see it on Food TV, we read about openings in magazines and newspapers. But that's not true documentation. We're going to be a primary source, not a secondary source. This isn't a TV show or an article about the Alinea opening; this is the Alinea opening. We're looking to go deeper inside than anybody ever has before. We're going to live through this whole process with Grant Achatz and his team. Again, though, talk is cheap: watch and see what happens.

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Jinmyo   

This will be very interesting.

Once again, Chef Grant, all the best in this endeavour.

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jeffj   

This is very, very exciting stuff. My hat's off to everyone involved with putting this project together!

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My hat's off to everyone involved with putting this project together!

...on that note, I'd like to mention that eGullet member, yellow truffle, also provided a great deal of assistance with this leg of the project. :smile:

=R=

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When I was in college, a friend did a paracollege project on the WOW factor. Never mine that this was in the lazy, hazy, crazy college days of the 70's. The WOW factor had a most definitely different factor than I would attribute to this documentation.

WOW!

Are we the privileged or what?

Thanks to all who have made this happen.

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Later today, Chef Achatz (chefg, here on eGullet) will be starting a few new topics (here in this forum), pertaining to specific areas of Alinea's development. He will also, as time allows, be available to field our follow-up questions on those topics.

Let's do our best to keep our questions focused on the given topics and have some fun. :smile:

=R=

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Jake   

This is really exciting! Thanks so much for letting us all follow along in the process Chef Grant!

(Double thank you to the eG team making this possible.)

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Fat Guy   

Ridiculing the Avant-Garde:

Chef G, it occurs to me, looking at your incredibly ambitious plans for service pieces, which I assume will be echoed in the boldness of every other aspect of Alinea, that a lot of people -- especially media people who see themselves charged with representing average tastes -- are going to think it's all completely ridiculous. And they're likely to rake you over the coals, call you and your restaurant weird and bizarre, and have a lot of fun at your expense.

What can we do here, in terms of explaining what it is you're trying to do, to help preempt some of that kind of anti-creative thinking and behavior? Let's make sure the message of the culinary avant-garde gets out loud and clear. How do you explain yourself to the most jaded, cynical doubter?

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chizzy   

I see chef g indicated that Alinea would have a food lab. I wonder if the lab will have a separate staff, one solely dedicated to the discovery and documenting of new dishes, or will the entire staff be involved in a more freeform creative environment.

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This is not a matter of "how mwny balls can you keep in the air?" This is a matter of how many things can you invent while getting ready to play with them. We at eGullet are extremely fortunate to be able to observe and participate in such a series of projects. Thank you all for the chance to see this from the beginning. The vision and creativity on all sides of the equation is litterly awe inspiring to me. Onlu at eGullet would we have this opportunity. Thanks again

colestove

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Thank you for giving us a ring side seat as Alinea comes into existence.

I wonder if there's been any thought as to putting all this documentation into a book when it's completed. I think this would be a wonderful addition to any library.

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jhlurie   
Ridiculing the Avant-Garde:

Chef G, it occurs to me, looking at your incredibly ambitious plans for service pieces, which I assume will be echoed in the boldness of every other aspect of Alinea, that a lot of people -- especially media people who see themselves charged with representing average tastes -- are going to think it's all completely ridiculous. And they're likely to rake you over the coals, call you and your restaurant weird and bizarre, and have a lot of fun at your expense.

What can we do here, in terms of explaining what it is you're trying to do, to help preempt some of that kind of anti-creative thinking and behavior? Let's make sure the message of the culinary avant-garde gets out loud and clear. How do you explain yourself to the most jaded, cynical doubter?

I have to confess to being one of the people who had some fun at the expense of wd-50 (although I liked much of what I was served), but Chef G's service pieces seem to make a lot more sense to me. His own explanation is that they are "based on function as the priority as opposed to aesthetics". And I think he's right. The fools are the ones who are giving aesthetics such free reign that function gets lost.

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chefg   
How do you explain yourself to the most jaded, cynical doubter?

Without experiencing the consumption of my food with the support of these pieces it is difficult to articulate responses to the questions you posed. Because we are taking about an experience….an altered emotional state that is different with every guest…talking about “it” is unjust. That is my explanation to the doubter.

Chef G, it occurs to me, looking at your incredibly ambitious plans for service pieces, which I assume will be echoed in the boldness of every other aspect of Alinea,
Chef, to what degree do you feel you will need to use more conventional serviceware in conjunction with these new items? Will most/all/some/a few courses utilize the new serviceware? How important is it for you to "cushion" the shock of such newness with some traditional approaches?

This is untrue. Yes we are creating a container that will work in synergy with the cuisine. As of now there are key aspects of the design that will deliver emotional triggers….but our priority is to create a seamless, exciting, comfortable and expressive experience of dining. That being said there are characteristics of the restaurant that will be “normal”. It has been decided that not every element of the restaurant can be new and challenging. When we think of dining at the highest level certain adjectives come to mind…..comfort, beauty, opulence, sophistication, sensuality, and elegance to name a few. In order to achieve these, there are certain sets of parameters that are placed on the design due to the guest’s ideal of these expectations. However we have more creative freedom on the table service. It is on this stage where we will express…the guests meanwhile will be watching from comfortable chairs.

It is not our intention to abandon all “traditional” serviceware. We create the new pieces because existing pieces do not support the cuisine functionally. If Alinea creates a dish that is best suited to a plate than we will pick a piece of china that will support it. At the time we left Trio the average diner would receive 13 courses, of those 5 to 6 would be presented on special serviceware. I expect about the same ratio at Alinea.

I think the cushioning you speak of is the food itself. The antenna held three basic elements: smoked salmon, pineapple and soy sauce; the eye only two…verjus and fresh thyme.. …tripod only one…. frozen hibiscus tea.

…a lot of people -- especially media people who see themselves charged with representing average tastes -- are going to think it's all completely ridiculous. And they're likely to rake you over the coals, call you and your restaurant weird and bizarre, and have a lot of fun at your expense.

What can we do here, in terms of explaining what it is you're trying to do, to help preempt some of that kind of anti-creative thinking and behavior?

For these I ask members of eGullet community that have experienced my cuisine to comment on the effectiveness of the service pieces. How it made them feel and if they thought it was ridiculous. I can’t think of too many media people that have specifically commented on them with the exception of David Shaw in his LA Times feature “I had plenty of room left for the final desserts, including my favorite-which came in a glass tube…You hold the tube upright above your mouth and let the richly flavored and textured mixture slide over your tongue…” As new as these presentation are one thing remains of the highest priority…..the food has to taste good. If we fail as cooks the entire game is lost, it even becomes embarassing, but if we can deliver good tasting food in a way that heightens it’s emotional impact, then we have not only won…..we’ve won big.

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Ridiculing the Avant-Garde:

Chef G, it occurs to me, looking at your incredibly ambitious plans for service pieces, which I assume will be echoed in the boldness of every other aspect of Alinea, that a lot of people -- especially media people who see themselves charged with representing average tastes -- are going to think it's all completely ridiculous. And they're likely to rake you over the coals, call you and your restaurant weird and bizarre, and have a lot of fun at your expense.

What can we do here, in terms of explaining what it is you're trying to do, to help preempt some of that kind of anti-creative thinking and behavior? Let's make sure the message of the culinary avant-garde gets out loud and clear. How do you explain yourself to the most jaded, cynical doubter?

I can see very little that can be done as far as preventing the above mentioned reaction, except letting the critics actually experience it. Alinea may not fit (I don’t believe it is intended to) what could be called the ‘average taste’ as far as restaurant standards go. But that doesn’t mean the reaction to it has to be a negative one. As long as one is willing to relax and let the standards be challenged.

As far as the service pieces go, we are trying to grow on what we learn about food and food service with all its aspects, in a direction that makes sense to us - one that opens a few more doors and perhaps teaches us a little more in return. We aren’t trying to make a gesture just for the sake of being interesting, we’re trying to contemplate and explore the possibilities of food service to increase the impact of the food itself. That should earn us the benefit of the doubt.

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Chef Achatz and the entire Alinea team are in a very opportunistic position: they have a vision of where they want their cuisine and overall dining experience to be and at the same Chef Achatz has already been accepted into the mainstream through his accomplishments at Trio.

We can correlate this to the Beatles back in the 1960's. The Beatles became very popular through their songs "I want to hold your hand" and "Yesterday", but in 1967 they wanted to do something drastically different. The Beatles used their cemented place in the mainstream and created Sgt. Peppers - a very different record than they ever have created up to that point. If the Beatles had not already ascertained their reputation through their earlier work and just started making music in the style of Sgt. Peppers they may not have been adored as much as they were.

I feel the Beatles story relates to what Alinea is attempting to do. Their vision is a bold one - to push the envelope of a dining experience that has been the same for a very long time. Their work is going to be advant-garde, it's going to be different, and it is going to force people to think in ways that they have never done before. Also, from a locality standpoint I believe that it is going to be one of only two restaurants attempting this kind of culinary evolution in Chicago- Moto being the other.

I think Alinea is going turn out to be a restaurant that is going to lead a culinary revolution in the United States and I also believe that their work is going to be widely admired by critics and diners. The critics have already a taste - no pund intended - of Chef Achatz's vision ( a taste that they totally loved showed by all of the recognition that Trio achieved under his reign).

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hsm   

Some of the imaginative and whimsical service pieces just made me smile. Congratulations to the team for their creativity and sensitivity in experimenting to find these unique combinations of new tastes and new ways to present them.

And thank you to everyone involved for this very special window on the entire project.

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