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chefg

Alinea Serviceware

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That was my point. The El Bulli tableware seems to be "grounded" in that the foods rest on stones and containers of various sorts. The Alinea tableware seems more airborne. But a design expert would make a better comparison.

A follow-up question, if I may. Even with traditional tableware, it's not difficult (for me at least) to end up with food or sauce on my shirt front, or at least on my napkin or the tablecloth. The new Alinea tableware looks as though it would make spills even easier. Will the tables have white tablecloths? Has the likelihood of customers spilling food or sauce been factored into the overall design?


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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This speaks to my most primal fear about Fine Dining, which is that it will be like a hushed gallery where no exuberance (and God forbid, laughing out loud) is allowed. "Allowed" is the wrong word.

tanabutler, I certainly can't address the more theoretical portions of your question, but I can address this (hee, especially since I was the lush confronted by Fish Spiked On A Wire). I've dined at Trio a couple of times, and at no time did it suffer from what my husband calls the Temple of Food Syndrome. The captain for our table went to great lengths to not only tell us what was in the dish (and, in some cases, the thinking behind it) but also warn us how to eat it so as not to send hot molten cheese rocketing across the table. Each time I've been, someone at the table has biffed something- a glass sloshed, a roll shot across the room when trying to butter it, something- and each time it's been handled in one of two ways: silently correcting the problem with a smile, or good humour. In the case of the roll, the captain came by and murmured, "Bread products at 20 paces, madame? Arm yourself!" as our bread was restocked.

Had it been handled in an icy manner- which I've had happen some places (I'm looking at you, Everest)- it would have put quite the damper on the evening. I have to admit, the service pieces at Trio did occasionally snap me out of the 'I'm havin a great time!' mindset and into 'How the heck am I supposed to eat this, despite the detailed instructions'. Probably the single worst one was the glass tube filled with flavors which was shot out as a little 'extra' the last time I was there. My mother and I began laughing as we were instructed to 'suck' on the tube. No one batted an eyelash that there were two women having a good time. The young waiter, though, when he overheard bits of our conversation blushed an amusing shade of scarlet. I think the risk of 'Temple of Food Syndrome' depends on the restaurant- the aforementioned Everest was very icy towards any hint of exuberance. Trio and Fleur de Lys were quite the opposite.


What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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This is beyond serviceware -- this has become Modern Art. I'd like to predict that before long (perhaps before service begins), these pieces will be gobbled up by a Modern Art Museum and I still had curator contacts in that industry, I would heartily encourage them to snatch them up for an exhibit asap.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

:wink:

There's a thought, actually. I'd love to see an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art -- or, better yet, the Art Institute of Chicago (particularly because of its attached school! Imagine how tables might look and meals might taste after a couple of generations of design students absorb this kind of thinking as part of their primary training!) -- that documents the evolution of this interaction between what we eat and how we eat it all, and why we want to eat it.

Enjoying this thread immensely!

:cool:


Me, I vote for the joyride every time.

-- 2/19/2004

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I have been lurking in this forum with some interest. Notice I said some... not a lot. It is just that this style of dining has never appealed to me. Just not my thing. I visit Chicago a couple of times a year and have never been interested in visiting Trio.

I think I am changing my pre-conceptions. The sense of fun that some of the posts have described certainly appeal to me. The pictures of the serviceware is what caught me. Besides being beautiful, they look like fun.

Hmmm... Who says art can't be fun? I am remembering seeing my first Salvador Dali paintings when I was young. I thought they were hilarious. Limp watches still make me giggle.

Food and toys. God, I love toys. Now, I am interested. :biggrin:


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Here is a link to Robert Brown's photo-essay on the "taller" (= studio, atelier) of Ferran Adrià, with some examples of the el Bulli group's tableware.

I hadn't seen that before: it's wonderful reading.

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That was my point. The El Bulli tableware seems to be "grounded" in that the foods rest on stones and containers of various sorts. The Alinea tableware seems more airborne. But a design expert would make a better comparison.

Perhaps it's a bit cheesy, but I could see a meal (and accompanying serviceware) designed around the four elements--earth, air, water and fire. Somebody has probably already tried it, minus the appropriate serviceware.


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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I ate such a meal a few years ago -- designed around "the elements" and sight, sound etc. -- at L'Auberge Du Soleil in Napa Valley. Not all of the dishes presented were in that theme, but they were going in that direction and it was pointed out to us.

The design of these service pieces is very different conceptually from that. Most often, Chef Achatz has a particular course that is ill suited for traditional serviceware -- or could be presented more effectively through non-conventional means. That leads to the creation of the service piece.... not the other way around.

As Chef Achatz said in his post, if the food does not taste good -- in fact, taste excellent -- then the process degenerates to mere showboating or gimickry. The diner is left thinking that someone is trying to be clever. That in turn, leads to the type of cynicism that Fat Guy warns about. And in that case, I think it is justified.

I think the critical distinction here is one that Martin pointed out on another thread -- "We aren’t trying to make a gesture just for the sake of being interesting" -- it must contribute to the food that is being presented.

In all aspects of the Alinea design that thought is being kept in the fore.

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I greatly admire these designs, am utterly fascinated in fact, but not as much from an artistic POV but from the "human factors" perspective. The serveware you are developing is a perfect example of a problem (how do I make sure that diners experience food in the way that enhances their experience) leading to a solution, rather than a solution (hey, I made this cool-looking thing, let's see what kind of food we can serve with it!) in search of a problem.

I have worked with industrial designers who were too artistic to be practical, and with designers who were too practical and ignored the "experience" aspect of their designs. This seems to strike a critical balance between the two.

I hope to find myself in Chicago so that I can try it for myself!

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Here is a link to Robert Brown's photo-essay on the "taller" (= studio, atelier) of Ferran Adrià, with some examples of the el Bulli group's tableware. The comparisons are interesting.

I was waiting for the Adria reference. Where is Jinmyo?


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I ate at Chef Grant's Trio fairly recently. The experience was a profound one. For me, it was virtually impossible to separate the food from the serviceware, at least in terms of how I remember the dishes I had.

As many others have mentioned, there is nothing concocted about these pieces. They are organic extensions of the food itself. Here is an example:

Several ingredients are placed in a glass tube and the diner is instructed to 'suck' one end of that tube. There are many factors at work...

1) The entire dish, in all its intricate detail, is visible in the glass tube. It looks like nothing the diner has ever seen before.

2) The components are placed in that tube in a specific order, so that their respective flavors and textures are experienced in that specific order.

3) There is a known (range of) speed at which the components of the dish will enter the diner's mouth. The procession is not random, it's calculated to deliver a sequence of known (to the chef) sensations at specific intervals.

4) The dish, served in this specific way, allows the diner to experience a combination of flavors, aromas, textures and temperatures in a completely new way.

5) The entire process of eating this dish takes the diner to new territory. New combinations are discovered. Familiar ones are redefined. An emotional experience is elicited.

This is just an analysis of one dish. Multiply it out by ~25+ dishes, a dozen or more specifically-paired wines and 5 hours and you begin to understand not only how important the serviceware is to Chef Grant's food but also how completely inseparable they are.

It's also worth mentioning that, at Trio at least (and I'd bet Alinea will be the same in this regard), the staff was incredibly friendly, helpful and disarming. We had fun. Everyone at the restaurant encouraged us to have fun. Before our meal, we were told to 'enjoy the ride.' We did. :smile:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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A follow-up question, if I may.  Even with traditional tableware, it's not difficult (for me at least) to end up with food or sauce on my shirt front, or at least on my napkin or the tablecloth.  The new Alinea tableware looks as though it would make spills even easier. Will the tables have white tablecloths? Has the likelihood of customers spilling food or sauce been factored into the overall design?

I think that one might sometimes end up with stains on a shirt not despite but because of using traditional tableware. That was a factor in working on the projects when we had specific dishes to be presented and it was my responsibility to make them at least as safe as traditional tableware.

Later it evolved into a more conceptual approach where we look at a serving concept and both, each our own way, work to address it. I might be fooling myself but I would like to believe that because both the design and the food were developed sort of simultaneously (each with the other in mind), they should be fairly compatible.

I guess people who have experienced food on these utencils would be more qualified to comment on the funcionality.

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My wife spends all day, everyday, surrounded by fine art and artists and then comes home and creates her own. I don't even pretend to understand half of what she does or says with or about art, but I emailed her this thread and I thought that her response was pretty interesting (probably makes more sense to some of you, as you no doubt have a better understanding of this stuff than I)

Mrs. Mayhaw 8/27/04

I really like the idea of carrying the art of food to an even more elevated level that involves more senses.  Of course

chefs have been squiggling colored sauces around the plates for a while as well as molding high and with artistic flair.

But these "sculptural" utensils and serving pieces take it into an area that is as different as 2-d paintings are to the best

3-d sculpture.  You can't compare the two, really.  They affect you in different ways. 

Martin Puryear, I think, would be a influence on these designs. 


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

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

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I wanted to show this to my artist/design junkie wife, but I just get "image not found." :sad: They were there before!


“What is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Step away from the computer for a few days (ok I've been in and out) and see what I've missed! This is an extremely exciting and fascinating project.

While some references to Ferran Adria were made upthread and there are some obvious similarities at least in approach, such as the concept of taller or laboratory, ChefG, you seemed to want to distance yourself from that (at least as far as the serviceware). Is that in fact the case and if so, why?


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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While some references to Ferran Adria were made upthread and there are some obvious similarities at least in approach, such as the concept of taller or laboratory, ChefG, you seemed to want to distance yourself from that (at least as far as the serviceware). Is that in fact the case and if so, why?

I have great respect for Ferran Adria and think what he has done for the world of gastronomy is unprecedented. I feel Alinea will have a unique voice in gastronomic circles as well, but only if we express our own style. The serviceware is the first view of that, and I suspect many of the other facets of Alinea will follow. It is not a conscious effort to run in the opposite direction of the el Bulli team as much as it is a natural course to execute our own vision.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Thank you Chef for the response. I will say that El Bulli and now Alinea are the two restaurants in the world that I haven't yet dined at that I most wish to. I would love to be able to directly compare for myself their similarities and differences :cool:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This past Thursday Alinea served the public for the first time. We participated in the Harvest Moon Fundraiser event held at the Crate and Barrel headquarters in Northbrook, IL. Proceeds benefited Children’s Memorial Hospital.

In most cases chefs view the situations where they must leave the comfort of their kitchens and feed large amounts of people at a rapid pace to be somewhat less than desirable. I used to be one of those chefs. Losing control over the cooking of the products and presenting food on lesser-quality plateware are not things we are used to. People walking around with a wine glass in one hand, and your dish in the other--while trying to figure out a way to eat it--seemed very removed from the setting that we try to create. Now, we see this setting as an opportunity to develop a new style of service, one that is everything we strive for at the restaurant but presented on a larger scale. The things I viewed as drawbacks suddenly became acceptable challenges.

Martin and I first began to talk about the possibilities about one year ago. He liked the idea of a piece engaging a large number of people at one time. We did a few events while at Trio where we tried to break from the norm of passing out plates. A couple of years ago we balanced forks containing grapefruit cells and grated black truffle on a beam so the guests could just pluck the fork and consume the dish. For the Jean Banchet awards last year, we did the Virtual Shrimp Cocktail in atomizers; 500 of them pushed into crushed ice.

The intent here was to develop a piece that would engage a very large group. Due to the fact the people are walking around at these events, the situation lacks the containing focus and security of the tabletop. The interaction of people becomes a very exciting part of the experience. For this reason our first priority was to create a piece that could serve several people at one time. Twenty people eating within 8 feet of each other was not a typical environment, and that was the point. We could capture the energy that made these events special instead of fighting it.

mass_antenna_2.jpg

This is a variation of the antenna concept that Martin developed while I was at Trio. As you can see the food composition is about 66 inches from the floor. We wanted the food to be as close to eye level as possible. In this case Nantucket Bay Scallops with roasted pear, olive oil and licorice. Basically, the wire holding the food pivots downward to adjust to the guest’s mouth level. At that point it is consumed directly off the wire. The wire is then removed, discarded and reloaded with a fresh foodstuff for the next guest. As with all of Martin’s work the piece became very sculptural in appearance. It is hard to imagine the piece without the food and the food without the piece. The overall response was very positive.

mass_antenna_3.jpg

On November 16th we will use this piece at the Food and Wine Magazine - MCA event. The food composition will change to Crunchy Strawberry – Foie Gras- Licorice.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Thank you, chefg, for posting the explinations of some of your original serving vessels. It will help to be familiarized before going in to eat at Alinea (when the time comes)! I especially like the "hidden food" container. Have there been any new developments concerning the serviceware?

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Thank you, chefg, for posting the explinations of some of your original serving vessels.  It will help to be familiarized before going in to eat at Alinea (when the time comes)!  I especially like the "hidden food" container.  Have there been any new developments concerning the serviceware?

Yes, there have been several further developments in the serviceware concepts. At this point Martin is in the midsts of developing around 20 concepts for the restaurant. Some of those have already been shown here, but most are still in the concept phase. We will do our best to prevue them when they become available.


--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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The serviceware is really amazing, very original. My question -- from most of the photos it seems the consumables are perched rather precariously on the serviceware. Are you worried about the waitstaff being able to transport the items from the kitchen to the tables in one piece?

john


John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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When I ate at Trio, the food was actually skewered on. I think the skewers have a clever little elbow bend on them to prevent the food from sliding down, although I could be wrong. My skewer was green apple, toro and soy foam, with some crunchy bits on top. :wub:

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hi- first time poster

I do some art on the side, and i have to say those are the most original pieces of serviceware i have ever seen. bravo.

Have you considered hanging your peanut butter and jelly (from the food lab thread) from a psuedo-bananna hanger? perhaps a half-inch thick gentle curve from a dome base that would top off in a curl and a clip of some sort that would allow the grapes to be pulled off individually? It would probably be easier to peel the grapes individually than on the vine, so it could be a possibility to create a faux grape stem that would look like a bunch of grapes when the individual grapes are stuck onto the apparatus. There is a good chance that that could save a bunch of production time, athough the effect may not be the same.

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Somehow I'd like to see chefg and Adria and Blumenthal and Dufresne and Keller hook up with this guy for some seriously innovative serveware.

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      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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