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ronnie_suburban

Inside the Alinea Food Lab

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Chef Achatz developed this dish for this benefit.  It was conceived and prepared by Chef G and the Alinea team in the "lab".

Mr. Kokonas - Thank you for posting the image. This is quite elegant. Did you sample? If so, please describe your experience...

Chef - Regarding the crème b... rather than abandoning the idea, perhaps this format is suitable for presenting other flavors and textures. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for your time.

- CSR

(edited to correct a misspelling; Mr. Kokonas, my apologizes, Sir. -CSR).


Edited by C_Ruark (log)

"There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic." - Bourdain; interviewed on dcist.com

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Mr.  Kokonas - Thank you for posting the image.  This is quite elegant. Did you sample? If so,  please describe your experience...

- CSR

The wonderful thing about presenting food on the antennas is that Chef G is able to craft exactly how the diner will receive the bite.

So the surprise to me and many of the guests that I watched enjoy this dish was this sweet pear component coupled with the fennel-licorice taste up front -- it was the first, prominent taste. Then as the sweetness diminished you were left with a finish of scallop/seafood flavor. It was a well layered taste experience.

I enjoyed more than one... as did many of the guests.


Edited by nick.kokonas (log)

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My first impulse was to abandon the dish. This undoubtedly stems from past accusations that my cuisine is imported directly from el Bulli.

It seems to me that being first or not being first is not really the issue here.

The issue is being known.

Being the "first known" and being the "first" are not the same thing.

How many things have we created that we have been the first to do?

No one knows the answer to that question.

When you are in a position in which the products of your labor are available to and scrutinized by the public, the perception generated by introducing something before another that exists inside the same bubble of perception - will be that of being “first”.

This is actually an illusion.

No doubt that there are elements of your cuisine that are inseparable from that of Adria and Keller as well as others but, like all of us, you are the product of the sum of your experiences and in that way we are all derivative in some ways both directly and indirectly.

This does not make the things that we do any less relevant or individual – else we would have to give up using the same techniques and/or ingredients used by others – which is simply impossible.

Sincere effort that produces worthy results in and of itself is original.

Many do not follow this path.

As the old clichés go:

“Stealing from one person is called Plagiarism, stealing from many is called Research.”

and “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

Only products of deliberate infringement are reprehensible.


Edited by sizzleteeth (log)

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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. This was frustrating and it ultimately lead to more thought on the subject of “being first” and how important that was.

Creativity, originality and evolution are still the driving forces behind what we do.

i was told by my former headchef who worked for the creative team at el bulli in this last season that ferran adria doesn´t read any cookbooks or has a favourite chef or anything else....

This seems a bit weird.

In the El Bulli 98/02 book, Adria not only namechecks quite a few chefs whose food him and his team are inspired by, but tells what food is basically a direct cop from, eg: Michel Bras: # 586:berry fruit cheese with junket( + the savory version of this dish.)

" first. new machines and techniques are essential and you don´t have to be a trained chef anymore which is, in my opinion, a little bit sad. where is the end of this avantgarde "cooking"? eating gels, airs or even just aromas? having the ultimate experience? time will show us...."

Not sure about the trained chef part of this but, Achatz is not only a CIA grad, but certainly put in his time at a few places.

A lot of chefs are learning on the run/


2317/5000

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For nearly the whole of the second page now, the subject is around origionality and more to the point the fear of plagarism.

what is important about any chefs work is the journey taken, and its creative process within ourselves. If we worry too much about being first and binning any ideas that we see, or are told, are similar then full evolution of any dish isn't achieved and then the time wasted and our enthusiasm dampened.

I a couple of years ago heard of Ferrans Air of carrot and thought as many, Wow and went about trying to replicate it using every emulsifying chemical or gelatins I could lay my hands on. The closest I came to was a Carrot angel delight and, enthusiasm dampened, binned the idea. Imagine how sick I was when 10 months later I am lucky enough to see him demonstrate at the royal horseguards hotel in London, how bloody simple it actually is.

My enthusiasm returned I knocked up a special a couple of weeks later using my old Carrot angel delight as a solid sauce.

enough wittering, I wish to congratulate all the chefs involved in this project, all the work I've looked at appears phenomenal, and wish you every success with the developments both purely original and close replications. after all the saying is there is nothing new under the Sun, if you think of it all the new "clever" products we use in cookery are extracts (agar, alginates) or byproducts (gellan gum)

take care and thanks again for the fantastic insights into your creative, not at all mad, scientific culinary brains.

One quick question for anyone please, I'm having difficulty obtaining sensible quantities of Sodium Alginate and Calcium chloride, could someone point me in the right direction.

Alex.


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

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

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i just want to make clear that chefg is a great chef, even if i never tasted one of his dishes. the pictures alone are pleasing my imagination and tastebuds...

being a famous chef is also a lot of pr, interviews and a lot more blablabla...as words are taken like a promise nowadays. if mr. adria mentioned other chefs in his book it doesn´t mean that he changed his attitude at all. he is traveling a lot and his kind of "tortilla" made of milkskin is actually a "yuba" dish from japan. chefg isn´t mr. adria´s caliber yet, because he can do what he wants he always will be compared to ther chefs like adria. maybe he will manage to stand by his own and i wish him all the best. it´s not being the most "unique" chef it´s about the own challenge with yourself...that what cooking is about for me.

anyway this topic is about the foodlab and i just have to say: "keep up the great work chefg". and thank you very much again for sharing your vision.

maybe somebody should start a topic about the pro and contras of molecularkitchen/avantgarde cuisine or whatever you want to call it. it would be a very interesting topic for sure...

vue

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hey alex try here for alginate and this one for calcium chloride.

on another note, we've seen stuff like foams and gels become so commonplace these days that they are present on an immensely wide range of menus. we have foams on the menu where i work, which is NOT a four-star, contemporary restaurant. but it's become just another tool of the trade, like forcemeat, or any of the various standard cuts. my point is, how many "new" techniques and methods are there? please don't misunderstand, i love this sort of thing and wait with bated breath what the future holds, but i feel that eventually stuff like encapsulation using alginate, and sponges, and yes even caramel bubbles will be as commonplace as foams or microwaves or even sauteeing.

just a thought...

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Not to switch subjects, but there is a nice spread in metromix today, more so about the caramel orb, which looks like an incredible vehicle for a number of things, and an interview with chefg.

For anyone who's interested


Patrick Sheerin

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I would go as far as to make the argument that such things are already common place, only that the context is different.

Giant food companies have been doing this kind of thing for years and years yet no one marvels over Cool Whip which other than a few derivatives is almost entirely dairy free, no one marvels over pizza flavored Doritos or meat substitutes like Quorn or other items made from gluten. Walk through your grocery store and look at the forms and ingredients lists of the items sitting on the shelves. Pick up a trade magazine and explore all the companies who make flavorings and engineer food in food labs around the world.

Because these methods are being applied with better ingredients in a different context (i.e. fine dining vs. junk food) does not make them new by any stretch.

Take Sous Vide for instance, this method has been around since before I was born in the early 70’s, consumer vacuum sealers have been available for almost as long – search Ebay and see how many vintage vacuum food sealing products you find.

Also, nearly everyone has been exposed to this method in one form or another (enter boil in a bag rice or any number of commercial products that employ this method), yet because of the context many do not make the connection and the technique seems like something they have never seen before.

Just as “first known” is not the same as “first” – “new to me” is not the same as “new”.

It would be very difficult with the length of the history of cooking, the size of the world and it’s population cooking every day and the limited spectrum of techniques and types of ingredients, to come up with something that is not in part derived from something else either purposely or accidentally.

The context creates the perception and perception is reality – but perceived reality is not necessarily truth.


"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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I would go as far as to make the argument that such things are already common place, only that the context is different.

Giant food companies have been doing this kind of thing for years and years yet no one marvels

Yeah did you know that pimentos from the center of cocktail olives are made using the sodium alginate/calcium chloride method?

Funny. huh?


Edited by Bicycle Lee (log)

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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This has been an interesting discussion. I would like to add a few thoughts. Novelty for its own sake is shallow and soon becomes worthless. What makes food like Chef Achatz' and Adria's and others interesting and great is not nor should it be that the food is only novel or original. That may be necessary for "greatness", but it most certainly is not sufficient. It must also be delicious and beautiful IMO to be considered creatively "great". This does nothing to diminish the work of someone less conceptually creative who is able to produce stellar food from within a tradition, but that is another discussion. What separates this kind of cooking for me is the sense of imagination, whimsy and playfullness that takes cuisine beyond a mere sensual experience and into an intellectual one as well. It is the succesful marriage of the sensual and the intellectual that defines the greatest and most unique dining experiences for me.


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

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Ultimately the taste will rule the day. all the tricks in the world are useless unless whatever food you are producing tastes fantastic, one of the first things I learned as a commis was that presentation only encouraged the first bite, and the flavour made you eat the rest.

I know that many of the chef Grant and Adrias etc food is only one bite however if one of them is a dud then it is almost impossible to regain that guests trust for the rest of the meal.

not that we should produce food that is so middle of the road it straddles the lines, however if something is perfectly executed then if someone doesn't like a particular product/flavour then they will accept it and move on eagerly to one they do like.

Itching to get to Chicago, as you can see the journey is a bit longer for me than others posting, but hopefully I will blag a "business trip" early in the new year.

can't wait.


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

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

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This has been an interesting discussion. I would like to add a few thoughts. Novelty for its own sake is shallow and soon becomes worthless. What makes food like Chef Achatz' and Adria's and others interesting and great is not nor should it be that the food is only novel or original. That may be necessary for "greatness", but it most certainly is not sufficient. It must also be delicious and beautiful IMO to be considered creatively "great". This does nothing to diminish the work of someone less conceptually creative who is able to produce stellar food from within a tradition, but that is another discussion. What separates this kind of cooking for me is the sense of imagination, whimsy and playfullness that takes cuisine beyond a mere sensual experience and into an intellectual one as well. It is the succesful marriage of the sensual and the intellectual that defines the greatest and most unique dining experiences for me.

True, food must taste great. I believe Chef Achatzs language of gastronomy is some of the most delicious food I have ever had. This is essential for repeat diners and Chef has many. I believe when someone REALLY commits to the basic fundamentals.....

a) delicious, well defined flavor structure that is desirable

b) forgetting everything else you know

.....you can end up with tasteful combinations that conventional preparations arent tapping into.

Sensualness and the intellectualization of consumption are equals and soon, one can no longer exist without the other. The "tricks" are guiding us into a world we have only begun to understand.


Edited by inventolux (log)

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Fascinating Thread. I echo the others who are in awe.

The caramel bulb problem reminded me of a school trip to the fornace on the island of Murano years ago where artisans made colorful glass vases and objets d'art. They said the kilns where they melted blobs of glass at the end of long tubes hadn't been extinguished since the war.

Is it too far a stretch to imagine a miniature kiln where blobs of caramel are heated, spun and "blown" into shapes of the chefs whim, and nipped by tiny pincers to form handles or flourishes? The balloons formed a perfect orb, but this technique, expensive I'll admit, offers alternative shapes.

My humble respect to all at the lab

Johnnyd


"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

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I still want to know how the caramel orbs were formed around the balloons. Popped balloons and burnt fingers, and then it worked somehow. Maybe just a hint...

Isomalt? Caramel temperature?


If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

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Last year at a chefs conference in sheffield we had the closing dinner which consisted of a peach sorbet intermediate course, Willie pike made these by blowing sugar and indenting it to look exactly like a peach.

eh showed how he made them during a demo earlier in the day. Then filling it with the peach sorbet and a schnapps granita. looked and tasted great but a bit blooming laborious for 330 guests, christ knows how long he and his team took to make them.


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

but not so, spending my time playing not working

www.e-senses.co.uk

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Have you considerend making some sort of savory dish into a long, hard, skinny shell? sort of like a taquito, but perhaps out of a hard and crunchy shell (flakey?) fill it with just about anything and stand it up either straight or at a diagonal. you could do dungeoness crab, shredded apricot, and peanut or veal, truffle, mushroom, and bamboo, or any such crazy combination. I think, properly done, could be a medium all its own (like a carpaccio or fajita)

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Reading all the posts there seems to be several classic personalities. There is the young chef reading and hoping to get a secret clue so they can go back to their kitchens in smalltown, USA and wow all their foodie friends and adventurous customers with new tricks while distancing their bread and butter customers. And there is the group who don't cook professionally, but love new and interesting food and thought. I applaud any new, or shall we say, avant garde thought whether it is in music, art, food, architecture, etc, but I get this eerie feeling when I read about the 'food lab'. Like I've read about it before, in a book, published two years ago. I hope Chefg and staff continue to document gram by gram their research, with pictures, notes and commentary, but I would rather them do it behind closed doors. With all the reality shows thrown in our faces, you can't help notice the pandering to the camera. I think better and more original work can be done in private. Then published later.

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(...) I applaud any new, or shall we say, avant garde thought whether it is in music, art, food, architecture, etc, but I get this eerie feeling when I read about the 'food lab'.  Like I've read about it before, in a book, published two years ago.  I hope Chefg and staff continue to document gram by gram their research, with pictures, notes and commentary, but I would rather them do it behind closed doors.  With all the reality shows thrown in our faces, you can't help notice the pandering to the camera.  I think better and more original work can be done in private.  Then published later.

speidec, you appear to have quite the opposite reaction to mine. I think that this very public exposure of the development process is very valuable (not to mention unique). Sure, there are chefs such as Adrià who's every move is subject to close scrutiny and speculation (see here for example). This forum has provided us with an intimate view of the whole process, well before the restaurant has opened for business.

ChefG may be a bit too thin-skinned regarding the whole originality issue, so perhaps he's trying to inoculate himself against charges of being derivative. I say to hell with the whole Caramel Light-bulb thing! Not to mention the it's-been-done-in-Spain thing....

Creative chefs should be allowed to explore similar territory without worrying about "who was first?" - sizzleteeth summed it up nicely in a previous post. This ain't no "reality show", it's a fascinating window into the creative process.

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I love the fact the entire process is being recorded in detail and there should be no worry of 'who did it first', but I feel Grant really blossomed at Trio and made his mark without the 'pressure' of an informational outlet hovering over his back, watching and reporting every move, failure, and success. Don't get me wrong, its great entertainment and I am as fascinated by the work as anyone else. I only hope Grant feels he can create to his fullest potential while under the microscope.

The boys at elBulli only went public after many years of trial and error. This is similiar to the private space race recently chronicled on the Discovery Channel. The entire process was filmed and documented, but not released until much later.

Trust me I know what everyone is thinking, but my fear is peoples' best work is not always captured on film as it happens. I do understand this is Chefg's wont. And I merely speak on behalf of opinion.

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I suppose there is the question of the intentions of the suppliers of the information - is it truly to provide insight into the process... or is it a viral marketing tactic? Are successes and failures truly represented in the documentation?

In many cases not being able to see behind the veil is the very thing that protects people of any craft, it is the practice of artists especially, generally, to only show you successes – you never see the ratio or nature of the failures – you never see the bad photos on the roll of film... the failed painting.

You never see that the amount of money given by someone to charity is the exact ratio to work the tax angles to actually keep as much money as possible... while garnering plaudits from the public for being philanthropic.

If you could see inside the bubble of perception that is supported by and protects the people inside the bubble, YOUR perception may be much different – in other words if one could see the truth one may not think what one thinks.

The caveat being that “seeing inside the bubble” in these days is also a tactic that is manipulated by the presenter so that you see exactly what they want you to see – the only way to really see what is going on is to have it documented and presented by an impartial third party.

Be wary of anyone who offers to show you the truth about them… because they are the most likely to be biased and provide select information… this is true of everyone, including myself.

There is often a large variance between the truth and the “whole truth”.

The “whole truth” is often shielded from your eyes – a partial, manipulated truth offered in its place.

It is brave of anyone to offer a candid look into something as they bring it into existence or even after it exists – the difference here being that, on a reality show, the participants do not have control of the camera – but the producers and cameramen still manipulate your perception.

There are many levels of granularity to consider in assessing something like this, which brings me back to my first point – do you know the true intentions of the suppliers of the information?

Without that piece of information, an accurate assessment cannot take place, and how do you get that piece? Is it even possible?

“Do words agree with actions? – There is your measure of reliability.”


Edited by sizzleteeth (log)

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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Also remember that Chefg was ASKED to document the evolution of his restaurant by the folks at egullet.com. He kindly obliged for not only the benefit of egullet's members, but for advertisment, hype, and insight to his restaurant.

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Also remember that Chefg was ASKED to document the evolution of his restaurant by the folks at egullet.com.  He kindly obliged for not only the benefit of egullet's members, but for advertisment, hype, and insight to his restaurant.

And even before that it was chefg who approached us, volunteering to answer our questions.

=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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      e. meat
      Now that we had more space, and the ability to give each station multiple heat
      sources regardless of their location in the kitchen, we could spread the workload even further. We also realized it doesn’t make much sense to identify each station by classic French Bragade terms. A saucier did not solely cook meat with classic techniques and prepare various traditional stocks and sauces…in fact quite the opposite. This holds true with most of the stations, with the exception of pastry, but even they will have very unconventional techniques, menu placement and involvement in the kitchen systems. We will add a station that will be responsible for a large majority of the one-bite courses both sweet and savory.
      5.Given the size constraints of the building we realized a walk-in would not be possible in the kitchen. If we were to have one it would be in the basement. Having experienced this at Trio we decided to design the kitchen without a walk-in, making up for the space in various lowboy locations and a three-door reach-in. I experienced the walk-in less environment when I worked at Charlie Trotter’s. It is certainly different, but as with most things if done properly it provides a very efficient environment. It works best in situations where fresh products are brought in daily for that days use. And prevents ordering in large quantities. It also provides us with very specific units to house different items. We will utilize the 3-door refrigerator to store the majority of the vegetables and herbs along with some staple mise en place, and items that cannot be made in very small quantities like stocks. Raw meat will have it’s own lowboys as well as fish, dairy, and all frozen products.
      6. At Trio we found ourselves using the salamander a great deal. It is very useful for melting sugar, bringing on transparent qualities in things like fat and cheese, cooking items intensely on only one side, and it is a highly controllable non-direct heat source. Due to the air gap between the foodstuff and the heat elements the cook can control the degree of heat applied to the dish based on the technique he is using. It becomes a very versatile tool in the modern kitchen, so much so that we will install three Sodir infrared salamanders.

      Again, this is to insure that all the cooks have access to all of the techniques in the kitchen. As I said before it is important for our cooks to be able to sauté, simmer, poach, fry, grill, salamander, and freeze at the same time and sometimes for the same dish.
      We have a few unusual pieces of equipment in the kitchen; the most is probably a centrifuge. A few months ago Nick and I were driving home from a design meeting and ended up talking about signature dishes and menu repetition. Of course the black truffle explosion came up and he asked if I would have it on the menu at Alinea. I replied a firm no, but shortly thereafter said I would enjoy updating it. We threw around some tongue and cheek ideas like White Truffle Implosion, and Truffle Explosion 2005….I said it was a goal of mine to make a frozen ball with a liquid center….but then dismissed it as nearly impossible. Within a few minutes he said …”I got it…we need a centrifuge” His explanation was simple, place the desired liquid in a spherical mold and place on the centrifuge…place the whole thing in the freezer. Within days he had one in the test kitchen. I guess this is better suited for the kitchen lab topic that we will be starting in a few weeks…
      We are working on a upload of the kitchen blueprints. When those post I plan on going into more detail about certian aspects of the design. Doing so now would be pointless as the viewer does not have a reference point.
    • By ronnie_suburban
      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
    • By chefg
      In November of 2002 I decided to pursue the development of service ware to support the cuisine we were producing. This process was initiated by one dish; we wanted to present a frozen sucker of unusual flavors. The making of the actual dish seemed easy…basically pick a flavor. But finding the appropriate holder proved very difficult. It was this difficulty that forced us to entertain the thought of building are own.
      I contacted over 30 designers via email explaining my desire to produce service pieces based on function as the priority as opposed to aesthetics. Pieces would be built around the food, supporting the dish based on its characteristics. Of the 30 designers I contacted only one replied, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail. We bounced emails back and forth for a period of time, as we got to know each other’s desire to be involved in this collaboration the process developed into more than just a holder for a frozen sucker.
      As you can see




      Martin proposed several solutions before we settled on the final form. He suggested that the sphere of ice had enough strength to support three pivoting legs.

      The legs would become the holder, and when squeezed they would collapse to form the utensil from which the pop would be eaten.

      We realized that the service of food has remained basically the same for the last 200 years. Looking at how cuisine had developed in the last ten years it became obvious that the need to support the food functionally and emotionally was crucial to the success of the cuisine itself. The involvement of the serving pieces and actual eating utensils plays an enormous role in the emotions that guests can experience while dining. The pieces can add humor, surprise, intrigue, excitement and even a sense of intimidation to the meal. When these emotions are triggered, it leaves a very personal stamp on the experience based on the individual’s reactions. I realized the synergy of food and the serving pieces helps the chef convey the message to the guest. A personalized emotional experience is created, solidifying a meal into a form of art.
      As food has advanced in technique it has at times become more difficult to serve. For example we wanted to create palate cleanser that was a single bite of intensely flavored ice. I wanted the food to quickly melt on the palate as opposed to the normal sorbet course. We created an ice chip the size of a half dollar and about 3 mm thick. This rapid dissolving is the essence of a palate cleanser…if its purpose is to refresh do you really want multiple bites? One bite…an intense clearing that lacks time and monotony is what we decided this course should be. The problem was finding something that we could serve this very thin ice chip on. This led to the creation of the eye.


      Of course sight is essential to conveying emotion and in all of the pieces developed we look at the aesthetic value. But in some cases the final form is very dramatic. This is the case of the squid.

      Upon the creation of the Tempura Shrimp cranberry, preserved lemon, vanilla fragrance we found it necessary to present the composition in an upright position. This would give the guest a visual cue as to how to eat the dish, lowering the end into their mouth while keeping the vanilla bean vertical. Since the dish was tempura fried it was necessary to provide air circulation to avoid steam from softening the exterior. All of these attributes lead to the design of a very dramatic piece that executes the function but also adds a high level of visual appeal.

      During the course of developing these pieces we made conscious efforts to create pieces that would change the mechanics of eating. The repetition of lifting a piece of silverware to ones mouth seemed unnecessary in some cases, and this thought lead Martin to the antenna concept.

      The goal was to eliminate the need for a plate and utensils with the exception of the skewer itself. It becomes the only vehicle in the process of preparation, serving, and consumption of the course. Additionally it controls the way the three different components of the dish hit the palate due to their position on the skewer.


      This helps us achieve complexity in flavor and texture.
      After several discussions about serving pieces and what we were trying to achieve, Martin approached me with a concept that involved hiding the food.



      This had been done before; we have all experience the dramatic lifting of a cloche…revealing the food underneath. But what about taking that a step further? Hold the surprise of what was “underneath” until it was on the guest’s palate. We have been working on the pouch since March.

      This service piece could help us provide a great sense of excitement and intrigue when a given course is served. This concept has not yet been completed. As you can see we started with a few approaches and it has evolved into something quite different.




      The bow was designed specifically to hang foodstuffs that had characteristics of lightness, motion, and delicacy. Rather than lie a thinly sliced piece of cured duck breast or a piece of savory vegetable leather on a plate, we could give the food dimension.... and encourage movement by creating a piece that swayed slightly when transported and placed on the table.

      It has become quite typical in high-end restaurants to serve small bites on spoons propped up on folded napkins. I wanted to create a plate that would support the spoon from the bowl not the handle. When Martin presented me with images of the antiplate I knew it was perfect. The simplicity and scale of the piece draws attention to the food and at the same time makes it very easy for the guest to pick up the utensil. I am going to hold this image back for a period, we will insert it later.
      We have more pieces in development, as they mature I will add them to this thread.
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