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ronnie_suburban

Chef Grant Achatz: An Alinea Overnight Update

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Hi All,

Grant Achatz, chef and owner of Alinea has graciously agreed to answer a few of our questions. He'll log-in for several hours tomorrow evening and try to field as many questions as possible. Between now and then, please feel free to post your questions here. Again, he may not be able to get to all of them but if you've got something you'd like to ask chefg, now's your chance.

Thanks and let those questions roll.

=R=

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hi chef achatz.

thanks for taking time to answer our questions! here are a few:

1. while i enjoyed my experience at alinea (late july, 2005), i have to say the most memorable part of the meal was a blackberry on a bed of tobacco cream garnished with a bee balm blossom, thai pea shoot and peppercorn salt - which was horrid on my palate. :blush: You can see it here (although i doubt you've forgotten). i don't know if it was the tobacco cream or the bee balm blossom, but something effected a bitter-stinging sensation on my tongue. do you know which ingredient it might be that might have provoked such a physiological reaction? i don't smoke, but i've had tobacco infused desserts before, and never had any reaction like the one i had with your creation. with all sincerity, what was the impetus/motivation behind this course?

2. i was actually thinking about this one in the shower - it's so serendipitous that i'm getting a chance to ask you directly! one of my favorite experiences on your menu was the braised pistachios that came with the braised-fried north dakota bison. similarly, i found your braised sunflowers equally divine. what liquid/oil did you braise these seeds/nuts in? at what temperature? for how long?

[edited to add]: 3. what has been your favorite creation (based on personal tastes)? why? can you prepare if for me on my next visit? (i hope it's not the tobacco cream! :laugh:)

thanks! i've got a ton of other questions, but don't want to hog your time.

ulterior epicure.


Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

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Chef Achatz,

I feel like it's hardly worth it to praise your restaurant any further, but I will anyway. It's truly spectacular in every sense of the word.

I have a few somewhat related questions.

As a young chef who is undeniably shaping the future of American fine dining, what is your opinion of high-end restaurant groups? My experience is predominantly in New York City dining, but I was wondering your opinion of firms like Union Square Hospitality, Jean Georges Enterprises, or Starr Restaurant Organization. Do multi-concept restaurant groups have a legitimate place in the future of American fine dining or will explicitly chef-driven establishments dominate the development of American fine dining?

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Chef:

Thanks for all of the time you have spent with us, especially during the planning phases of Alinea.

Your restaurant has been open for a few months now. I'd love to hear what has surprised you, what you would have done differently, and has worked beyond your expectations. How is it working in the space you have, with the staff and equipment you have had? Has the design of the physical space and the accoutrements (dishes, equipment, etc.) had any bearing on the menu?

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Chef Achatz,

Where do you get your inspiration for your plates and how many ideas do you try for every one that makes it to your menu?

What is the most challenging idea that you have had that you have made work?

What has challenged you that so far you haven't brought to fruition, but remains gnawing at your creative soul?

What can we expect from you and Alinea in the future?

Thanks for your time and creativity and best wishes for much, much more of both!

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Dear Chef Achatz,

What about the flops? I enjoyed my last visit to Alinea immensely (and am eager for my next visit!) but the last course, a wafer of dried tarragon something-or-other ("Eet ees vafehrr theen!" we joked with the servers, and one did a spot-on impersonation right back at us), was not to my liking at all, and about three of my dinner companions agreed that it was, well, too tarragon-ny.

How frequently do you rotate in-and-out dishes that don't prove to be successful?

Thanks,

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

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Chef,

First of all, congratulations on the early success at Alinea.

My question is, on the off chance you are not at the restaurant, what do you like to cook for yourself and/or others on your own time? I'm sure your home kitchen cabinets aren't full of anti-plates and antennae.

Also, what are some of the other restaurants in the Chicago-area that you think are putting out great food right now?

Thanks for your time.


Edited by jesteinf (log)

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How frequently do you rotate in-and-out dishes that don't prove to be successful?

Thanks,

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

don brings up a good point - how do you get a "read" on your diners' experiences? do you find that most (or enough) clients are open and responsive enough during the meals for your staff to pick up on winners/losers among the courses?

u.e.

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When do you decide a dish is done? Looking back at some of the dishes that has been served, not every one of them is the same. Perhaps a few minor changes/tweaks in the preparation, ingredient selection, presentation, portion serving, etc. What defines making these subtle changes? On a couple occasions you came out of the kitchen to observe the diners reactions. Is it from this that you alter the dish to conform to the diners likes/dislikes. When do you pull off the dish from the menu? Some items last a week or two, and others last a couple/few months.

Any plans on opening a restaurant in Las Vegas?

If the idea of creating a dining experience is to be ever evolving and constantly in motion - always a new train of thought - then would the interior also take upon the same relationship. Perhaps the LED lights with their infinite color selection is one solution.

Any plans on publishing a book?

How much has technological advances in the cooking industry (or any industry) influenced your creativity? This question ranges from food preparation, presentation, diner experience, etc.

How about television? Iron Chef America?


Edited by yellow truffle (log)

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Greetings Grant,

I still have fond memories of my virtual NY style hot dog. Ever thought about a cheesesteak? Or scrapple? A taste of home for a visiting Philly lad.

I've always appreciated your whimsical side. Brings a smile or two to the meal amidst the wows.

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Another question, Grant, if you will.

Where do you find the time to continue to be so creative and still manage to do such a great job nightly at Alinea? What do you do to recharge your batteries?

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chefg

Now that you have a restaurant, is this the main focus. What I mean to ask is, will there be other events outside of Alinea? Prior to having a physical space you showcased some of your concepts at the MCA Chicago, late 2004. It was enjoyable to get a preview/taste of the food and fun to interact with the never before seen serviceware (antenna). Perhaps it might be interesting to showcase a few more never before seen concepts to the masses at other such events.

Back in The Alinea Project, there was a discussion (or lack there of) on the architecture of Alinea. Would you care to talk about the overall concept? How about sharing some insight towards some of the design details. And what made you decide upon certain material selections?

And while we are at it, wines.

Trio was in the past, as was the Black Truffle Explosion. Alinea is "the beginning of a new train of thought." How strongly will you abide by this philosophy. The question is, would we see the return of some of your more successful dishes at (but not limited to) Alinea in the near future? Would there be a reappearance of the bacon?

How about that dried crème brulee. Is it really lost. Never to be found again.

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Chef,

You certainly have your critics (many who've never dined at Alinea). But now, in light of Alinea's early success and a plethora of positive reviews, do you feel vindicated? Do your critics have an impact on what you do? Do they motivate you?

What has been the biggest surprise for you at Alinea?

What's been your favorite Alinea dish thus far?

I too would love to know which other chefs in town you admire and what you typically cook in non-professional venues.

Thanks,

=R=

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After an outstanding mealin November at Alinea and a tour of the kitchen, the food was very inspirational. When is the cookbook going to be published?

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Chef,

How closely have you stuck to your "plan" from the time you graduated to where you are now? Did you even have a plan? Was it simply a matter of working for the best and seeing where that road would lead, or is it important to have specific goals/plan/timeline, etc?

Thanks.

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ChefG, thanks for everything.

1) Any suggestions on how to better train my palate and learn the language of palate? I _know_ homemade stock is better than canned broth (an extreme example), but have trouble finding the words to describe the difference to others. I've tried the most common response, "just eat a lot," for many years now and that's not quite working. How do you know what's balanced between acid, meatiness, salt, etc?

2) How worried are you about running out of new methods? After sous vide, dehydration, deep freeze, transglutaminase & friends, etc., how difficult is it to find new options?

3)Has Alinea had any disasters yet (that are now fun to tell)?

Thanks,

enhF94

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Chef Achatz, the use of liquid nitrogen in a kitchen, enzymes to make protein noodles, as well as sous vide, are things that I, as a chemist, am really interested in.

What is the next technique we're going to hear about?

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ChefG

Is Alinea the be-all and end-all of your world, or do you see yourself creating a mini-empire, like yout Trio predecessor? If the latter, do you see it Chicago focused, or world-wide?

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hi chef achatz.

thanks for taking time to answer our questions!  here are a few:

1. while i enjoyed my experience at alinea (late july, 2005), i have to say the most memorable part of the meal was a blackberry on a bed of tobacco cream garnished with a bee balm blossom, thai pea shoot and peppercorn salt - which was horrid on my palate. :blush:  You can see it here (although i doubt you've forgotten).  i don't know if it was the tobacco cream or the bee balm blossom, but something effected a bitter-stinging sensation on my tongue.  do you know which ingredient it might be that might have provoked such a physiological reaction?  i don't smoke, but i've had tobacco infused desserts before, and never had any reaction like the one i had with your creation.  with all sincerity, what was the impetus/motivation behind this course?

UE:

1. We infused the tobacco into the cream with the intent of producing the “burning or tingling” sensation that tobacco sometimes gives. The Bee Balm Bloom also has an inherent spiciness to it.

2. i was actually thinking about this one in the shower - it's so serendipitous that i'm getting a chance to ask you directly!  one of my favorite experiences on your menu was the braised pistachios that came with the braised-fried north dakota bison.  similarly, i found your braised sunflowers equally divine.  what liquid/oil did you braise these seeds/nuts in?  at what temperature?  for how long? 

[edited to add]: 3. what has been your favorite creation (based on personal tastes)?  why?  can you prepare if for me on my next visit?  (i hope it's not the tobacco cream! :laugh:)

thanks!  i've got a ton of other questions, but don't want to hog your time.

ulterior epicure.

UE:

1. We infused the tobacco into the cream with the intent of producing the “burning or tingling” sensation that tobacco sometimes gives. The Bee Balm Bloom also has an inherent spiciness to it.

We viewed this course as a “transitional”. It was always placed after a substantial savory with dark flavors, and right before a course leading into dessert. In its composition were intentional elements of tobacco, dark fruit (blackberry), smoke (smoked salt), spiciness (Thai Long Peppercorn), and herb notes. In their basic forms they are quintessential flavors in several red wines. The cream base gave the bite a full mouth feel and gave us the medium to introduce more sweetness.

2. The pistachios and sunflower seeds are simply cooked in water, butter and salt for about 2 hours…at a simmer. We have now “braised” several seeds and nuts. Currently the mustard seeds on the salsify dish are cooked in this way. We really like the textural change they go through.

3. With every new menu there is a clear “new favorite” and without a doubt whenever I look back the “old favorite” never seems that exciting. I would say the current Bison with the Juniper Branch holds my top position right now….but that will soon change I am sure.

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Chef Achatz,

I feel like it's hardly worth it to praise your restaurant any further, but I will anyway.  It's truly spectacular in every sense of the word.

I have a few somewhat related questions.

As a young chef who is undeniably shaping the future of American fine dining, what is your opinion of high-end restaurant groups?  My experience is predominantly in New York City dining, but I was wondering your opinion of firms like Union Square Hospitality, Jean Georges Enterprises, or Starr Restaurant Organization.  Do multi-concept restaurant groups have a legitimate place in the future of American fine dining or will explicitly chef-driven establishments dominate the development of American fine dining?

Bryan:

I suspect that depends on how you define “multi-concept” and “shaping fine dining”. Certainly chefs like JG have made huge impacts on American fine dining, and at the same time have several restaurants under their direction. Do you consider Chef Keller’s group multi-concept? He now has four restaurants, a bakery, a catering division, and soon to be an inn..yet he has shaped American high end dining like no other. At a different end of the spectrum are operators like Nobu (several locations worldwide), and as you mentioned Jean Georges (several locations worldwide) but even chefs like Batali…how many restaurants does that group have now? I have eaten at two of them and had two great meals. It is a natural trajectory for successful chefs to grow..look at these examples: Wolfgang, Joachim, Nobu, JG, Danny Meyer on and on…what about Ducasse?

To answer your question directly..yes I think they will continue to shape the dining scene. Generally all of them have grown from a single flagship of high quality, that is where and when the “shaping” happens. The additional restaurants that open under their umbrella should continue to elevate dining in general, making great food more readily available to more people. If Keller opened 15 more Bouchons (or any restaurant concept for that matter) across the country, I think that would be a good thing for foodies and diners. As long as these groups focus on quality, whatever the concept is …I think it is a positive for the dining public.

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Chef:

Thanks for all of the time you have spent with us, especially during the planning phases of Alinea.

Your restaurant has been open for a few months now.  I'd love to hear what has surprised you, what you would have done differently, and has worked beyond your expectations.  How is it working in the space you have, with the staff and equipment you have had?  Has the design of the physical space and the accoutrements (dishes, equipment, etc.) had any bearing on the menu?

Snowangel:

It is tough to be surprised really. Certainly we are very excited by the amount of positive response to the restaurant, both from the point of business and critical review. Both of those aspects have exceeded our expectations. As I said before, the actual building and opening of the restaurant surprised me. The amount of work when starting from scratch is staggering really.

Now that we are 9 months old and have settled into operations there a few design things we would have done differently. Some of them we will change, others we will just have to get used to. Some minor changes to the kitchen and service areas will happen over time… but on the whole it is a great space to work in. Currently we are closed for a two-week winter break so we are taking the opportunity to do a great deal of maintanece to the space, repainting, carpet cleaning, table refinishing…that sort of stuff. I guess that has been a surprise to me….the wear the restaurant has received in a span of 9 months. As we neared the break I started to critically look at the space to determine what needed to be done during the closure. With the restaurant empty and the lights up it was apparent what 80 ppl. a night 5 days a week can do to the carpet, tables, chairs, walls….I am sure it seemed exaggerated to me because I clearly remember what it looked like May 4th 2005…that brand new car without a scratch.

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Where do you get your inspiration for your plates and how many ideas do you try for every one that makes it to your menu?

John:

It is impossible to point to any one thing that inspires us, when in fact it is everything or nothing. I think the inspiring element is the act of creating. Once you have that everything you see and touch becomes inspirational in itself. Dishes have been conceived directly from listening to music and the way the tempo abruptly changes. Other examples are when my girlfriend called me from a garage sale and asked me if I wanted one of those old air popcorn poppers…I didn’t really…but I said sure. It sat on the shelf for a few weeks..then one day I plugged it in and started putting stuff in there…all kinds of seeds, nuts, and grains. Certainly we watch our peers and what they are doing. We also do a lot of homework. Reading about food, researching the way it reacts, brainstorming….literally me sitting in the dining room at 3am with a piece of paper jotting things down. The most exciting case for me though is when the food directly inspires. When we have an ingredient in our hands and it just becomes obvious what we should do to it. It is rewarding to figure something tricky out, like using gellan to produce a unique effect…but I get more excited when the food itself guides us.

What is the most challenging idea that you have had that you have made work?

Challenging idea….that probably goes back to the balloon of mozzarella. That actual dish came from the idea of using the siphon to inflate food. At first I tried sugar, than fruit roll-up type foods, than finally cheese. I recall blowing up the first one and knowing that it was going to work….the guys in the kitchen were watching me shaking their heads…knowing it was going to become the next ulcer for somebody. (They weren’t too easy to do in the beginning) At the time it was March….obviously not tomato season in IL….so we waited until late May to put it on the menu

What has challenged you that so far you haven't brought to fruition, but remains gnawing at your creative soul?

An idea we have had for a long time…nearly a year that we will figure out here very soon is using a dehydrated sheet of either fruit or vegetable and with the use of a bag sealer creating a sealed packet containing solid and liquid garnishes. The idea first came to us last year when we were brainstorming for idea to serve at the Food and Wine Entertaining Showcase at the MCA here in Chicago. Since it was held a modern art museum we wanted to create an art installation with the food that hundreds of people would eat. Our idea was to use transparent apple leather in this packet form that held various garnishes. The bite-sized packets would actually be hung from the ceiling, suspended on monofilament the transparent qualities of the leather would be enhanced by the lighting in the museum. We invisioned hanging 600 of these in a relatively dense field slightly higher than 6’…the guests would walk under this field of suspended food, reach up and pluck the bite from the line. We imaged it to be beautiful…600 of these ornaments creating a field of colorful light…like pieces of stained glass almost. The museum prevented us from attaching anything the supporting structure of the building so the idea was set aside in place of the “mass antenna”.

I tried to work on it again in preparation for Albert Adria’s meal at Alinea…but I ran out of time. I plan to work on this month…hopefully we will figure it out soon. Obviously at Alinea it will be suspended from the bow…not the ceiling….but maybe someday a museum will consider an edible installation.

What can we expect from you and Alinea in the future?

I expect you can expect more of the same from Alinea… which of course is always different.

Thanks for your time and creativity and best wishes for much, much more of both!


Edited by chefg (log)

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Chef G,

I would like to get your views on the current status of "restaurant collaboration" in the US. As many restaurants in Europe (Spain predominantly comes to mind) are forthright about sharing their discoveries, I too see this happening more and more in the US (Use of various hydrocolloids, glueing enzymes, more and more attention put forth to sous vide cookery. etc.) amoungst many of the more "experiemental chefs" (I apologize for this term) Does this in your mind, have the ability to help or hurt the gastronomic community, insomuch as I obviously feel this community in themselves are constantly helping one another, pushing the boundaries of gastronomy, but can also see it causing a hinderance: i.e. the cart pulling the horse with many chefs using these techniques as a crutch as it were, rather than (what I feel you and your staff and certainly Wylie and staff do) having something simply taste delicious.... I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also, please say hello to Stupak for me

THanks

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Dear Chef Achatz,

What about the flops?  I enjoyed my last visit to Alinea immensely (and am eager for my next visit!) but the last course, a wafer of dried tarragon something-or-other ("Eet ees vafehrr theen!" we joked with the servers, and one did a spot-on impersonation right back at us), was not to my liking at all, and about three of my dinner companions agreed that it was, well, too tarragon-ny.

Don:

If a dish goes on the menu it is successful in our eyes. People’s tastes vary and inevitably in the span of a multi-course meal nearly everyone will encounter a flavor or texture that they are not fond of.

In this case I suspect the tarragon wafer numbed your tongue, which was off-putting to you? When in fact that was the intent. The anesthetic numbing quality of tarragon, the sensation that it provides, is what we enjoyed about the bite. We feel these sensations are a dimension to eating that is overlooked. The same qualities were sought after in the tobacco-blackberry-smoke bite that UE mentioned up thread, and currently in the Kumquat-Olive-Aquavit. While we feel everything should ultimately taste good, the qualities mentioned here are also valued just as a texture, flavor combination or temperature.

How frequently do you rotate in-and-out dishes that don't prove to be successful?

Thanks,

Don Moore

Nashville, TN

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      Widely acknowledged as the premiere Spanish chef cooking in America, José is a developer and Conference Chairman for the upcoming Worlds of Flavor Conference on Spain and the World Table at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, November 2 – 5, 2006.
       
      In 1993, Jose moved to Washington, DC, to head the kitchen at Jaleo. From there, Jose took on executive chef responsibilities at neighboring Café Atlantico and later Zaytinya. In July of 2003, Jose embarked on his most adventurous project to date with the opening of the minibar by jose andres at Cafe Atlantico. A six-seat restaurant within a restaurant, minibar by jose andres continues to attract international attention with its innovative tasting menu. In the fall of 2004, Jose opened a third Jaleo and Oyamel, an authentic Mexican small plates restaurant and launched the THINKfoodTANK, an institution devoted to the research and development of ideas about food, all with a view toward their practical applications in the kitchen.
       
      Every week, millions of Spaniards invite Jose into their home where he is the host and producer of “Vamos a cocinar”, a food program on Television Española (TVE), Spanish national television. The program airs in the United States and Latin America on TVE Internacional.
       
      Jose released his first cookbook this year, first published in English, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America (published in the United States by Clarkson Potter) and shortly after in Spanish, Los fogones de José Andrés (published by Planeta). The book is an homage to Spanish cooking and to tapas, one of Spain's gifts to the world of good cooking.
       
      Jose Andres is passionate, intelligent, dedicated, witty and a fan of FC Barcelona.
       
      Jose has been a member of the eGullet Society since 2004.
       
      More on Jose Andres in the eG Forums:
      Cooking with "Tapas" by Jose Andres
      Vamos a Cocinar - cooking show with Jose Andres
      Jaleo
      José Andrés' Minibar
      Zaytinya
      Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, Crystal City
      Cafe Atlantico
       
      Jose Andres recipes from Tapas in RecipeGullet:
      Potatoes Rioja-Style with Chorizo (Patatas a la Riojana)
      Moorish-Style Chickpea and Spinach Stew
      Squid with Caramelized Onions
    • By gibbs
      With Modernist Cuisine I waited a couple of years and ended up with a copy from the 6th printing run the advantage of this was that all errors picked up in the erratta had been corrected in the print copy.  I am looking to get modernist bread soon and wondered if someone had purchased it recently to check or if someone knew of hand if they have printed any additional corrected runs 
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