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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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03.07.07

Achatz Takes the Stage

Bites: News and Miscellany


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Achatz may be destemming less rosemary in the near future to focus on the creative picture at Alinea

As if we needed more proof that chefs truly have become celebrities, along came the recent discussion/lecture between chef Grant Achatz and food writer Michael Ruhlman held this past Sunday at Steppenwolf Theater. Granted, Achatz is no ordinary chef. His Chicago restaurant Alinea did receive Gourmet magazine’s 2006 Best Restaurant in America title among numerous other accolades. And Ruhlman is no ordinary writer, having written seven food-related books, including his most recent The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen. But now it seems that actually eating in a restaurant is just a small part of the whole culinary experience. We’re spending a lot of time reading about eating, watching food being made on TV and, as evidenced by the 400-or-so people in attendance in the Steppenwolf’s downstairs theater, listening to chefs talk about food and eating.

If you couldn’t make it, here’s what you missed:

The Name Game

Achatz, like fellow experimental chefs Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal, isn’t a big fan of the term molecular gastronomy. “It’s not about science. It’s about emotion,” said Achatz. “When you’re at Alinea, you should be experiencing a whole series of emotions.”

Life-changing experience

Achatz credits a week-long stage at Adria’s El Bulli, culminating in a luncheon at the Rosas, Spain eatery with his then-boss chef Thomas Keller as the experience that changed his cooking style and led him toward his present creative culinary path. “There were probably 37 courses, with lunch lasting eight hours. And you guys think I’m bad,” laughed Achatz. “At that point, I knew I couldn’t work there [French Laundry] any more.”

Alinea’s goals

First and foremost, the food has to taste good, said Achatz. But after that, he wants his diners to be entertained. “Let’s give people something to smile about. They’re either going to laugh, be intimidated or be intrigued. Or all of those things,” said Achatz. Manipulating texture, unusual ingredient pairings and innovative service pieces help him to do that.

Some of Achatz’s favorite restaurants:

French Laundry, El Bulli, Per Se, Mugaritz (Spain), Avenues, Moto, WD 50, Blue Hill

What’s next?

Initially, diners were drawn to this type of cooking because of its shock value, said Achatz. But now, he says, “The gee whiz is gone.” While Achatz doesn’t think the innovation will stop, chefs will be looking more critically at ways to make the whole restaurant experience more creative, from the ambiance to more diner interaction to finding ways to push the food off the plate.

What’s next for Achatz?

Another Alinea? Achatz didn’t rule out that as a future possibility. A TV program? That could happen, too, but as long as it’s “a darn good show with an essence to why we do it,” he said. Achatz has already stepped away a bit from day-to-day kitchen work to concentrate on creating new ideas. “The idea is to constantly evolve.”

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