Dinner at Grant Achatz; a feast for all senses
Chef Grant Achatz of restaurant Alinea is only 30 years old and no. 9 on ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ by San Pellegrino. As all his European colleagues particularly create a feast on the plate, this chef creates a complete show with the whole experience but in an understated, un-American way. Marjolein van Spronsen experienced it and concludes in her blog; “This is in the restaurant world, “Think different, Act different’, a rollercoaster ride from three hours that gives you a ‘dazzling experience’ of tastes and experiences”.
Because we had posted videos of his dishes on horecatrends before, such as his dish ‘lamb 86‘ and the ‘apple helium balloon’, I was so curious to see Alinea with my own eyes, that Chicago had to be a stop on our trip to California! In addition, I had read that this young chef, who started Alinea in 2005, was hit by a form of tongue cancer in 2007, for which he was treated with very heavy chemo. He underwent chemo at his own request because he didn’t want to risk losing his taste. A choice which I can imagine, because I was personally hit with the same form of cancer recently and didn’t have that choice anymore. Losing my taste on the left side of my tongue is seriously annoying.
However, to my relief, I did get a little used to it, I am more right-oriented in my mouth while eating and the ‘look and feel’ of ingredients remain a feast. Grant Achatz also indicates that this period has inspired him to experiment with the effect of different senses on food. This has definitely become a large part of his current style.
The restaurant is located just outside of downtown Chicago and isn’t in a remarkable building.
You enter through a dark hallway, so you’re already a bit disoriented, followed by a short look in the kitchen and then you’re directed to your table where some ‘amuses from the sea’ were already waiting for us, on a big block of ice. The environment is held delicately simple, it happens on and around the table! There was no linen on the table and remarkably above the table hung a piece of rhubarb as the only decoration. It is clear that all the guests arrive at a reserved time to experience the same kind of attention. When we entered at 19:30, a couple of guests were already experiencing their desserts. And around 21:00 new guests arrived at these tables.
Feast for the senses
What a feast for the senses, fabulous food, lovely small portions and with every course something happened! For example, we got a newspaper on the table with a request to spread as tablecloth. Following we got three sauces, honey mustard, remoulade and a hot sauce and a large ‘frying scoop’ containing his version of ‘fish & chips’, but with deep-fried soft shell crab, ochra and curled strips of potato.
Some examples of dishes;
- A barbecue on the table; porkbelly wrapped as a charcoal piece.
- Nitrogen with smell to support the dish with duck.
- Ravioli with a very liquid truffle sauce.
- We did have to find our own food.
- Chinese take-out, served in a standard take-out box with burning cinnamon sticks as chopsticks, with crispy fried sweetbreads as dish in it.
- A ‘decomposed curry ‘, which flavor elements are separated.
- A dish with celery and rhubarb, whit which the rhubarb stem (hanging above our table) was grated above our plates. Finally an answer why there’s a rhubarb stem hanging above our table! It seems that curiosity also plays a role in taste!
- And as we had hoped; The helium balloon! Tastes very much like an apple an was finished in a second! But what a show element!
- As the highlight of the evening; the dessert that the chef prepares at your table with freshly made chocolate tart and frozen meringue. A great feast!
As already indicated, we did eat at quite a few colleagues of Grant Achatz in Europe and we are particularly excited about his ability to create more attention to what is being served with a couple of relatively ‘simple’ elements. The dishes are of equal quality as the dishes from all colleagues and as I said it seems that, for example curiosity, gives an extra layer to the flavor. As amateur, I also love to look for elements I can use, well, letting my guests prepare the tablecloth with newspapers for the alternative ‘Fish & Chips’ will succeed;-).
CHEFS (R) EVOLUTION
The chef gives a demonstration Monday, September 15th at CHEFS (R) EVOLUTION in Zwolle. The chef of Alinea gives a presentation on creating a ‘tasting menu’ around apples and other pure Dutch ingredients, cooked over an ‘applewood’ fire. Worth attending for al Dutch chefs!
After the conference, the team from Alinea travels to Copenhagen to eat at Noma, and probably also to Faviken and Stockholm.
I wonder in what direction Grant Achatz will evolve. Started in 2005 and already No. 9. in the ranking, promises a lot for the future! The chef indicate that he has been ‘in a constant state of evolution’ the recent years and that he expects this trend to continue.
This is in the restaurant world, “Think different, Act different’, a rollercoaster ride from three hours that gives you a ‘dazzling experience’ of tastes and experiences. Michelin indicates that for three-star restaurants detours are very worthwhile. For us from Europe restaurant Alinea is worth its detour while flying to another location in America! ^Marjolein van Spronsen
Website: Alinea Restaurant