Achatz spent four years at The French Laundry, rising to the position of sous chef. In , Achatz moved to the Chicago area to become the Executive Chef at Trio in Evanston, Illinois , which at the time of his arrival had a four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide. Over the next three years, with Achatz at the helm, Trio's reputation soared  and in the restaurant was rewarded with a fifth star from Mobil, becoming one of just 13 restaurants so honored at the time.
The restaurant is located up the block from the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company and is housed in a modest gray brick building which bears no external markings beyond its street number. Inside, the restaurant has no bar, no lobby and seats just 64 guests. Achatz serves diners a small-course tasting menu , consisting of approximately 18 courses. After less than two years of operation, the Mobil Travel Guide bestowed its Five Star Award on Alinea, making Alinea one of just 16 restaurants nationwide to rate five stars for In , Restaurant magazine added Alinea to its list of the 50 best restaurants in the world at number 36, the highest new entry of the year.
In , that publication moved Alinea up its list 15 spots, to number 21 in the world. In Alinea moved up to number 10 in the world and advanced to number 7 for , when it was also the highest ranked North American restaurant honored. Alinea maintained its top North American Ranking for , while moving up one position overall to 6th best restaurant in the world. In , Alinea came down one spot on the list. Per Se gained the 6th place, thus making Alinea the 2nd best restaurant in the U.
In November , Achatz and his Alinea team designed the menu for Ikarus , a restaurant in Salzburg, Austria which brings in a top chef from a different restaurant each month to design the menu for that month and train the staff. Alinea was awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide for Chicago. Achatz's other restaurants include Next , a restaurant that uses a unique ticketing system in Chicago,  and Aviary , a bar. Achatz has also served as a coach for the biennial culinary competition in Lyon, France , Bocuse d'Or. All restaurants use unique ticketing system and reservation platform Tock, which was founded by Nick Kokonas and of which Achatz serves as both an investor and hospitality advisor.
In Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas closed Alinea for a complete renovation and overhaul of the food, space, and experience. In October , Grant Achatz and co-author Nick Kokonas published Alinea , a hardcover coffee table book featuring more than of the restaurant's recipes. The book's narrative follows life in the kitchen for Achatz and his crew, and includes more than behind-the-scenes photographs by Lara Kastner. Kokonas and Achatz have also released two digital cookbooks from Next Restaurant , one on the Apple iBook platform, and one in a more universal PDF format.
As in the style of the Alinea cookbook, both books provide the exact recipes used during the Paris and Tour of Thailand menus, without making adjustments for the average home cook. While the Paris book was released for purchase via iTunes, Tour of Thailand was released on a pay-what-you-want model on Next's ticketing site. Grant was featured in a Dan Waldschmidt's book Edgy Conversations: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Outrageous Success , a book about preventing suicide with sense with stories about famous people that had disasters.
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Almost at the end of the book, he told the story about Grant's tongue cancer in July and the success of his restaurant in that time. On July 23, , Achatz announced that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth , which may have spread to his lymph nodes.
Initially, Achatz was told that only radical surgery was indicated, which would remove part of his mandibular anatomy and large swaths of neck tissue. Later, University of Chicago physicians prescribed a course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This led to full remission, albeit with some side effects including a transitory loss of his sense of taste , which eventually returned. He credited an aggressive protocol of chemotherapy and radiation administered at the University of Chicago Medical Center for driving his cancer into full remission.
The treatment regimen, administered under the direction of Drs. He has two sons, Kaden and Keller. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Grant Achatz. Achatz plating a dish for diners at Alinea. Some people go to concerts. We're playing on a world stage. Meanwhile, images and descriptions of new dishes now fly around the world so quickly that the cycle of new to overly familiar is shorter than ever. A restaurant does well to regularly give its rarefied clientele new reasons to book that airline flight, and something new to photograph when they get there. It's no accident that restaurants tend to crest and fall on the World's 50 Best list, which requires that its voters visit the restaurants they select within the previous 18 months.
Even mighty Noma, the most influential restaurant of the past ten years, fell to No. It will close this winter and re-open, re-invented, in an expansive new urban farm setting. The French Laundry dropped from No. It, too, closed for several months last year to remodel its kitchen. To say that these re-inventions are driven in part by a constant need for global buzz isn't a criticism: Butts in seats are important.
It's what allows chefs to be artists. And change is what artists do. It should be no surprise, says EMP co-owner Will Guidara, that the restaurant he and chef Daniel Humm took over in their late 20s should be different from the one they want to run ten years later.
And that ambition has led to questions with which restaurants, from the highest-end to the lowest, must grapple: Who is their audience?
Part I: The Alchemist
What is the power of the chef versus the power of the diner? And to what traditions, if any, are they beholden? Over the past decade, Alinea and Eleven Madison Park have often seemed to be in an implicit, long-distance dialogue about these very issues.
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The two are, in many ways, dark twins. One is a windowless sanctum in Lincoln Park, invested with the same blend of chip-on-the-shoulder pugnaciousness and giddy freedom that has always made the Second City's architecture bolder and more inventive than New York's; the other is blessed and burdened with one of Manhattan's grandest spaces, the soaring Art Deco lobby of the Metropolitan Life building, facing Madison Square.
One is proudly tied to no aesthetic beyond the avant-garde showmanship of its Michigan-born chef; the other navigates a tightrope between the new world of fine dining and the traditions of its principals' European and New York roots. Each is run by an intense male partnership: in Chicago, Achatz and his partner and patron, Kokonas; in New York, Humm, the chef, and Guidara, a front-of-house savant in an era when the kitchen rules all and the dining room is often an afterthought.
The four men are friends, and so the dialogue is also literal. They share a regular flow of tips and ideas, along with intelligence about and reservation requests for their shared clientele. And, following their latest overhauls, it's clear that they have reached very different conclusions about the future of high-end dining—one doubling down on the conviction that dinner is a top-down theatrical experience, the other turning toward a more traditional world of service and choice.
It's good for dining that we have different answers.
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If Alinea is a black-box theater, able to be transformed into anything its owners desire, Eleven Madison Park dwells in an old-fashioned Broadway proscenium. At its best, high ceilings glowing at night, conversation swirling around the floor like smoke at the bottom of a jar, it can be a magical space. EMP has long been the David Bowie of restaurants, re-inventing itself at least four times since it flrst opened, in Each new version of the restaurant can be seen as a negotiation with its room: that is, between the kind of grand New York dining experience the space seems to demand and the modern, progressive style its owners have embraced.
It was a long swing of the pendulum away from the traditional relationship between customer and chef and toward the modern, top-down approach, in which all is dictated by the kitchen. And it was the progression of two excited young men, intent on building a world-class restaurant and very publicly working out what that meant. But the longer we've gone on, the more we've been confident enough to just do us. I ate once at EMP during the grid era, and then returned, a year or so ago, to a pared-down version of the elaborate New York menu.
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For my taste, it had not been pared down nearly enough. Whatever fond memories I have of the food on that visit are all but obscured by the shtick that seemed to accompany every other course: There was the server strolling about with a basket of sunflowers; the wine-opening ceremony using a Bunsen burner, a shaving brush, and metal tongs, among other implements; the game of matching four bars of Mast Brothers chocolate to the milk from which they had been made goat, sheep, cow, or buffalo.
It seemed that every time my table began to enjoy an adult conversation, we were interrupted in order to be forcibly enchanted. This culminated in an intensely awkward walk through the kitchen for a course under a portrait of Miles Davis, followed by a photo, as though we were descending the log flume.
It all reminded me of when baseball parks began installing swimming pools, playgrounds, nightclubs, and other diversions: an implicit admission that they had lost faith in their central product.
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And it made me wonder whether the trick EMP was trying to pull off—marrying the new style of theatrical dining with Guidara's commitment to old-fashioned front-of-house hospitality—was simply a paradox too far. All of this is why I was excited by the news that EMP's revamped service represented at least a small swing of the pendulum in the other direction.
Guidara and Humm were, reportedly, taking the radical step of moving forward by doing less: fewer interruptions, fewer courses, shorter meal times, a new minimalist approach on the plate, and, even more radical, more choices along the way. To cut to the chase: It works.
With the sunflowers safely contained in vases, rather than afoot in the dining room, I could concentrate on the sunflower dish, how the earthy bite of the flower's artichoke-like heart is softened by lovage butter and tomato gel. That bottle trick, removed from a frantic magic show, is actually quite amazing.
There's still plenty of pomp and whimsy: A series of hors d'oeuvres arrives in an ingenious inlaid-wood tower of interlocking platters.
They include a bite of cantaloupe that is filled with a dollop of smoked mayonnaise and topped by a ribbon of dehydrated watermelon, the effect being a mind-swerving imitation of prosciutto and melon. Another course arrives in a picnic basket; yet another is prepared on a miniature tabletop kettle grill fueled, our server confided, by Everclear. I still hate the trip to the kitchen, which Humm says about 80 percent of diners experience as part of their meals. So, I think we're right about that. I would much rather eat the more grown-up smoked trout—bronzed and silky, steamed tableside on a gueridon—that was offered as an alternative, but my table unanimously voted me down.
Sometimes, as we've had plenty of reason to learn, democracy can be a bad thing. And, yes, as promised, there are choices: foie gras, heirloom tomatoes, or crab carpeted with thin slices of zucchini for one early course; deeply aged rib eye, a wreath of summer beans, or Humm's signature duck breast, glazed with honey and dusted with lavender, cumin, coriander, and Sichuan peppercorn, for another.
And none of these quibbles change the fact that EMP seems to have hit on something close to the ideal calibration between the demands of the gastronauts and the sophistication, gravitas, and humor of not only a great international restaurant but the great New York restaurant it feels like it's always wanted to be—which may be the harder task. From the pre-renovated Alinea, I remember two dishes above all. One, a piece of hamachi atop a white pine skewer, arrived on a bed of coals that then sat, smoldering, while we ate. Sometime later, our server came back and began digging around in the ash, emerging with a kombu-wrapped package.
As he unwrapped the square of pork belly within, I experienced something close to real fear—a childlike dread of something lurking that you didn't know was there. It was as though the pork had been secretly eavesdropping on our table's conversation. Later came one of Achatz's signature desserts, an edible balloon made of apple taffy. You broke it by sucking in, inhaled a blast of helium, and then spoke like a Chipmunk for the next few seconds. My companion and I giggled like fourth graders. Neither reaction was one I could remember having had at a restaurant before. But then none I'd ever eaten at had been as committed to the idea of dinner as a kind of cognitive haunted house where all emotions are up for grabs.
As the communal-table stunt suggests, Achatz and Kokonas have only intensified that mission at the new Alinea. Much like the first time I dined there, the meal was an ebb and flow of elaborate set pieces. Achatz still traffics in extreme manipulation; in 18 courses, you might recognize one or two ingredients in their natural form, not counting a bowl of fruit on a pedestal, over which a fog of dry ice is poured in order to scent the air with wisps of citrus. Still, the chef wears his trickery more lightly.
We're still using gelifications and rotary evaporators and that sort of thing in the kitchen, but we're pulling the veil over them a bit more. My favorite dish of the night demonstrated this principle. The result is briny, unctuous, and yet somehow clean and restorative, consisting as it does of only three ingredients.