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Grant Achatz Teases Next Steakhouse Menu for 2014

Grant Achatz Teases Next Steakhouse Menu for 2014

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Steakhouse menu could start the Next season

Chef Grant Achatz tweeted a photo of Chicago Magazine's most recent issue, hinting steakhouse cuisine could be on the menu for Next 2014.

Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant in Chicago is famous, possibly in equal measures, for both its food and its rotating menu model. Every year its space holds three different restaurant concepts with three completely different prix fixe menus. And while the 2014 Next season has yet to officially be announced, Achatz is hinting that one of the menus could be steakhouse-themed.

Last night Achatz tweeted a photo of the cover of Chicago Magazine’s Best Steakhouses issue from November 2013 alongside a caption reading simply, "Next. 2014."

No other details were forthcoming, but it seems likely that the 2014 season at Next will include Achatz’s modern take on classic steakhouse cuisine.

On Tuesday Next emailed its "Season Tickets" holders — customers who bought package tickets to all three Next menus in a year — to let them know that the restaurant would be announcing its three 2014 menus this week.

Next also announced the opening of its new private dining facility, The Room.

"Located adjacent to the Office, our private dining room will accommodate up to 10 people in complete privacy and luxury," Next said in an email to season ticket holders. "We will also offer the option to begin your night in The Office prior to dinner. The Room is stunning and we’ll be offering a preview menu by chef Andrew Brochu for the rest of 2013."

The 2013 menus were The Hunt, a menu focused on Midwestern game food; an entirely vegan menu; and then a Bocuse d’Or competition themed menu. Bocuse d'Or will run through December 2013, and then be replaced by the first of the 2014 menus. Steakhouse fare seems like a likely suspect.

Food Tip: Grant Achatz's Culinary Sensations

Grant Achatz is a gentle man with a restless soul. In 1999, he was working for chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, in Napa Valley, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the country. But Achatz felt that something was missing.

"While I respected the idea of flawless repetition required in the pursuit of perfection," Achatz says, "I grew bored easily."

Returning to Napa from a short pilgrimage to northeast Spain's El Bulli, the blazing star of modernist cuisine helmed by Ferran Adrià, Achatz proposed a light, refreshing caviar appetizer to be served with Champagne on a summer menu. Keller had requested an alternative to his famous "oysters and pearls," oysters served in a classic warm sabayon sauce studded with tapioca.

Achatz suggested a cantaloupe mousse topped with a spoonful of black caviar. Prosciutto-wrapped melon, a favorite with Champagne, was his inspiration. The melon mousse would highlight the caviar's texture a Champagne gel would form a moisture barrier between the mousse and the caviar, with a thin slice of melon at the bottom "to keep it all from melting on the plate."

Keller accepted the idea but warned Achatz that once the mousse was on the French Laundry menu, it would be seen as a Thomas Keller dish. "That's OK, Chef," Achatz replied. "Plenty more ideas where that came from."

The ideas flow in torrents at Achatz's signature restaurant, Alinea, named after the backward-P typographical mark used to indicate a new paragraph. Achatz sees the restaurant as a new thought. Since its opening in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood in May 2005, the restaurant has startled and delighted diners with its stark design and seemingly endless range of inventive dishes.

Alinea was born of food, wine and friendship. In 2001, Achatz left the French Laundry for Trio, a highly regarded restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill. Nick Kokonas, a financial derivatives trader, dined at Trio and shared the fine wines that he had brought from his home cellar with Achatz after closing.

Impressed as much by the young chef's engagement with wine as by the revelatory cuisine, Koko-nas agreed to build Achatz his own restaurant and in fact closed his finance business altogether in order to focus his full attention on Alinea.

And the Alinea Group continues to spawn hits. A second restaurant, Next, opened in 2011 three times a year, its concept is transformed, with a completely new menu and fresh decor. It and the adjacent Aviary, a modernist bar, occupy the up-and-coming Fulton Market neighbohood of Chicago. A block away, the more casual Roister is slated to open in late March. In all, Kokonas says, the restaurants have 212 employees, and revenues for 2015 approached $24 million.

Beyond the kitchen, Achatz has authored books including the coffee table-size cookbook Alinea (2008) and several e-books based on recipes and stories from the changing cuisines at Next. And he and Kokonas wrote a tandem autobiography, Life, on the Line (2011).

Recently, after running Alinea for 10 years and with its lease set to expire, Achatz and Kokonas reached a sort of crossroads. "We could have wrapped it up and focused on Next, the Aviary and Roister," Achatz says, "but Alinea is energizing." They renewed the lease for another 10 years and closed the restaurant in January, February and March to renovate it from the inside out.

Achatz can usually be found at the center of the activity. His long, sandy hair and bright eyes play against a certain gauntness to his 5-foot-9-inch frame. He looks younger than his 41 years a scraggly mustache sprouts from his upper lip, and a soul patch wanders south to his chin. Speaking carefully and quietly, he exudes a Zen-like calm whether developing ideas for new dishes with his key chefs or discussing details of an upcoming project with Kokonas.

The chef has used each restaurant as a vehicle to express a different set of ideas, employ a different set of tools and, ultimately, create a wholly different culinary experience.

His kitchens have always stocked the full arsenal of liquid nitrogen, colloid powders and precision machines associated with what is known as molecular or modernist cuisine. Yet while the techniques may be untraditional, the food at all the restaurants is product-driven Alinea works with more than 50 farms in the Midwest.

A menu last spring began with two spherified truffled eggs and a few morsels of soft-textured dried salsify camouflaged by a tangle of twigs and branches covering most of the table, a sly homage to the trendy foraged cuisine of Scandinavia. A floating taffy balloon arrived 22 courses later. Filled with green apple-scented helium, it had one table after another dissolving into high-pitched, helium-induced giggles. For the final course, Achatz emerged from the kitchen, spread a sheet of white plastic over the table and painted it with melted chocolate and fruit sauces, adorning it all with cut-up fruit.

Achatz can see why Alinea has often been compared to El Bulli, at least in the early days. Looking back after a decade, he is struck by how show-off-ish some of his cuisine was. "That's what was happening in gastronomy then," he says with a shrug, citing pacesetters such as the Fat Duck, in England, and El Bulli.

Though some critics saw the modernist movement as a pox on cuisine, Achatz takes a more philosophical stance: "It's important to take those risks," he asserts. "It can influence gastronomy for years."

Alinea has matured, Achatz says. "I think we have our own voice and identity here. Our creative philosophy is, ‘Do the impossible.' Whether it's a food concept, plating, service, everything, if you figure out a way to accomplish them, you're unique. Floating food, like the green apple balloon, is a really great example. I've wanted to do the taffy balloon for years, but technically we couldn't get it to work." So he kept going back to it, fine-tuning until the balloon stayed afloat consistently.

"The chocolate presentation is another great example," he remarks. "People have so much fun with these. And it's dessert, so everyone looks happy."

At Next, Achatz takes a different approach: Instead of trying to push boundaries, he puts a modern spin on a specific cuisine, sometimes from a particular time and place. The opening menu, titled Paris 1906, comprised dishes codified by Auguste Escoffier. Presentations were classic, with wine pairings focused on traditional French bottlings. Behind the scenes, however, the kitchen used sous vide and other modernist techniques to intensify flavor and capture more nuanced textures.

Thailand, Sicily, Japanese kaiseki and El Bulli were among the diverse inspirations that followed. More recent concepts have included a nod to the Chicago steak house, a modern Chinese menu and a take on Paris bistro cuisine. Closing out 2015, a menu entitled Terroir focused on regional dishes matched with white Burgundy, Loire Valley Chenin Blanc, Friulian Schiopettino, German Riesling, Champagne, Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet and Hungary's Tokaji.

Though some critics predicted that Next would spread Achatz too thin as a chef, he believes that the restaurant has in fact been a godsend, both for him and for his team. "Forcing ourselves to explore the geography and history of other cuisines has made us more educated about gastronomy in general. When you're forced to delve into kaiseki or Thai street food, you become more well-rounded."

The Aviary is a celebration of cocktail culture, offering drinks and snacks that are made with the same focus on ingredients and sense of adventure that turned Alinea into a reference point for boundary-defying cuisine.

Roister, Achatz says, will reflect the same attention to high quality products and stimulating preparations that the other restaurants are known for, but in the more laid-back environment of a brasserie.

Achatz shared one example, which suggests the menu will riff on traditional American diner dishes are well as French bistro fare: a pancake dish with a pat of foie gras butter on top, the maple syrup balanced by a gastrique for an acid component. "That would be a killer dish with an oaky Chardonnay," Achatz says. He's hoping it will bring some respect back to oaky Chardonnays, a style he says he loves.

Much of the food at Roister will be fired with wood on a grill or in an oven. When it was suggested that some sort of smoked meat might enhance the pancake, Achatz agreed enthusiastically. "That's what we are going for," he said.

Although there will be 14 seats upstairs and 12 at the counter downstairs for those who want a tasting menu format, most of the restaurant will be loud, boisterous and à la carte.

The Epicurious Blog

"I honestly don&apost think that Alinea would have worked anywhere else besides Chicago," says chef/owner Grant Achatz of Chicago&aposs Alinea, Next, and The Aviary. Although Achatz was born in Michigan, he didn&apost intentionally return to the Midwest to build his culinary empire.

"I was working at the French Laundry for a little over four years when I made the decision that it was time for me to find my own culinary voice and to do progressive American tasting menus," he says. "I did a nationwide search in New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles for a restaurant with an owner who was willing to give me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted--I was only 26, so to find someone who was willing to let me do that was pretty rare. The only situation that I found was right here at Trio, in a suburb of Chicago."

While Achatz flourished in Chicago, other avant-garde chefs struggled. "Back in 2001, all the progressive-style restaurants and chefs in New York didn&apost do all that well. The New York Times and Gourmet magazine were a little tough on Paul Liebrandt at Atlas and Wylie Dufresne at 71 Clinton and wd-50, so looking back I don&apost think that Alinea or Trio, with the food that I was doing and still do, would have worked in New York. Everything clicked here. Chicago&aposs culinary community and media were really open to my crazy style of food so there was no reason to leave. Then once I opened Alinea, I was a business owner, so I wasn&apost going anywhere at that point."

Running a culinary empire and coaching the American Bocuse D&aposOr team in New York doesn&apost leave Achatz with much leisure time, but to recharge, he tries to see plays at Steppenwolf Theater or catch a live music show at The Whistler, Schubas, or Kingston Mines. He&aposs also blown away by Chicago&aposs stunning architecture. "Frank Lloyd Wright&aposs buildings and a lot of the skyscrapers can be pretty inspirational from an aesthetic point of view that I would say influences the way that the food at Alinea looks in some ways."

Even though Chicago&aposs sterotypically thought of as a meat-and-potatoes town, you will never find Achatz at one of the city&aposs steak houses on his days off. "Crazy enough, even though we&aposre actually kind of running a steak house at Next right now, I&aposve never actually been to a steak house. Ever. I don&apost know why. Kind of odd, right? The concept of a steak house seems very dated. They haven&apost evolved and in some cases you don&apost want them to. That&aposs why we decided to do Chicago Steak as a menu at Next. After doing a lot of research on the history of steak houses, now I might be tempted to go to one of the classics, but it&aposs never been of interest to me."

Instead, Achatz prefers comfortable neighborhood spots and Asian-influenced restaurants. "You have a pretty diverse group of restaurants ranging from anything aspiring to be a Michelin three-starred restaurant all the way down to some great ethnic food," says Achatz. Here, Achatz reveals the top reasons why he loves Chicago.

1. Insider Spot: Katsu "This relatively unknown Japanese restaurant in West Rogers Park flies under the radar and it has some of the best sushi I&aposve ever had period, whether it be here, in Japan, or New York. It&aposs a really great restaurant run by a husband-and-wife team: He&aposs the chef and she works in the front of the house. Typically I just sit at the sushi bar and let him go but you can also order omakase of a couple different lengths. He flies in the fish from Fiji Market in Tokyo several times a week, and he&aposs been at it for a long time so he&aposs a master. It&aposs super-high-quality sushi so it can get pretty pricey. I go maybe eight times a year. It&aposs small and pretty intimate--definitely not a mainstream very popular restaurant in Chicago even though its ratings are always off the charts with local publications."

2. Comfort Food: GT Fish & Oyster
"This place is lively, loud, and approachable with excellent food and really good energy. One of the signatures is the creamy clam chowder, which is pretty amazing. The menu is seasonally changing so there aren&apost too many things that stick around all year, but the chowder&aposs always on the menu. The fish-and-chips are pretty incredible, too: perfect batter, super fresh fish, and the fries are fantastic--great texture. People take that sort of food for granted, I feel. Chef Giuseppe Tentori comes to the Aviary pretty frequently and we always invite him to the friends-and-family practice dinners at Next when we change menus. We see each other out and about quite a bit, too. He&aposs about to open a new place, too--GT Prime. GT Fish & Oyster has a primarily seafood-focused menu and he&aposs going to the exact opposite with this one with a steak and meat focus, which should be exciting."

3. Chef Hangout: Yusho
"Chef Matthias Merges worked at Charlie Trotter&aposs for 17 years and then moved on to open Yusho, his first restaurant--he&aposs opening one in Las Vegas soon, too. It&aposs just great! He does a lot of grilled skewers and really smart, clever, and creative Japanese-influenced food like his mixture of crispy fish skins: salmon, cod, black bass all sprinkled with powdered mustard, salt, and pepper. No one was doing yakitori in Chicago before Yusho opened, and Matthias also does noodles on Sunday so you can go get your ramen and udon fix."

4. Under $10: Pho 777 and Tank Noodle "Argyle Street has a lot of Vietnamese restaurants and I especially like these two places for pho. I usually get the pho with traditional brisket and thinly sliced eye of the round and then just blast it with plum sauce and Thai basil because I like it really aromatic. I&aposm not much for a lot of spice so I don&apost typically add a lot of hot sauce. They&aposre giant bowls of ripping hot soup for very little money. For me, there&aposs no way I can sit down in front of one of those and eat the entire thing. It&aposs like three meals. It&aposs crazy!"

5. Best Dessert: The Bristol
"I can throw a stone to my house from here and it&aposs literally the one restaurant I go to the most. It has a great menu, amazing pasta, and the Basque cake is to die for. I didn&apost have much Basque cake before coming here and now I order it for comparison whenever I see it on another restaurant&aposs menu--but The Bristol&aposs is amazing."

6. Kid-Friendly: Shanghai Terrace at The Peninsula Hotel
"I hate to say this but typically hotel restaurants are overrated--is that a bad thing to say? But I think they do a great job here. They have a permanent spot on the menu for three or four different abalone courses, which is not something that you typically come across because 1. It&aposs so expensive and 2. People don&apost know how to handle or prepare it. Also, the Peking duck is awesome. They bring it to you in several courses, which make you feel like you&aposre at a ceremonial banquet in China. You get a duck fried rice, duck consommé, and roasted Peking duck with pancakes and scallions. Usually the duck serves two people but my family and I get an extra one just so we can take the rest home and snack on it the next day. My kids love it and bring it to school for lunch: a 10-year-old showing up to elementary school with Peking duck for lunch--that&aposs pretty funny."

7. Pizza: Pequod&aposs "Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is baked in a cast-iron pan so it&aposs impossible to pick up--everything would just slide off so you have to use a knife and fork. It&aposs thick, there&aposs a lot of sauce, and it has pretty high moisture content because usually I get onion, green pepper, and mushrooms. Then it&aposs loaded up with cheese so it&aposs like lava. Jon Stewart started a pizza war between Chicago and New York recently, but I like both pizza styles. In New York, I barely even check into my hotel before getting a slice from Prince St. Pizza. It&aposs become part of my routine and now it&aposs a non-negotiable."

8. Hot Dogs: Hot Doug&aposs "If you&aposre talking about Chicago food, you have to talk about hot dogs. Doug Sohn does some pretty unusual toppings and the hot dogs themselves are really good--I like the foie gras dogs and the venison dogs. He&aposs also had rattlesnake and alligator dogs as specials. I&aposve never had them but most people say they taste like chicken. There&aposs always a line of about 35 to 40 people waiting outside and it&aposs virtually impossible to get into. They should sell tickets like Next."

9. Caffeine Fix: La Colombe "I make a double espresso at my house every morning just to get the day started. At work, this is the top coffee spot for me. It&aposs within walking distance from Next and Aviary and what I order depends on how much time I have. It can range anywhere from a double espresso on the run when I need jolt to a latte or Americano if I can sit down. They supply our restaurants with custom blends and roasts so we know them pretty well and the baristas may do a pull of a certain origin coffee that they let us try. They&aposre good people who are super proud and passionate about what they do, so I think that anyone who comes in and shows interest would get the same treatment."

10. Bars and Wine "There&aposs a really good bar scene in Chicago that ranges from your high-end conceptual cocktail bars to gritty dive bars like Gold Star Bar and Rite Liquors. It&aposs great to go to The Barrelhouse Flat, The Violet Hour, and Sable because you&aposve got talented--I hate this word--mixologists behind the bar, people who have an amazing knowledge of spirits and how to craft a cocktail. When you&aposre at the dive bars you&aposre drinking cheap beer and shots of Jameson, and the bartender is probably going to yell at you at some point, tell you to get out, maybe swear at you like a sailor. They&aposve got good atmosphere and a dive bar is its own beast. For wine, I like Perman Wine, a shop owned by Craig Perman, a former sommelier of mine at Alinea. I&aposm a little biased, but he&aposs super knowledgeable and not pretentious about wine at all. Wine is made to be consumed. It&aposs not a collector-slash-trophy situation here he tastes all of the wines and buys the ones he likes because he wants to turn other people onto them. He&aposs a really big fan of old Champagnes that are getting oxidized in a good way, so he typically has a lot of Champagnes in the house that are often hard to find. He&aposs turned me onto a lot of different wines over the years--things that you wouldn&apost typically see on the average restaurant&aposs wine list."

11. Industry Store: Northwestern Cutlery "I&aposve purchased two chefs knives here over the years. It&aposs a very nice store near Next and Aviary with a great selection of Western and Eastern blades and lots of kitchen tools. It&aposs very driven toward culinary professionals but the public can shop here too."

Gourmet Pigs

I've been visiting one Grant Achatz restaurant/bar per visit to Chicago, starting with Alinea, then The Aviary, The Office, and now, finally, Next. As you may know, the menu at Next changes every few months, and we're not just talking seasonal changes but complete, absolute shift to distinct themes. There had been Modern Chinese, Bocuse d'Or, Chicago Steak, and other themes. This time, since it is the 10th anniversary of Alinea, the theme is Trio. This is the restaurant in Evanston that Grant Achatz was working at when he met and subsequently partnered with Nick Kokonas to open Alinea. The menu thus evokes techniques and dishes that he served 10 years ago at Trio.

A simple fried shrimp skewered with a stick of vanilla bean to enhance the aromatic experience.

When we were first seated, we were given a glass of rose. Now, they bring a bottle of housemade bitters that we can add to the rose based on our own taste preferences.

You're supposed to try each garnish with the crab and coconut. I liked the garnish made with mango and allspice, and cucumber with chive oil. For some of the others, I thought the coconut was somewhat overwhelming.

The next course is the soup: Chestnut, baked potato, bitter chocolate, quince

Yes, that is a small thin edible paper with "pizza" flavor. It was fun to try, with flavors of mostly tomato sauce and cheese (rather than pizza, it reminded me more of lasagna).

Poached loin of lamb, floral infusion, artichoke, orange

The beverage pairings were actually where I had the most fun exploring.
While the food menu draws from the techniques that were groundbreaking 10 years ago (accordingly with the theme), they are playing with new boundaries with the drinks. There's a juice pairing with this course which was orange and grapefruit juice cold-hopped to mimic beer.

Both wine and juice pairings play on the floral notes of the dish.

"Salad", red wine vinaigrette

Think salad that has been frozen and crushed. Personally I think I'd rather just eat a salad, though.

Raspberry, tapioca, rose, lemon basil

The dessert - layers of rasberry, tapioca, and lemon basil - is served in the tube. Smell the rose before eating the dessert, another play with aroma.

The foie gras has been run/pushed through a sieve to achieve the separated texture. This was paired with a Moscato d'Asti, a great classic pairing.

The poured hot water over the rosemary in the larger bowl, releasing the aroma. The lobster was succulent and I can't get enough of the aroma of both the broth and the rosemary.

The three different wines

The garnishes and broth of the short rib dish represents deconstructed root beer flavor components. I didn't quite get root beer out of the combination, but I still enjoyed it.

I loved this dish, with the manchego stretched and baked into a thin film over the other components you might normally find on a cheese plate - bread and fruit preserves. It's a fun and unique cheese course.

Another fun non-alcoholic beverage: Huckleberry soda

I believe Maragda is from a Spanish chocolatier called ChocoVic.

We finished off with another of Grant Achatz' and designer Martin Kastner's collaborations: Tripod, Hibiscus

The frozen hibiscus tea lollipop sits on a tripod of metal (stainless steel?) wires that collapse when you grab them, turning into a lollipop stick.

My favorite beverages came at the end with the tea and coffee. They're lightly alcoholic. Both the tea and coffee was combined with various spices and liqueurs which I unfortunately neglected to write down (I'll blame it on the wine pairing) but both were amazing. Even if you don't normally drink coffee, you'll love this one anyway.

The Trio menu is over, and the current menu is Bistro, which will run until May 2015.

Next Restaurant: el Bulli Menu

Before I get started I should explain how Nextworks. Started in 2011 by Grant Achatz (of Alinea), the concept behind Next is that instead of making reservations like you traditionally would, you purchase a ticket for a dining experience which changes seasonally. So instead of ordering dishes or drinks you merely show up with your ticket and when you leave there is no bill to settle since everything is included with the ticket. Other restaurants (Playground 2.0 and Trois Mec come to mind) have borrowed the idea, but Next was the first.

This is going to be a photo dump more than anything. I’ve realized I’m really bad at keeping a blog because my updates come years after they’re relevant. I attended Next: el Bulli back in 2012 and Next has since done at least another ten different menus. A quick jump on their website shows they’re now on Tapas. Well when I went, they were doing el Bulli. What does that even mean? I’m glad you asked. El Bulli was basically considered the best restaurant in the world for the past decade or so when head chef/food God Ferran Adria decided to close it down for good and people started losing their minds. Somehow Grant Achatz managed to not only get Ferran Adria’s permission but also his help to recreate his most popular and signature dishes for one season of Next. I have friends in powerful places and we managed to score tickets to what was literally a once in a lifetime experience. At the time, this was probably the last opportunity to taste Ferran Adria’s food considering he had just shut down his restaurant. That said, here are the photos. Hold on to your hats, because there are a lot.

If you’re wondering why the names of the dishes look insane, I’ll explain. The first number is the year the dish was created, then the name of the dish, then the corresponding dish number in Ferran Adria’s book of creations. I don’t know if he actually calls it his book of creations, but there’s definitely a catalog somewhere of all of his recipes and those numbers go with that.

2004 nitro caipirinha with tarragon concentrate 967

2000 hot/cold trout roe tempura 644
coconut, lychee, lime

2005 spherical olives 1095

1991 coca of avocado pear, anchovies and green onion 105

2003 iberico sandwich 859

2001 golden egg 741
saffron and celery infusion

2007 black sesame spongecake and miso 1361

1998 chicken liquid croquettes 474

2003 carrot air with coconut milk 878

1997 cuttlefish and coconut ravioli with soy, ginger and mint 416

1992 savory tomato ice with oregano and almond milk pudding 159

2001 hot crab aspic with mini corn cous-cous 781

2000 cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce 671

1998 potato tortilla by marc singla 491

1989 trumpet carpaccio 52
fortified watermelon and red pepper

2007 nasturtium with eel, bone marrow and cucumber 1404
blis sherry vinegar, fig juice, pomegranate, barley, black walnut leaf

2000 civet of rabbit with hot apple jelly 686

2009 gorgonzola globe 1570

1999 foie gras caramel custard 580

1996 spice plate 367
white tea, tangerine, verjus

1997 chocolate in textures 439
white chocolate, black cherry, blackberry

Menu 8: Vegan

Next Restaurant’s Eighth Menu: Vegan

Served May 8, 2013 – August 24, 2013

Somewhat surprisingly, Next Restaurant’s eighth menu explored an entirely plant-based menu in 23 courses. The menu evolved slightly over its run, with different dishes coming and going, depending on the availability of ingredients.

starter and burnt avocado
passion fruit, yerba, pineapple

sprouted tempeh

autumn leaf

frozen baked potato

nori dumpling

leek and banana

earl grey rambutan

baby artichoke

fermented apples and lichen

lily pond
celery, crab apple, meyer lemon

rice yogurt and white asparagus

salsifies with oyster and dandelion
strawberry, rhubarb, black pepper

swiss chard and douchi

kombu atoll
tamarind, aloe, pea

cherry blossom and almond

spaghetti squash bolognese

mushroom cart
huitlacoche, blueberry, bell pepper

red onion | inspired by Stupek
mango, galangal, kaffir lime

curry roasted cauliflower

olive oil jam and bitter chocolate

hibiscus and pistachio
malt, bitter chocolate, black sesame

sweet potato nest

steamed crepes

Parents Bring Crying Baby to Alinea and Grant Achatz Considers Banning Kids

Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but..

— Grant Achatz (@Gachatz) January 12, 2014

On Saturday, Chicago chef Grant Achatz tweeted that someone brought a baby to his three Michelin-starred restaurant Alinea and that the other diners weren't happy about it: "Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad. Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying?"

And then Twitter exploded with questions: Should babies even be allowed in upper echelon restaurants? Should a restaurant be flexible in case the babysitter cancels? Does Alinea own a high chair? (No, said Achatz the baby sat on the mother's lap the whole time.)

UPDATE 1/14: Grant Achatz responded to the crying baby incident on Good Morning America. He says it's his job to "be cognizant of the other 80 people that came in."

First, some logistics: Alinea runs on the same ticketing system developed for Achatz's restaurant Next, which means a few things. One, that the parents of this infant likely knew a good bit ahead of time that they were going to the restaurant (Alinea does release a few last minute tables every day). Two, the table was pre-paid: the ticket price, tax, and a service fee are charged when you book the table, and wine and other beverages are charged when you dine at the restaurant. Three, in case something comes up (like, say, a babysitter canceling on you), the restaurant allows you to either sell or give away your ticket.

According to co-owner Nick Kokonas, this is not the first time someone has brought a baby to the restaurant: "We've had babies before. It's never about the kids. It's always about the parents(not re:this sit.)" Still, it's an interesting question. Should a restaurant ban babies when it gets to the point that other diners' meals are ruined?

The tweeting masses had a lot to say on the subject. According to Chicago food writer Michael Nagrant, "You do not take a baby to Alinea. Unless the babysitter cancelled last minute and Alinea would not refund your ticket. No other debate." Saveur's Helen Rosner takes a harder line: "Fancy restaurants should not have to specify no babies in precisely the same way they should not have to specify yes pants." And New York Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo had an idea: "Parents should leave tot w/coat check as Diane Keaton attempted in 'Baby Boom.'" Also there is a prolific @AlineaBaby twitter account now.

There is precedent for banning kids from restaurants, even in Chicago. Back in 2011, Dale Levitski banned kids from brunch at the now-shuttered Sprout. Similar moves have been made at restaurants high-end and low from Pennsylvania to Dublin to Berlin to Virginia to Houston to North Carolina. No word what Achatz and company will do moving forward Eater has reached out for comment and will update as necessary.

UPDATE 1/14: Grant Achatz responded to the crying baby incident on Good Morning America. He says it's his job to "be cognizant of the other 80 people that came in."


Born in Michigan in 1974, Grant Achatz grew up in the restaurant industry, with his parents and grandparents both restaurateurs. Today he is at the forefront of molecular gastronomy and progressive cuisine.

From an early age he began learning the basics, developing the skills that would allow him to become one of the foremost innovators in the culinary field. Upon graduating from high school, he immediately enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. Excelling at the C.I.A., Achatz graduated and joined the kitchens of several prestigious restaurants, including the acclaimed French Laundry in the Napa Valley.

Working closely with , Achatz thrived in this highly creative and dedicated environment, and after two years became sous chef to . After four years at the French Laundry, Achatz chose to broaden his knowledge and worked as an assistant winemaker at La Jota Vineyards. In 2001, he accepted the executive chef position at the four-star Trio (Evanston, Il.). Achatz flourished at Trio, garnering a plethora of accolades.

Realising his life long dream of owning his own restaurant, Achatz opened Alinea in Chicago in May 2005. The restaurant was well received by press and public and was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the Best New Restaurant in America that same year. Under Chef Achatz’ leadership, Alinea has received worldwide attention for its hypermodern, emotional approach to dining. Alinea has received four stars from both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago magazine, Achatz was named the “next great American chef” by The New York Times in September 2005 and in October 2006 Alinea received Five Diamonds from AAA. Ruth Reichl of Gourmet magazine declared Alinea the “Best Restaurant in America” in its twice-per-decade list of America’s Top 50 Restaurants.

In 2011 Achatz opened his second restaurant Next and cocktail lounge Aviary both of which have been awarded James Beard awards. Chef Achatz has appeared on the Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, The Food Network, The Discovery Channel and PBS.

Describe your culinary philosophy in 5 words…

Original, honest, observant, emotional, sensory.

What is your greatest inspiration?

If you could take a plane ride to anyrestaurant​in the world, just for one meal, where would you go?

Aronia de Takazawa in Tokyo.

What three things would you take to a desert island?

Salt, my girlfriend and a bottle of Champagne.

  • Michelin 3 Stars since 2011
  • James Beard Foundation, Outstanding Chef 2008
  • Time Magazine, 100 Most Influential People 2010
  • Elite Traveler, Elite 100 Restaurants winner

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Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux Daniel Humm is the executive chef of Eleven Madison Park, where he creates modern, sophisticated French cuisine that emphasises purity, simplicity and seasonal flavours and ingredients. A classicist who embraces contemporary gastronomy, Daniel’s delicate and precise cooking style is experienced through a constantly evolving menu. The restaurant’s dramatically high ceilings

Thomas Kelleris renowned for his culinary skills and his exceptionally high standards. He has established a collection of restaurants that set a new paradigm within the hospitality profession. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to

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Achatz Advocates Address-less Alinea

Grant Achatz, whose Chicago restaurant Alinea was voted number 15 in the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants, is eagerly pursuing his next challenge: creating a location-less restaurant

Alinea chef Grant Achatz revisits Trio at Next

The dynamic was all too familiar: cramped space and talented chefs, with the bearish David Carrier barking out wisecracks, the equally bearish John Peters volleying back, the chiseled Curtis Duffy processing everything quietly, the scruffy Michael Carlson tossing the occasional curveball from the side and Grant Achatz still the charismatic focal point while Henry Adaniya beamed at this room full of all-stars who were originally brought together under his roof.

Up through July 2004, you would have found these people in the relatively small kitchen of the Evanston restaurant Trio, but on this early September night they were assembled in The Office, the basement speak-easy beneath Achatz's side-by-side restaurant Next and cocktail bar the Aviary. Upstairs at that moment, about 300 food enthusiasts were mingling and lining up for dishes that had blown minds a decade earlier.

Next, which changes formats every four months, has just ventured into the culinary Wayback Machine with its Trio menu, which this sold-out event was celebrating. The 21-course meal of small bites and composed plates revisits the period from 2001 to 2004 when the youthful Achatz merged the classic training he brought from Napa Valley's the French Laundry with his own envelope-pushing tendencies to create a modern, delicious, playful cuisine that livened up the North Shore and beyond.

The original idea for Next's Trio menu was for Achatz, Next executive chef Dave Beran and crew to re-create the meal that Achatz served to Nick Kokonas and his wife Dagmara on her birthday in January 2004. The wowed Kokonas signed on to partner with the chef for his new Lincoln Park restaurant, Alinea, which opened in May 2005 and within a year and a half was being hailed by Gourmet magazine as the country's best.

Kokonas told The Office crowd that Trio is still his favorite all-time restaurant, prompting Carrier, now executive chef at the Cloister in Sea Island, Ga., to call out: "That's like saying my favorite kid is the neighbor over there!"

But Kokonas noted that he could never have the kind of pure guest experience at Alinea that he did at Trio, and Trio owner Adaniya, who eventually left behind the Chicago restaurant scene to open a hot-dog joint, Hank's Haute Dogs, in Honolulu, said he felt the same about his former restaurant — except that he would be eating Next's Trio meal the following night.

"Now that will be very interesting," Adaniya said, "because I don't know how it's going to affect me emotionally."

From pleasure to inspiration

Achatz toasted the chefs who preceded him in that Evanston space: Shawn McClain (Green Zebra, Sage in Las Vegas) Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, who with Adaniya formed the original Trio before leaving to open Tru and Leslee Reis, the late chef who brought fine dining to Evanston with Café Provencal, where Adaniya worked.

Kokonas tipped his hat to Adaniya: "The whole reason that I'm involved with (Achatz) is because of what you did via all these people. So you guys give us great pleasure, but more than pleasure, you give us inspiration to do what we're doing 11 years later."

"Which to me is like genuinely a life-changing thing, and I mean that in a literal sense, not a figurative sense," Kokonas said.

"It was life changing for a lot of us," former Trio/Alinea server Scott Noorman added.

"Agreed," said Carlson, who cooked at Trio for almost two years before opening the tiny, highly personal Schwa in 2005. "There'd be no Schwa without you guys."

The future is now

"This food is old," Beran cracked as he walked into the dining room as the first complete run-through of the menu was being served to some front-of-the-house staff and managers in late August.

When Achatz was helming Trio, its cuisine was considered to be on the futuristic, avant-garde side, more experimental and linked to molecular gastronomy (that hot new thing!), than top-rated Chicago restaurants Charlie Trotter's and Tru. Part of the fun — or challenge, depending on your point of view — of Next's Trio menu is seeing how this food has held up after 10 years of culinary advancements.

"Chefs never want to look backward," said Kokonas. "But I think there's a value as we all get a little bit older to seeing the inspiration for where it all came from."

In a way this is the culinary equivalent of pulling out a first-generation iPhone: It operates in a familiar way, but there aren't as many features.

Achatz recalled detailing to Beran his first dish that emphasized aroma: lobster with wild mushrooms in a rosemary vapor achieved by pouring hot water over rosemary sprigs.

"I'm like, 'OK, there's lobster, rosemary, mushrooms and cream,'" Achatz said. "And he literally at one point looked at me and goes, 'What else?' And I'm like, 'That's it.'"

Mind you, Alinea this year featured a dish that prepared duck five ways with 60 garnishes.

"We didn't have the time, we didn't have the manpower, we didn't have the space to put 25 components on a plate," Achatz said, noting that he was one of just eight cooks in the Trio kitchen, compared with 22 at Alinea and 13 at Next. "There is that impulse to go 'more more more,' and now looking back at some of this food and going, 'Holy (expletive), there's only four components on there, and it's really good,' it makes me want to simplify certain dishes."

The Next Trio menu includes a couple of dishes that eventually reappeared at Alinea: the single-bite Black Truffle Explosion, which is a ravioli that bursts forth with an intense truffle tea, and a caprese salad variation in which a mozzarella balloon is inflated with fresh tomato water foam. The latter was not part of the Kokonas birthday dinner because tomatoes aren't in season in January — so that notion of re-creating that particular meal at Next gave way to more of a Trio's Greatest Hits approach that's mindful of the season. Kokonas said later in the fall the tomato mozzarella dish will give way to "one of the all-time best dishes I ever had": a chestnut soup topped with potato ice cream.

Beran described the food as bridging the French Laundry and Alinea, with each dish containing "one crazy technique or one crazy idea" anchored by more traditional elements.

Then there was the question of whether the Next chefs would prepare the Trio dishes the same ways as 10-12 years ago or take advantage of their state-of-the-art kitchen and accumulated knowledge?

"We definitely improved some things," Achatz said. "Some things we left alone."

For instance, the dish called Crab, Coconut, Ten Bridging Garnishes includes a ball of encapsulated coconut milk, and over the past 10 years chefs have come up with ways of encapsulating liquids to achieve a thinner, less noticeable layer of skin, Beran said. Yet when they attempted these newer techniques, the results weren't as pleasing as the original version, with its skin like a custard layer.

"It turned out the old way was better, the taste was better, the texture was better," Achatz said.

Sometimes the trickiest part was rediscovering how a dish was made. Achatz et al painstakingly document and photograph all of their Alinea and Next dishes and recipes, and Alinea opened on the cusp of that "food porn" era in which diners compulsively posted pictures of their meals online. Trio, on the other hand, was pretty much pre-social media and pre-digital sharing.

"We were scouring the Web for photos of dishes, and there just weren't any," Achatz said. "Back then we weren't really good at documenting recipes because at Trio we never thought we'd write a cookbook. It was all verbally handed down."

Like 'the '85 Bears'

In some cases, Achatz had to track down three or four alumni to fill in details, triggering powerful memories: Duffy, now chef/owner of Grace, bringing in the edible paper from Chinatown that became the basis of the tweezer-scaled "Pizza" Carlson delivering perfect olive oil ice-cream/Parmesan/black-pepper sandwiches for Achatz's acceptance of his Food & Wine 2002 Best New Chef award in Aspen.

Nathan Klingbail, a Trio cook who later served as an Alinea sous chef, recalled the seat-of-the-pants work. "Sending interns out on the streets of Evanston to clip pine branches to bring it back for a frog leg aroma dish? That's funny," he said. "Where at Alinea we would order it in. We'd have branches sent."

That spirit of discovery and camaraderie drew the Trio team back from the many cities where they have continued their careers, such as Michael Pagliarini as chef-owner of the Italian restaurant Giulia in Cambridge, Mass., Mary Radigan running her family's Ray Radigan's restaurant in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and others who arrived from Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Michigan and elsewhere.

The response floored Achatz.

"We're not paying for them to come in," he said. "We're not paying for their hotels, paying for their flights. We just threw out, 'Hey, we're celebrating Trio from the time you were there,' and people are flying in from the west, the east, the south: 'Oh (expletive), we're getting the band back together. It's not an option not to come.'"

That sentiment was echoed by many.

"It was a magical time," said Noorman, who came in from Grand Rapids, Mich. "It was like being on the '85 Bears."

"This year I had my 20th high school reunion, I was invited back to the French Laundry 20th reunion, and then right before I was going out to Napa, I got an invitation to this," said Carrier, who flew in from Georgia. "I'll tell you, I saved the best for last."

As for Adaniya, he finally ate his Trio meal last Wednesday night and said it was terrific, though it didn't actually transport him back to Evanston because everything was so much more polished. "To think that we did stuff out of our rudimentary kitchen, thinking of what we had to play with back then, that was amazing," he said. "It gave me more of an appreciation of what Trio was."

News for Restaurants in Chicago September 2015 Archive

GAYOT Week Menu at Vie September 15-19
Vie is offering a special three-course menu to celebrate being chosen for GAYOT's Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. list in the 2015 Annual Restaurant Issue. This GAYOT Week Menu, able from September 15-19, 2015, is priced at $55 plus tax and gratuity (additional $25 for optional wine pairings). The à la carte menu will also be available. The restaurant requests that diners mention that they will be dining for the GAYOT Week Menu when making reservations. Vie, 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs, IL 60558, 708-246-2082.

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