Intro: In addition to decades of experience designing kitchens, each of our designers has many outside interests. We hope you enjoy this account of a recent break Stacia took from working with our clients. Talk about Bon appetite!!
I recently had the unique pleasure of dining at the Grant Achatz restaurant Alinea in Chicago. This experience was not just another sit down dinner, but a performance! If you who haven’t heard of Grant or his restaurant, Grant Achatz is one of the greatest chefs in the world, specializing in molecular gastronomy. Grant’s cooking creates a food experience that leads to course after course of surprises that are beautiful works of art. His accolades include a James Beard Award for “Best Chef”, three Michelin Stars and Alinea ranked in the San Pelligrino Best 50 restaurants in the World (just to name a few).
I had first heard about Grant Achatz on the radio during my kitchen design related travels. The story revolved around how this amazing chef was diagnosed with mouth cancer within a few months of opening the doors to Alinea. Yes, all of that is a story in and of itself, but what piqued my interest was his exploration of creating a dining experience that played upon the senses.
The radio story inspired me to read his book, Life on the Line, and to add Alinea in Chicago to my bucket list. Over the July 4th weekend, we made a slight detour from time with family to experience Alinea ourselves. The restaurant was in an assuming part of town marked only by the address. And don’t let me mislead you – you have to purchase tickets on line months in advance.
Our meal began with the menu in the form of a word search. Minutes later, the wait staff activated a bowl of orange halves on dry ice with a hot pitcher of water. As the mist from this unusual and spectacular center piece covered our table, we were served a smaller and illuminated bowl of small kumquat like fruits with cocoa butter. Each bite of this first course turned out to be filled with a spiced citrus liquid.
The courses kept coming and the amazement continued. In the third course, dumplings made from scallops rested on top a bouquet of lavender over a smoldering fire. Later, the waiter dug into the salts from this fire to find a potato that was used to create a table-side deconstructed clam chowder. Following that, we were taken from the table to the kitchen for a cocktail playfully mixed with the elaborate contraption seen in photos below. Once in the kitchen I could only imagine what behind the scenes magic we would get to see!
I certainly didn’t expect the kitchen to be as quiet as a library with our next course being prepared with tweezers. There were no burners of bubbling concoctions or the gas flames I expected.
It seemed as if each course was more intriguing than the next. One included a test tube placed in front of each guest. The liquid inside was a pineapple infused citrus and the open end was corked by a red gelatin. Once you embarked on the journey you had to commit. The gelatin popped into your mouth and gravity took over with the pineapple infused liquid. What a divine surprise. And if all of this wasn’t enough, I knew there was another surprise to come for the grand finale…
No matter the guest or the age everyone was handed a balloon – an edible balloon made from what could only be described as a green apple taffy. And, it was filled with helium to put the entire experience over the top.
Munchkin giggles came from some of Chicago’s most elite. The evening was complete. And as much as I threatened the need for a deep dish after all of these small bites, we left beyond satisfied.
I still haven’t met Grant Achatz but hope to, and to return to Chicago and experience Grant’s next and newest endeavor.
Senior Designer Main Line Kitchen Design