The Culinary Institute of America

Grant Achantz, CIA culinary arts alumni, is Chef/Owner of  Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and The Office.

Spotlight On: Grant AchatzAssociate Degree in Culinary Arts

Chef/Owner of Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and The Office
Class of 1994

As chef and co-owner of Alinea, Next, The Aviary, and The Office in Chicago, Achatz has been recognized with multiple kudos. His James Beard Foundation awards include the 2003 Rising Chef Award; 2007 Best Chef: Great Lakes; 2008 Outstanding Chef; 2012 Best New Restaurant; and 2012 Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America. Alinea has been awarded three Michelin stars since 2011 and ranks at number nine on the 2014 S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Achatz has published two books. Alinea is about the creation of the restaurant, and Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, which includes his battle with stage-four tongue cancer and his subsequent remission.

“When I had the opportunity to build my own kitchen, I thought, hey, let’s wipe our heads clean of conventional kitchen design,” he recalls. “We analyzed the food and style of cooking and built around that.” The Aviary is a drinks restaurant where cocktails and service are given the same attention to detail as food in a four-star restaurant. Bartenders are trained as chefs and the produce and herbs are carefully sourced and procured fresh daily. The Office, located below The Aviary, is a speakeasy and exclusive club. Drinks are served in actual period-piece antiques with homemade custom ice that is either hand chipped or formed in Japanese press molds.

Next opened with the premise of changing the entire menu every three months, with each menu having its own time period and theme, i.e. Paris 1906 or The Hunt. Patrons buy all-inclusive tickets with their reservations. The number of tickets sold dictates how the restaurant spends its food budget and, more important, spread diners evenly throughout the week so the kitchen and staff can ensure a leisurely pace for patrons. The system has been so successful Alinea adopted the practice in 2012 and both restaurants saw a rapid decrease in no-shows, from 14% of reservations to less than 2% annually.

The $60 million ticketing system, the brainchild of Achatz’s partner Nick Kokonas, will roll out nationwide this year under a new company called Tock, a play on the idea of tickets, time, and the “tick-tock” sound of a clock. “I was getting so many requests for the software that there was no way I could fulfill them,” Kokonas says. His in-house-developed system “wasn’t built to scale to hundreds of restaurants, so we had to try to find a way to build one.”

To refine the software for wider adoption and a more robust user experience, Achatz and Kokonas brought on Brian Fitzpatrick, a software engineer who launched Google’s Chicago engineering team in 2005 as founding partner and chief technology officer.

Under the Tock model, restaurants pay a flat monthly fee of $695 for access to the platform, which eventually will offer five ticket types: fully prepaid prix-fixe tickets like those offered by Next and Alinea; deposit tickets, which require diners to put down a nonrefundable deposit for a reservation; dynamic deposit tickets, where the deposit varies depending on the date and time of reservation; special-event tickets; and no-cost tickets, which function as normal reservations.

For every innovative chef, there’s a strong grounding in the fundamentals, and Achatz credits his alma mater for instilling that in him. “I entered the CIA at a very young age with no fine dining or classic training,” he says. “The school gave me the foundation that is required to execute the cooking style that I now use.” He feels fortunate to have been a part of the bold new food industry that has taken shape in the last 20 years. “I graduated in 1994,” Achatz says, “and a lot has happened since then—the rise of The French Laundry and Per Se, and what they represent for American cuisine; the proliferation of progressive cuisine led by Ferran Adría and Heston Blumenthal; the role of the celebrity chef taking hold in American society. It remains a very exciting time to be in this profession.”

Achatz is now giving back and leading the next generation of culinary stars. His flagship restaurant, Alinea, serves as an approved externship site for current CIA students. Achatz is a member of the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation Culinary Council and provided mentorship to the 2015 team, led by fellow alumnus Phillip Tessier ’99, who ultimately took second place at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France.




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