The Future of Food
Innate curiosity and devotion to precision and control, traits he shares with his mentor Thomas Keller, have brought Grant Achatz from his parents’ restaurant kitchen in Michigan to international attention and acclaim. As chef and co-owner of Alinea, Next, the Aviary, the Office, and the casual Roister in Chicago and the Aviary and the Office in New York City, 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.
Achatz describes his food as Progressive American. “Progressive being the utilization of cutting-edge technique and the exploration of creativity. And American being eclectic ingredients and regional items, with more of a global melting pot of cuisine styles,” he says. Achatz is also involved with Crucial Details, an award-winning design studio founded by Martin Kastner. Crucial Detail provides tableware to Achatz for his restaurants and provides the serving platters for the bi-annual Bocuse ’d Or competition in Lyon, France.
Alinea has been awarded three Michelin stars since 2010 and is the only Chicago restaurant to retain three stars in 2019. Roister holds one Michelin star. Alinea ranks at number 34 on the 2018 S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and won the 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant.
Achatz has published three books: Alinea is about the creation of the restaurant, Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, includes his battle with stage-four tongue cancer and his subsequent remission, and The Aviary Cocktail Book is about a culinary approach to cocktails, with insight, and artwork.
An enthusiastic proponent of molecular gastronomy, Achatz created a kitchen “laboratory” at Alinea. “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 beverage restaurant where cocktails and service are given the same attention to detail as food in a four-star restaurant. 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.
Achatz is one of nine international chef/judges on the Netflix program The Final Table. He was also featured on the critically acclaimed Netflix program, Chef’s Table, from filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi.)
A Strong Foundation
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; and 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 internship 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.