When Chef Grant Achatz decided to renovate the way people dine in restaurants, he had one specific concept in mind and that is to release different emotions in people from the very moment they bite into a dish. Similarly, Nick Kokonas thought that it was a brilliant idea, something that is innovate and provocative at the same time. Thus, Alinea was born and became the most sensational and universally praised restaurant not only in Chicago or in the United States, but also around the world.
Offering 18 to 22 courses lasting for four hours, this fine-dining extravaganza remains to be the only restaurant in Chicago to have achieved three Michelin star rating and ranked as the top restaurant globally by Elite Traveler, a luxury magazine. As the restaurant continues to push the limit of how to serve its meals, from taffy balloons to chopsticks made from cinnamon bark, the one-of-a-kind restaurant never cease to amaze the palate and imagination of its customers.
Unbelievably, the maker behind these wonderful foods almost lost his sense of taste due to an unfortunate diagnosis of fourth stage tongue cancer in 2007. But just like how he sees his restaurant, Chef Achatz bounced back and was able to beat his challenge into remission. His passion for the place and his love for food made him an even better chef, fighting the odds and believing nothing is impossible.
This year, Chef Achatz’s restaurant celebrated its tenth successful year in the business, making it an important milestone in the food history of Chicago and the whole country. Fine-dining enthusiasts from all over the globe believes this restaurant is as important as how Le Francais and Charlie Trotter. While it may seem that the restaurant is too expensive, costing about $800 for two, Alinea is still approachable and non-elitist.
How did this “50 World’s Best Restaurants” finalist became such a phenomenon and a hit in Chicago, a city known for its deep dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef? Here is a list of the top five reasons how Alinea changed the way Chicago locals looked at food and dining.
- It was one of the first American restaurants to explore molecular gastronomy, giving way to science as a new manipulator of how food tastes, feels, and looks like.
Chef Achatz defied the impossible by using techniques like foam formation, spherification, and immersion, which until now have been unheard of and practiced in American service kitchens and restaurants. Through the influence of Spanish chef and food experimentalist Ferran Adria, Chef Achatz came to learn how to incorporate molecular gastronomy to his cuisine. Furthermore, his innovation gave way to new inventions such as the anti-griddle which freezes the surface of food and ingredients in seconds.
- It exhibited meals in a way that emphasizes the progression of meals, much like a narrative of how each dish complements the other, giving it cohesion and not just disparate bites.
The menus are printed to show how a dish will either be savory or sweet. As the first meal will be complementing or influencing what the next dish will bring, the lasting flavors will surely be a clue to what they will be serving next. With this presentation, the diners are treated to like that of an entire album than measly one-hit wonder singles.
- It used the method “flavor-bouncing” or a concept of mixing, matching, and arranging meals in such away that the central ingredient takes centerstage, without overpowering the cuisines.
Like the iconic Lamb 86, where the main protein is cooked in four different ways and paired with 86 other ingredients. These “side dishes” were made to either be in powder form, solid, sauce or gel. As for the finishing touch, the dish is culminated in a glass plate for added sophistication.
- It changed how fine-dining is addressed in American culture by removing what is unnecessary like the French maitre d’, crystal chandeliers, and gold-rimmed plates.
Chef Achatz made sure that his restaurant, though screaming with fine-dining courses and details, remained approachable, comfortable, funny and not stiff. The actual culinary experience enables customers to feel like watching a comedic performance in theater, allowing them to sample every emotion presented to them. The element of surprise is what makes it different and unique among others, making customers get the ultimate gastronomical satisfaction everyone wishes to get at the end of every meal.
The restaurant also uses the custom-made dishes and service ware made by Chef Achatz and Kokonas themselves called the Crucial Detail. This enables them to play around with the texture and presentation in a way only makers of canvas and makers of arts know of.
- It eliminated tipping and adopted asking for a service charge instead, which is more amenable for customers, service crew and kitchen staff.
At 20 percent, everyone who participated in the beautiful orchestra of service gets what they deserve without the pressure of waiting anything from the customers.