Toward Creativity By Michael Ruhlman
A feature article in Food & Wine magazine heralded Alinea as perhaps the country’s most exciting new restaurant two months before it even served its first meal. The Chicago press was abuzz as construction progressed, describing the restaurant’s May 2005 opening as the most eagerly anticipated in the city’s history, and calling its chef, Grant Achatz, a gastronomic wunderkind. So compelling was the debut of this heartland eatery, it lured America’s most influential restaurant critic, Frank Bruni of the New York Times, and Times regular Melissa Clark to an opening-night table. And the Chicago Tribune openly questioned whether Alinea could be as good as all the hype suggested.
Even I thought there was too much buildup, and I had known the chef for a decade and had written about him and his work with great admiration. After all, Grant was just thirty-one years old and this would be his first restaurant. Let’s wait to call Alinea the greatest new spot in America after it has been open, well, for at least a couple of weeks.
The Tribune waited three months to award Alinea four stars and answer that, yes, it was as good as predicted. Gourmet magazine waited for a year, and then pronounced it the best restaurant in America.
Alinea is quietly ensconced in a simple two-story building in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, a more or less anonymous structure that fits unobtrusively into the affluent, residential neighborhood. Inside, Alinea’s dining rooms are handsome, modernist, and understated, furnished with mahogany tables unadorned by centerpiece or tablecloth. Sharp but not showy, the restaurant gives little visual evidence of aspiring to be aggressively out of the ordinary in America’s fine-dining world.
So what makes Alinea so distinctive? And what are we to make of its controversial food: the outrageous pairings, the extraordinary manipulations of texture, presentations that veer from ingenious to surreal, service pieces that make some diners squirm, ingredients that range from familiar vegetables and meats to Ultra-Tex 3 and xanthum gum, and techniques that include encapsulation and pillows of scented air? And finally, who is the chef behind it all?
That’s what this book is about.
Excerpted from the essay Toward Creativity by Michael Ruhlman in Alinea by Grant Achatz, copyright © 2008. Published by Achatz LLC/Ten Speed Press.
Grant Achatz was named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002. He received the James Beard Rising Star Chef award in 2003; the Best Chef/Great Lakes award in 2007; and the top honor, Outstanding Chef in the United States, in 2008. Before opening Alinea in 2005, Achatz was sous chef at the French Laundry and the executive chef of Trio in Chicago. He lives in Chicago, IL.
375 g (13.2 oz) sugar
350 g (12.3 oz) glucose
500 g (1 lb 1.6 oz) heavy cream
100 g (3.5 oz) butter
Line sheet tray with silicone mat. In medium saucepan, heat sugar, glucose, cream, and butter over medium heat to 230°F (110°C). Pour onto prepared sheet tray. Let cool to room temperature.
210 g (7.4 oz) caramel base
65 g (2.3 oz) tapioca maltodextrin
In food processor, combine caramel base and tapioca maltodextrin and process until caramel base is completely absorbed.
TO ASSEMBLE AND SERVE
10 g (.4 oz) Maldon sea salt
Divide dry caramel evenly among 8 small glasses. Season with salt.
Reprinted with permission from Alinea by Grant Achatz, copyright © 2008. Published by Achatz LLC/Ten Speed Press.
Photo credit: Lara Kastner © 2008
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The debut cookbook from the restaurant Gourmet magazine named the best in the country. A pioneer in American cuisine, chef Grant Achatz represents the best of the molecular gastronomy movement--brilliant fundamentals and exquisite