The Washington Post asked, “Is chef Grant Achatz a mad scientist or a culinary maestro?” You will find yourself asking the same question. After recently finishing this book, I have to say that the chef is both, but I discovered just as much about his humanity as I did his cooking. I find the chef fascinating, and given the chance of dining at Alinea, or meeting him in person and chatting at his favorite “Table 14,” I think I would chose meeting him, even though I think he would scare me – just a little – with his extreme intensity, and I’m old enough to be his mother. Intense people can be intimidating, but they usually have a story to tell – and this is quite a story. Apparently, Hollywood agrees, as I have read that the rights to the book have been purchased and casting ideas are being tossed around. I am guessing many actors are clamoring for this role – it has drama, love, tragedy, and food! What combo could possibly be more enticing on the big screen? Or in real life, for that matter.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when Alinea was being designed and the architect asked the chef, “Where’s your office?” Right there, the chef said, as he pointed into the kitchen. It seems that late into the night, after the cooks had gone home, the kitchen was sparkling clean, and the restaurant completely silent, Chef Achatz would grab his laptop, some notebook paper, a few cookbooks for ingredient referencing, and hunker down at Table 14 in the dimly lit dining room. He would scan restaurant websites and food forums, stare at lists of seasonal ingredients, and begin thinking of menu ideas. Sometimes he would be so excited about an idea, he would go into the kitchen and start experimenting at 3:00 am. I loved this vision of him in my head because I have been doing exactly the same thing for many years, although on a much different scale. I just have a kitchen table in a small kitchen in suburban Chicago, and an unfinished basement filled with literally thousands of cookbooks and recipes- but I understand the love of developing a recipe and seeing it through so others can enjoy it. I would love to have a photo of the chef at his table in the middle of night, contemplating his menu. I would hang it in my kitchen for inspiration.
There is so much to be said about this book, especially the trauma of the chef’s diagnosis of tongue cancer, but that was an illness, it doesn’t define who he is. I loved reading about the young boy who wanted to re-build a 1970 GTO (Oh, how I loved that car from my high school days), and the father he became with his two precious boys. Yes, I would love to dine at Alinea, and get season tickets for Next (along with 20,000 other people on the waiting list), but I love knowing that so many people are out there in the world enjoying his genius cuisine, just as I know my friends and family love my simple apple pie and maple coffeecake. There is such a satisfaction in making people happy through the comfort and love of food. Thanks, chef, for letting us all know that feeling.