25 July 2007

Grant Achatz is One Hell of a Chef

Culinary whiz kid Grant Achatz, 33, the guy in charge of the hyped temple of gastronomy Alinea, recently received a grim diagnosis of Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. The disease has a treatment that will come with a price. At the minimum, it may cost the chef his sense of taste. At the maximum, it could also cost him his life.

Achatz has received numerous accolades throughout his life that make this more interesting. In 2002, he was named one of the Best New Chefs in "Food and Wine" magazine when he was the executive chef at Trio in Evanston. "Gourmet" magazine rated his new restaurant Alinea as the best restaurant in the United States last year. He was named one of Chicago's sexiest singles in this year's Chicago magazine feature.

Two of the greatest meals I ever ate in my life were served at Achatz establishments. My birthday meal at Trio years ago was beyond words. The amuse bouche was a parmesan cheese ice cream sandwich. I also distinctly remember that he made a hot and cold coconut soup served on a glass sculpture that was divine in both contrast and flavor. Achatz made world class cuisine at Trio that impressed vegetarians and carnivores alike. The restaurant hasn't been the same since Achatz's departure.

I also got an opportunity to eat at Alinea, his palace of fine dining that is as distinctive as something you would expect to experience on an alien planet. Exploding coconut butter orbs in celery juice. Foamed cheese and herbs served beside grilled watermelon (pictured above). Even the bread and butters were out of this world. A peeled piece of tomato with every manner of taste and texture present in the dish was as exciting to eat as it was to view. The wine, which included a glass of Remezieres Hermitage Cuvee Emile, was perfect.

Apparently, his very talented pastry chef left one week after I ate there. The desserts at the meal that night were other worldly.
His culinary flair is matched by the quality of his service, which is as impressive as it gets. Dining at Alinea was easily one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in my life, eating or otherwise. I wish Grant nothing but the best. Hopefully diners had a chance to experience his magic touch, and hopefully Achatz will come out and be able to continue in his inimitable style so you can taste his passion for food once in your life.

I was especially touched by his reference to Beethoven composing one of his greatest works after falling deaf. Achatz compared this story to the idea of a master chef like himself losing his sense of taste, looking optimistically at the future. However he comes out, he changed the way that I think about food. Achatz opened doors for me that I would never have known about otherwise. If Achatz doesn't survive, his legacy will shine on. If he sticks around, the world (and my stomach) will be a better place.

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