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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Alinea- part 3

It has been two months since I ate at @GAchatz's Alinea restaurant in Chicago, so I must again apologise for being so slow in posting this final piece on what was, for me, the meal of a lifetime. You don't need to know the ins and outs of why its taken so long to get around to this post, so i will just jump straight in to it.....

A restaurant like Alinea is hard to define. It is not only unique, it is hard to imagine the thought process behind how it came into being. Like el Bulli in Spain, to have once looked at what is now one of the finest restaurants in the world when it was in the early days and create what now stands takes real genius. sure, it has taken time and evolution to reach this point, but both Achatz and Ferran Adria (of el Bulli) must have had the final model somewhere in their minds when the whole process of planning and creating started.
I use el Bulli as a comparison, to gently alert anyone who finds this blog interesting that I am planning on going there in January with my best friend and former work colleague Kevin-follow him on twitter @kevinbarron07.
El Bulli is also a fair comparison as it is also famed for its deconstruction of dishes, creative presentation and the barrier crushing inventiveness of its dishes.
Grant Achatz takes the familiar-leek and potato, bubblegum, pineapple and bacon-to name a few of the combinations I experienced- and twists them in presentation and service technique, so far that if it wasn't for the excellence of flavour, and taste memories they invoke, you could not get your head around what the heck they are. We all had a pineapple and bacon pizza in our time I'm sure, but who ever thought of pineapple purée, dehydrated to a see-through wafer with smoked Virginian ham? Chef Achatz did. and that's just one example.
Every bite of my meal at Alinea is still in my memory, as each bite was an extension of a previous memory-something in-built, which we carry round each day subconsciously, until we taste bubblegum, truffle or apple again. Its the ability to recreate these memories which sets Alinea apart from the rest. An ability which should be explored and celebrated.
Back to the actual meal, and as i previously mentioned in part 2, there is only one course which I have not yet described to you, my main dessert-chocolate, apricot, honey and peanut. when i was preparing to go to Alinea of course I looked around the internet for info, menus and images. several searches uncovered videos of chef Achatz 'plating' guests dessert course on their table. not AT their table, but ON it. While I was sat at my table on the second floor of the north Halstead restaurant, I did everything I could not to watch what my fellow diners were getting as I was trying not to spoil the surprise, but I couldn't help but notice that every single course they ate was from a plate, spoon or bespoke stand. Not once did anyone in whites venture into the dining room to assemble anything in plain view of the diners. Until my final course, When a waiter asked me to remove everything from my table so he could roll out a table sized mat which would form the 'plate' for the highlight course of my meal. what followed is best explained through the following video which I took, as my words aren't enough.

(sorry its a youtube link, so right click and select 'open in new tab')

The video takes a while to get going, but fast forward to 4.15 to get to the point...

As you can see, i made a bit of a fool of myself, when i misheard chef Achatz describing one of the components, due to his softly spoken tones and me forgetting the American pronunciation of basil (bay-sil) when I thought he said diesel. I know. Sorry.
watch the video a couple of times to take it all in, the honey liquid which is poured in the cylindrical glass mould then sets as it cools and is turned into a brulée, the nitrogen poached chocolate mousse which is solid yet melted in my mouth as I ate it, the artistry of the way all the different elements are assembled, and just the sheer concept of doing the whole thing in front of me or anyone else for that matter. It harks back in a way i guess to the old school restaurants of the big hotels where a any maitre D worth his salt would flambé crepes or fillet fish or create sauces in front of diners.
The dessert was the perfect finale to my meal and the Alinea experience, and I hope my journals have done enough to keep you interested, informed and wanting to try it for yourself. Here are a couple of shots of the finished dessert. Thanks for reading, if anyone would like any more info, email me on chefbennett@ymail.com, or tweet me on twitter.com/@chefbennett01.

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