The 2013 season of Next menus has been announced. As reported a few weeks ago, the first will be the Hunt, a midwestern game-focused menu; while the second, as Nick Kokonas hinted to Grub Street Chicago shortly after, will be not just vegetarian but vegan. And the third will be Bocuse d’Or, after the famous cooking competition, which Grant Achatz and the Alinea/Next teams have strongly supported this year, hosting U.S. team head chef Richard Rosendale in Chicago for several weeks to work on ideas for the 2013 competition. (See our video featuring Achatz and Rosendale below.) We spoke with Next Chef Dave Beran as the news was breaking and got some behind the scenes insight into the upcoming menus — as well as seeing some of the new plateware that has been commissioned for the upcoming menus.
• With more than a month before the Hunt begins (at the start of January), Beran says the menu is in good shape, with only two dishes still in recipe testing. While game is a focus of the menu, don’t expect a mere meatfest — the kitchen has been playing with various kinds of plants and vegetables native to the Midwest as well, from wild sorrel to sweet potato leaves. He also says that one dish will turn out to be a midwestern spin on one of the most popular and iconic dishes from an earlier Next menu — but it’s a secret for now.
• We asked if there was anything more to the concept behind the vegan menu, and he said "No, no time or place. We didn’t want to limit ourselves, but it’s really going to be a menu that showcases the flavors of vegetables." As a menu beginning in the spring, it is also one that is likely to evolve the most as the months of the menu pass.
• "We just decided that one yesterday at about two o’clock," he laughed about Bocuse d’Or as a theme. The impetus came from the desire of Achatz (and mentor Thomas Keller) to help raise the profile of the competition in the U.S."Here’s this fantastic food that you work for months and months on, and then what, a dozen judges get to try it and that’s it," Beran said. "So this will be how Next would do a Bocuse d’Or menu, and 1400 people will get to try it and learn what it’s all about."
Next will also be expanding to seven days a week (from the current five) at some point in 2012 to accommodate more guests. Part of this reflects Grant Achatz’s confidence in the Next team’s ability to get the job done, which has allowed him to step back somewhat from hands-on involvement with every detail and allow Beran and team to make the menus their own. Beran says that Next Sicily was the first one where he took the lead in devising the dishes "and when Kyoto came along, we just kept doing it that way."
Here’s Grant Achatz and Bocuse d’Or team leader Chef Richard Rosendale talking about the Bocuse d’Or last May, when Rosendale was at Alinea: