Tonight, at Per Se in New York, two culinary titans will meet and do battle. Not against each other; rather, against the waistlines, livers, and prevailing economic sensibilities of a roomful of diners, each of whom ponied up a cool $1500 for a twenty-course meal (plus wine pairings) prepared by the extremely famous hands of chefs Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz.
While we have a mild obsesssion healthy journalistic interest in both Keller and Achatz, what we don’t have is a spare $1500 lying around. (Even if we did, we’d be SOL: Keller’s publicist told us that tonight’s meal “sold out fairly quickly,” though there are still a few seats available for its encore performance on December 2, at Alinea, Achatz’s Chicago restaurant.)
Enter the New York Times, who remedy our poverty of knowledge (if not our poverty of wallet) by assigning Pete Wells to cover the evening. Pete has probably the best seat in the house: He’ll be in the actual kitchen, watching as two of the most precision-oriented culinary teams in the world converge. And to get our mouths all a-watering, he has the menu — truffles, sturgeon, and lobster, oh my! — which he’s amusingly tagged as “Mentor_Protege_Dinner.pdf”
That tag is only tongue partially in cheek: Achatz trained under Keller at The French Laundry before striking out on his own, and Keller’s influence is present in much of what he does. In Wells’ post, Michael Ruhlman, who’s worked closely with both chefs (he wrote the introduction for Alinea and was a main writer for all three of Keller’s cookbooks), takes a somewhat Freudian perspective:
“It’s probably more complicated from Grant’s perspective,” said Mr. Ruhlman. “Talk about the anxiety of influence, the need to slay the father. Keller looms so tall in this industry, I’m sure he does all he can to stay out of its shadow without alienating the friend and mentor to whom he owes so much.”
Maybe that $1500 price tag also offsets some therapy sessions? Or maybe sometimes Blackberry, Tobacco, Kola Nut, Nepetella (course 17) is just a cigar.
[Photo: Tomato, by Lara Kastner, via Alineamosaic.com]