The most recent addition to the Culinary Institute of America’s podcast series is a sit-down chat with CIA alumnus and Alinea chef-owner of Grant Achatz. Moderator Stephen Hengst sat down with the chef to discuss the philosophy behind the restaurant, the idea of dining as “participatory theater,” the terrifying prospect of being forced to make an emulsified sauce without proper preparation, and the importance of having good mentors.
How Alinea is broken down: “We look at things we’re trying to do in terms of blocks of time - not number of courses, not ingredients, not technique. Literally it’s that we have you in that chair for anywhere from two and a half to five hours, and how do we make that time to the best of our ability, to make it participatory theater, to make it enjoyable for the guest?”
How Alinea is more than just food: “First and foremost the food has to be delicious, no matter what you’re doing. But there are elements of ambiance that often go unnoticed bythe subconscious, that aren’t really to the forefront. There are some techniques we utilize in the kitchen — certain aroma-based techniques, for example, where we’re going to invite the guest, the diner in the dining room, we’ll surround their table [with the scent], evoking certain emotional responses.”
Why he doesn’t want newbies showing up at the kitchen door: “A lot of times students will come to me and want to …work at Alinea, and I try to talk them out of it, frankly. I feel strongly that there’s still an incredible amount of importance that should be placed on classical cooking, even contemporary cooking, digging in the trenches, burning your forearms on the sautee pan, sweating over the flattop - those are all tremendously important. …There’s really a benefit to cooking in the French model, in the European model, even in the contemporary American model… You’ll learn the language, you’ll learn the culture, you’ll learn the dance of a cook.”
Why it’s not always good to want to be a celebrity chef: “…The proliferation of the celebrity chef, the Food Network, these iconic figures that younger students are looking up to — it’s fantastic, because it excites everyone about food. However there’s a downside to that, which is that there might be some misinterpretations of what the reality of being a chef is. Chasing the dream is perhaps unrealistic — everyone becoming Bobby Flay. If every student comes in and wants to be a tv chef, a celebrity chef - is that a good pursuit? I’m not sure. Idon’t think so. I think what [students] should be focusing on is learning how to cook, being chefs, being cooks.”
Check out the whole podcast here. [CIA]