Nick Kokonas Details the Beginning of Next

Kokonas and Achatz
Kokonas and Achatz Photo: courtesy Alinea

In a fascinating interview with Fast Company, Nick Kokonas, the man behind the scenes at Alinea and the upcoming Next and Aviary, detailed the precise moment that he and Grant Achatz came up with the idea for Next. You may remember, but the menu will hone in on a specific city at a certain time, only to completely change after four months. There is that crazy ticket system, too. For some reason, we always imagined this idea was conceived after a magnum or so of really expensive wine, but the story is actually far more compelling. Achatz had just been diagnosed with throat cancer, and Kokonas drove down from Michigan to Chicago to see him. When Kokonas arrived, Achatz asked if he was hungry and decided to cook for him. Kokonas couldn’t believe it.

He usually never cooks for me—there are 1,800 dishes to make for the customers—but I said yes and he cooked up mussels and it was beautiful. I said we could put up a French restaurant and he raised his eyebrows and said, yes, but in six months we’d be bored with it. Things looked pretty grim, but that was the thing we kept coming back to. As soon as we knew he was in remission and he had a future, we started thinking what else we could do and not get bored.

Isn’t that like the sweetest thing you’ve read all week? We feel extremely bad for that wine comment. Anyway, the rest of the interview deals with Kokonas’s first job, desert-island food, and his guilty pleasure. Still no word on the opening date, but the interview is definitely worth a read.

How Nick Kokonas Is Shaking Up Fine Dining [Fast Company]

Nick Kokonas Details the Beginning of Next