Saturday, May 10, 2008

Leisurely Thoughts

New Glarus, WI - Greetings from "Little Switzerland." The beer is cold, the air less so.

I'm up here just gathering my bearings and catching up on some overdue things. One of them is finishing reading this week's New Yorker. It has a killer piece on Alinea's Grant Achatz and his battle with oral cancer, a story which has been covered exhaustively locally but is only now starting to break out nationally. It is a killer article worth the read.

In the process, author D.T. Max manages to humanize the usually reserved Achatz, a chef who rarely shows emotion but who constantly elicit them from his guests from his carefully crafted meals (a question I asked in my own interview with Achatz from last spring). Most notable is the passion with which Achatz sought the radical form of treatment that he eventually took to fight the Stage VI cancer, continuing work on his cookbook and putting in eighteen-twenty hour days at Alinea as he was fighting radiation sickness and undergoing treatment.

It's also given Achatz a lesson in trust. As the radiation treatment resulted in a loss and slow return of his sense of taste, Achatz has had to rely on his sous chefs to ensure that his "prototype" dishes are ready for the ever-changing menu at 1723 N. Halsted. I find it astounding that he was going through all of this at the time I interviewed him. According to Max, Achatz had been plagued by this since he was at Trio, nearly five years ago.

It also reminded me that, when I was in the lost post-HotHouse months trying to make ends meet freelancing, I pre-ordered the Alinea cookbook set for release this fall. Pre-ordering (and it's only $50, so don't be a cheap bastard) grants you access to the Alinea mosaic, which for me is like the ultimate Harry Potter wiki for anyone else. Customers holding pre-orders on the cookbook are allowed to view hi-res images of some of Achatz's menu creations, video of the process for some recipes, and recipes themselves. Achatz mentioned in our interview with him that it all boils down to it simplicity, a theme repeated in countless interviews before and after. After reading his recipe for cheese and crackers, I now see that.

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