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Grant Achatz Is Opening Alinea Pop-Up Locations in Miami and Madrid

Grant Achatz Is Opening Alinea Pop-Up Locations in Miami and Madrid

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Alinea, one of the ‘world’s best restaurants’ will be coming to multiple cities after a successful pop-up in New York

This critically acclaimed restaurant won’t just belong to Chicago anymore.

Alinea, which came in at No. 4 on The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America list and which has consistently been named one of the best restaurants in the world by San Pellegrino, may be coming soon to a city near you. After a successful pop-up restaurant in New York this past fall, Alinea’s executive chef Grant Achatz told the upscale dining and recipes website Fine Dining Lovers that the next step is opening Alinea pop-ups in Miami and Madrid.

“Right now, we’re about to sign contract with pop-ups in Madrid and Miami… the contracts for these will come before New York, there’s a question mark at the moment with the New York project but Madrid and Miami are happening soon,” Achatz said. “We don’t have exact dates or exact locations, even which one will come first, but we’re expecting January or February 2016.”

The pop-ups will be a “full team move,” with the entire Alinea staff transporting one of Chicago’s finest and most revered dining experiences to Miami and Madrid, where Achatz expects to be “inspired by the local culture and ingredients.”

Alinea, besides creating creative and upscale cuisine, is also known for its revolutionary reservation ticketing system, designed by Achatz’s co-owner and business partner Nick Kokonas. It has since been adapted by other fine-dining institutions around the world. We can only imagine that the tickets at these pop-ups will sell out almost immediately.

The restaurant opened on May 4, 2005, and takes its name from the symbol alinea, which is featured as a logo. [ citation needed ]

Co-owner Nick Kokonas wrote, of the restaurant's name, "If you're wondering about the name, Alinea literally means "off the line." The restaurant's symbol, more commonly known as the pilcrow, indicates the beginning of a new train of thought, or literally a new paragraph. There's a double meaning: On one hand Alinea represents a new train of thought about food, but we are a restaurant, and everything still has to come "off the line."" [4]

In October 2008, chef and owner Grant Achatz and co-author Kokonas published Alinea (ISBN 1-58008-928-3 978-1-58008-928-9), a hardcover coffee-table book featuring more than 100 of the restaurant's recipes.

In November 2010, Alinea was awarded three Michelin stars, making it one of only two such restaurants in Chicago at the time, along with L2O. [1]

In January 2016, the Alinea Group, the owner of Alinea, bought Moto restaurant in Chicago. [5]

On January 1, 2016, Alinea closed temporarily for renovations. [6] The restaurant planned to operate pop-up restaurants worldwide [7] before reopening on May 20, 2016 after an extensive remodel and a complete overhaul of the menu. [8]

Alinea received the AAA Five Diamond Award, the highest level of recognition given by the AAA, from 2007 to 2017. It ranked ninth on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants List, second only to Eleven Madison Park in the US. As of 2017, Alinea is the only Michelin Guide 3-star restaurant in Chicago. [9] Alinea received the 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant. [10]

On June 14, 2016, Alinea was ranked 15th among the World's 50 Best Restaurants, an increase of 11 spots from 2015. [11] In October 2016, TripAdvisor named it the number one fine dining restaurant in the United States, and one of the 10 best restaurants in the world. [12]

In the 2017 list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Alinea was ranked 21st in the world. [13]

In 2020, Alinea served from a rooftop when all indoor dining was closed in Illinois during the coronavirus pandemic. The menu included a canapé shaped like the COVID-19 virus. Alinea Group co-owner Nick Kokonas stated the appetizer was "meant to provoke discomfort, conversation, and awareness" but some diners described it as "tacky", "disrespectful" and "insensitive." [14] [15]

Alinea's Grant Achatz on Madrid & Miami pop-ups, what's to come in Chicago and more

Grant Achatz's mantlepiece - if he has one - must be groaning with awards. His Chicago restaurant, Alinea, has won a lot of them in the decade since it opened. It's picked up three Michelin stars along the way, bobbed in and out of the Top 10 of the World's 50 Best list (currently at 26) and, crucially, is much loved. When the World's 50 asked the public to cast their votes for the first time, Alinea was a popular winner. Maybe it's because it's much more than a restaurant - as Alinea's own blurb says - more of an experience.

Now, while the Chicago restaurant closes for a major refurbishment, Alinea is on the move - popping up in Madrid and Miami until it reopens in April. For just four weeks we won't have to a) try and get a reservation at the sold out till forever restaurant and b) fork out the price of a transatlantic flight. Hot Dinners sat down with Achatz on the eve of his move to Spain to find out what we can expect from the experience (and how to get a table).

Why did you choose Madrid and Miami?

First of all, it comes down to finding partners. As you can imagine it takes a tremendous amount of money to move over 40 people anywhere for 5 weeks. You have to cover housing, airfare and all these things that are not typically wrapped up in the cost of a restaurant. You have to find a partner to help with that and normally it would be a hotel. That’s the the nuts and bolts of the thing.

As for Madrid itself, I have always loved Spain and go there about once a year. I just find it really inspiring in terms of creativity that we bring home to the restaurant.

I think that it goes back to Spain being one of the first European countries that I visited, when I was a young culinary. My first trip there was in 2000 and that was when ElBulli was open and Spanish cuisine had taken a jump ahead of the French in terms of being progressive and avant garde and that spoke to my youth and my personality as a cook. It was invigorating and very exciting. So that was a natural choice.

The other aspect is that it really invigorates the team. As a group, they get to travel to Europe and Miami - especially in January and February which are the worst two months here in Chicago. It all works out from both a lifestyle point of view for the team and a financial requirement for the restaurant to remain open.

You can inspire the staff by giving them this opportunity to live in Madrid and Miami for 5 weeks apiece (they won’t live in Chicago for 12 weeks). It’s just a win-win-win for everyone, you get to see new ingredients, cuisines, meet new chefs and restaurateurs - it can be really inspiring.

We’ve seen similar pop-ups from Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck in Melbourne) and Rene Redzepi (Noma in Tokyo). Were you influenced by those pop-ups?

Not much. People don’t realise - even though it’s become more and more popular currently - pop up restaurants have a very, very long history. People think that this is a new phenomenon. I was reading an article in the NYT about the passing of Paul Prudhomme and it talked him taking his restaurant in the 70s and popping up in San Francisco and New York City to bring Cajun and Creole food to the coast.

It made me realise that this is something that’s not necessarily new. We’ve been doing it for a long time. We actually did a pop up with 11 Madison Park in New York City about 4 years ago where we swapped restaurants.

So now I think chefs and restaurateurs are realising the same - as with Heston moving to Australia while making improvements to the Fat Duck.

While we’re in Madrid and Miami, the restaurant back home here is going to go under a huge renovation. New Year’s Eve will be our last service, probably until the beginning of April.

When you’re running a business like that and you have 50, 60, 70 employees, you can’t just lay them off for three months and expect them to just be there when you’re done with construction and re-open. It just makes sense to open in a different location while your flagship restaurant is inoperable. You have the opportunity not to feel the financial pressure while you’re closed and renovating.

Did you ever think about bringing the pop up to London?

London is one of my favourite cities in the world. We go there at least once a year. We have some family in Oxford and usually I go for the World’s 50 Best awards and Top 50 Bars (I was there in June for that).

It’s going to be a cliche because everyone talks about it but I love St John, The Clove Club, The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms and The Golden Hind for Fish & Chips. I love the city and we always have great meals there.

I know that Thomas Keller did a French Laundry pop-up there and 11 Madison Park were also toying with the idea of setting up shop there for a bit. Logistically it’s just a tremendous amount of work. I would love to do it - but, for instance, the entire staff would have to get fingerprinted in order to get the proper visa. The paperwork itself was just intense.

And getting a hotel becomes a critical piece in the whole puzzle because it’s not a week or a couple of days - it’s a month that 50 or so of us will be living in the city - it’s a big expensive project.

What can you tell us about the ethos behind Alinea?

We wanted Alinea to be a globally influenced restaurant. There are cuisine genres like New Nordic where everything is supposed to be coming from 40km of the location of the restaurant but we always thought that if we can get a really great fish from Tsukiji market in Tokyo flown over just two days after it comes out of the water, we should do that. And if we wanted to get a particular fruit from Brazil that you simply can’t find anywhere in the United States, we should do that. So our ideology of how the restaurant should be influenced is a global approach not a local one.

What about your own personal Spanish influences?

I think that whenever I went to Spain I was always inspired by what I found - the food, ingredients, technique and the people. When we were researching the tapas menu for our second restaurant Next, Andoni Luis Aduriz (from Mugaritz) and Elena Arzak would literally chaperone us around the old part of San Sebastien to learn more about the pinxtos and what are the best places. They’re just a very generous, happy bunch of people from my experience.

What can we expect from the Madrid pop-up?

Firstly, when the restaurant [in Chicaco] reopens from renovation, we want it to be a new experience. And we’re going to take the opportunity to open that up when we’re in Madrid. So I can say with confidence that from the menu we’re serving in Chicago tonight (mid November), we might only serve two of those dishes while we’re in Madrid. The rest will be a direct interpretation of what Alinea will become when it reopens in the spring.

Secondly, we also have to pay homage to Spain and respect the ingredients and the markets and everything that Madrid has to offer. It’s the same thing that Rene did in Tokyo. He would go to Tsukiji Market and use all the ingredients that were around him. I think we have to do that same thing, it would be disrespectful not to.

We also have to pay attention to some of the gastronomic history - riffing off of some of the signature dishes of Spain. Whether those are paellas or bocadillos or involving iconic Spanish ingredients like jamon Iberico or the local shellfish - we want all of that.

And finally, there are Spaniards who have never been to Alinea Chicago so we want to bring part of that identity to Madrid.

So we need to bring those three things together. And the experience is will be an event in itself.

Will Miami be a similar experience then - so Alinea but using local influences?

The hotel we’re in for the Miami pop-up is owned by a Venezualan so we’re going to want to pull a lot of Central and South American influences. In the same way as Spain, we’re going to want to involve a lot of Central and South American ingredients and nods to the cuisine from Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

And then of course Miami cuisine is directly influenced by Cuba so we have a lot of opportunity to shift the cuisine that way, which is exciting. But the venues are very different - so I think we’re going to have opportunities to try different things in each just because of the physical space.

For instance, in Madrid the first week is going to be a set of collaborative dinners with David Munoz of DiverXo. The restaurants are about a three minute walk apart and there’s a room in the middle of that journey that we’re going to curate and turn into something special - so that you actually get three movements, if you will, within the dinner experience.

The remaining three weeks Alinea is on its own and we have a space that’s large - not enormous - and we have to make it look like Alinea. We’ll put in new carpet, new furniture, decorating the space with art, all of these things to make this pre-existing space be more like our aesthetic.

In Miami - the whole place is under construction right now.

So it’s like you can experience Alinea in Chicago without actually going to Chicago?

What kind of things can people expect from Alinea when it reopens in April?

It’s going to be a totally different experience from what we’re currently doing. The stage itself will be dramatically changed, the entryway, the iconic staircase, even into the kitchen - the physics of it will be changed by the renovation.

Experientially - and I usually hate using this word - but I think we need to craft an experience that’s more theatrical. We can make the food delicious, that’s our job. But when you’re there for three hours - what do you want to happen? What experiences do you want to see unfold?

Restaurants typically have a template, and whatever season that they're in they just go into that template. So you know your amuse is going to be something with caviar, and then you have a vegetable focused course and then you have a fish dish, shellfish, then light meat, dark meat, pre dessert and final chocolate course. It just gets very predictable so we’re not taking that approach at all.

We’re thinking about it more like a movie or a play where we write a script and fill in the food from there.

Have you come up with any dishes that will definitely be on the menu in Madrid?

Hmm. We did a bit of menu work last night - but there will be many changes so I can’t give any absolute specifics. But I can give a vague type of idea - but not 100% done dishes.

Going back to that theatrical element, for the initial phase of the pop-up diners will come into that middle room in between DiverXo and Alinea Madrid. They will be greeted in a space that will have an envelope or a bag suspended from the ceiling that will contain various objects.

One of them would be a postcard of Chicago and a Chicago hot dog, one of them would perhaps be a small pair of scissors. There might be another envelope with food - it can be freeze dried or pulverised - that they would ultimately use to season or garnish one of the dishes on the menu.

he idea is that they would get this bag - but have no idea at that point which restaurant they would be going to - Diverxo or Alinea. If they have the postcard from Chicago, that means they’re starting from Alinea.

They are escorted into the Alinea dining room, if that’s what card they have. They put the card on the table and we put on top of that card in a glass monocle a distillation of Chicago hot dog and that’s their first bite. It looks perfectly clear but it tastes like a Chicago dog.

Then they flip the card over and there are instructions for something later on in the meal - it’ might say “when the snow arrives, find your next bite” and an hour later we are going to place a giant bowl or plate on the table that’s covered with snow - a huge pile of snow - again bringing that Chicago winter to Madrid. They have to put on a glove and dig their way through it and find their next course.

And then a little bit later, a dish will arrive sitting on top of a bed of edible roses - the idea is that they would remove the rose, clip it with the scissors over the dish and then consume it. Those are the kind of dishes that we’re looking at now to curate the experience.

Alinea Madrid starts its five week run at the NH Collection Eurobuilding on 12 January 2016, running until 6 February 2016. Tickets are available to book now and more will be released in two tranches. The first on 1 December 2015 and the final allocation on 1 January 2016.

All the restaurant and bar openings you need to know for 2021

If 2020 was the year of the pivot – with restaurants and bars converting to delivery, grocery stores and kitchens feeding the hungry – then 2021 is set to be the year of recovery. Restaurateurs and bar owners are reviving plans postponed by the pandemic and actioning the new ideas brought about by having more time to devise creative new concepts.

With the possibility of a return to international travel on the horizon, we bring you a list of all the recently opened and soon-to-launch bars and restaurants from Lisbon to Sydney, Bangkok to Moscow. Whether you’re craving burgers by René Redzepi of Noma or cocktails by bartender Simone Caporale, we’ve got you covered.


Dead End Paradise, Beirut
Key cocktail: Burnt Lebanese Sling - burnt ashes gin, burnt Lebanese herbs including sage, rosemary, Lebanese green tea
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Beirut explosion last year is Dead End Paradise, from the team behind Electric Bing Sutt, which won The Best Bar in The Middle East and Asia 2019. The original EBS site has been deemed too damaged to reopen, so the same architects have brought the EBS spirit of hedonistic adventure to a dead-end street 500m from the epicentre of the blast. Designed with the feeling of tiki escapism in mind, it majors in Asian / Middle Eastern tiki cocktails, playful Asian street food and comes with the moniker ‘if this is your last day on Earth, you’d want to spend it here’.
Pasteur Road, Beirut

Aksorn, Bangkok
Pomelo salad with rose apple blossoms and pork with chilli jam
Almost three years after leaving acclaimed restaurant Nahm, David Thompson is back with a new opening in the Thai capital. On the site of a historic and much-loved bookstore, Aksorn brings to life the recipes of Lady Kleeb, a renowned cook from upper-class Bangkok who focused on Thai, Chinese and Laotian dishes. Like those who frequented the store since 1950, Aksorn trawls through cookbooks and changes its menu according to a particular volume from the 1940s to 1970s, when modern Thailand was emerging.
1266 Charoenkrung Road, Bang Rak, Bangkok, 10500

Baan Tepa, Bangkok
Signature dish:
Black sticky rice ‘Kum noi’
Chef Tam Chudaree Debhakam, former sous chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York State, has returned to Thailand to open her own restaurant in a historic house that belonged to her grandmother. The 12-course interactive tasting menu begins with a tour of the beautiful garden and takes in a course with the chefs, where guests learn about new local ingredients and the restaurant’s philosophies of sustainability, quality and care for the environment.
561 Ramkhamheang Road, Hua Mak, Bang Kapi, Bangkok 10240

Baan Tepa in the Thai capital of Bangkok

BKK Social Club, Bangkok
Don’t leave without: Grabbing one of Philip Bischoff’s pre-bottled cocktails, available in three sizes
Set in the Thai capital’s ultra-luxe Four Seasons Hotel at Chao Phraya River, BKK Social Club is the latest project for global superstar bar manager, Philip Bischoff. His vision is to capture the essence of Buenos Aires’ legendary party and cocktail scene and infuse it with a distinctly Thai flavour. The new bar has a sprawling semi-outdoor cigar terrace, gilded backbar and chandeliers bedded with plants, to conjure images of verdant Argentina.
Charoen Krung Rd, Khwaeng Yan Nawa, Khet Sathon

Philip Bischoff in action in the new Bangkok bar

Two Schmucks Terrace, Barcelona
Signature drink: Bloody Mary Caesar
Self-proclaimed ‘five-star dive bar’ Two Schmucks has moved just 150m down the street from its original location, transforming into a Covid-secure terrace bar that looks to working within in the confines of Spanish hospitality guidance in the immediate future. The original Two Schmucks (No.26 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020) will reopen with a new concept once curfews are scrapped and people are allowed to sit inside again, but for now Barcelona locals can hang out on the 60-seat terrace for good vibes, no-frills cocktails and dirty, delicious food such as Korean fried chicken and waffles. Head down at the weekend for the excellent brunch offering.
Placa D’emili Vendrell

Koan, Copenhagen
Must-try dish:
Kristian Baumann’s signature doughnut with salted whipped cream
After the closure of his Restaurant 108 due to the pandemic, Chef Kristian Baumann was quick to open Koan, an exploration of the cuisine of his ancestors' South Korea using Nordic ingredients. Currently operating as a pop-up within Empirical Spirits in Copenhagen, Koan is set to find a permanent home later in 2021 with a dining room inspired by the art, design, history and textures found on Baumann’s trips to Korea.
Koan x Empirical, Refshalevej 175A, 1432 København K

The archetypally Scandi new dining room at Koan, Copenhagen

Popl, Copenhagen
On the menu: The most-talked about burger of 2020
After the unbridled success of the burger pop-up that Noma created before reopening as a fine dining restaurant last summer, René Redzepi decided to launch a permanent burger restaurant. Located in the space left by the now-closed 108 (see above), Popl serves organic Danish beefburgers and vegetarian and vegan patties made from quinoa in the Noma fermentation lab. The name comes from ‘populus’ and is a reference to the community spirit that strengthened during the pandemic, as well as to poplar wood, a nod to the restaurant’s respect for nature.
Strandgade 108, 1401 Copenhagen K

The Popl cheeseburger and vegetarian burger

Date by Tate, Hong Kong
What to buy:
The Gastronomy Box for a full gourmet menu experience at home
From Vicky Lau, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015 and chef-owner of Tate Dining Room, comes Date by Tate, a home dining experience and virtual and physical shop. With an East-meets-West concept, Date by Tate sells artisan pastries and cakes as well as take-home fine dining kits.
210 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong

Sheung Wan Chocolate Brioche from Date by Tate

Penicillin, Hong Kong
Signature tipple:
One Penicillin, One Tree – a climate-positive cocktail
Agung Prabowo and Roman Ghale, the bartenders behind The Old Man’s ascent to No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2019, have opened Penicillin, which they claim to be Hong Kong's first truly sustainable bar. Inspired by the burgeoning farm-to-bar movement, it serves a menu of cocktails from locally sourced or upcycled ingredients while cutting down its carbon footprint. For every order of the signature cocktail, a native tree is planted in endangered Borneo rainforest.
If you like this, you’ll love: Dead&, the sister bar run by the same team, located at the ‘dead end’ of Wo On Lane in Lan Kwai Fong.
23 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong

Inside the lab at Hong Kong's Penicillin

Evelyn’s Table and The Mulwray bar, London
Don’t-miss dish:
Luke Selby’s squid noodles with mushroom dashi
After several pandemic-related setbacks, a revamped Evelyn’s Table has opened in London’s Soho with brothers Luke, Nathaniel and Theo Selby at the helm. In the basement of the buzzy Blue Posts Pub, the intimate 10-seat counter restaurant serves a five-course tasting menu with Japanese influences and a wine menu curated by Honey Spencer, the former Noma Mexico sommelier. Spencer also runs the upstairs Mulwray, which has transformed from cocktail hotspot to cosy wine bar.
28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ

Venison and squid noodles from Evelyn’s Table

Kol Mezcaleria, London
Must-try cocktail:
Lowball with mezcal blend and Ayuuk ‘Pasilla’
After the long-awaited opening of Kol, the London restaurant from former Noma Mexico chef Santiago Lastra, the team has unveiled a downstairs standalone mezcal bar run by Maxim Schulte, the most recent head bartender of the 2017 World’s Best Bar, American Bar at the Savoy. Schulte commands a menu of mezcal-based cocktails and agave spirits alongside Mexican-influenced snacks from Lastra’s kitchen.
9 Seymour St, London, W1H 7JW

Bad Company 1920, Madrid
Signature cocktail:
La Biblia
A Roaring Twenties-style speakeasy just a stone’s throw from Madrid’s iconic Plaza de Callao, Bad Company 1920 is themed around gangsters and criminals, and serves cocktails hidden inside different objects, as well as gourmet hotdogs and American-style snacks. The team is led by Yeray Monforte, former bar manager of Dr. Stravinsky, alongside Román Villa, former director of Café del Mar and co-owner of Lilith and Sons, ice wizard Santi Ortiz and Nicolás Miranda from Deputamadre in Montevideo.
Calle de Tudescos, 4, Madrid

Madrid's new Bad Company 1920

Gero, Rio de Janeiro
Must-try dish:
Risotto with prawns and pumpkin
After many years housing Fasano al Mare, one of Rio’s favourite Italian restaurants, Brazil’s top boutique hotel Fasano has renovated its flagship restaurant and replaced it with Gero, focused on classic Italian cuisine. Already located in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, the restaurant now has an outdoor terrace where diners can eat with a view of the iconic Ipanema beach. Just down the road, the site of the previous incarnation of Gero has become Gero Panini, a more casual spot serving pizzas and sandwiches.
Avenida Vieira Souto, 80, Rio de Janeiro

Streetside dining at Gero in Rio de Janeiro


Sips, Barcelona
Estimated opening:
Try this: Classic Caipirinha made using a masticator machine to eliminate bitterness
After helping to lead London’s Artesian to The World’s Best Bar status four times from 2012 to 2015 and co-founding the P(our) symposium, renowned bartender Simone Caporale launches a new project in Barcelona with Marc Alvarez, former head of mixology at Albert and Ferran Adrià’s ElBarri group. Sips is a disruptive cocktail experience that applies the Spanish ‘tapas’ concept to the world of liquids, with small portions at accessible prices and equal importance given to wine, beer, spirits and cocktails.
Calle Muntaner 108, Barcelona

Two new drinks from Sips' launch menu: Golden Hands and Mosaic

The Old Pharmacy, Bruton
Estimated opening:
Early 2021
Must try: English Osip cider
Merlin Labron-Johnson – the magical chef who launched 50 Best Discovery restaurant Portland in London – is ready to open The Old Pharmacy in Bruton, Somerset, southwest England. The all-day restaurant, wine bar and épicerie will focus on the chef’s homegrown produce and will feature local ingredients such as Tamworth pig charcuterie, farmhouse cheeses, pickles and preserves.
3A High Street, Bruton, BA10 0AB

Local Somerset, UK, classics by The Old Pharmacy (image: Ed Schofield)

Mr Ji, London
Estimated opening:
Early 2021
Iconic dish: The Ji Sando – a pineapple bap with deep-fried chicken thigh and cucumber
Ana Gonçalves and Zijun Meng, the team behind Tata Eatery, which was located within London bar Tayēr + Elementary until March 2020, are now opening Mr Ji, a Taiwanese-inspired restaurant in the heart of bustling Soho. With a Taiwanese canteen vibe by day and a buzzy late-night bar feel in the evenings, Mr Ji will serve quirky, refined dishes such as Prawn in toast, a toasted brioche filled with prawns and velvety sauce.
72 Old Compton St, London W1D 4UN

Dishes from the new menu at Mr Ji, London

MuuMami, Santiago
Estimated opening:
On the menu: The signature MuuMami burger with grass-fed beef and artisanal cheese
Boragó chef Rodolfo Guzmán’s MuuMami pop-up was so successful that he decided to turn it into a permanent venture. Serving organic hamburgers and ice creams alongside natural wine and craft beer, MuuMami has an open-air bar with stunning views of Santiago’s mountains. After almost a year of closure due to the pandemic, fine dining restaurant Boragó also finally reopens in January.
Av San Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer 5970, Vitacura, Santiago

The signature burgers from MuuMami, Santiago

Evv.Ita, São Paulo
Estimated opening:
What to order: Oriundi pizza with pickled beetroot, beetroot sauce, basil and Marajó cheese
Evv.Ita was always part of chef Luiz Filipe Souza’s plan for early 2020, but when the pandemic temporarily shut down his fine dining restaurant Evvai, the pizza delivery business took on new meaning in a locked-down São Paulo. After operating for delivery only, Evv.Ita now has its own address and permanent space in upmarket Jardins, where it will serve sourdough pizzas, bread products and sandwiches.
Rua Joaquim Antunes, 201, São Paulo

Luiz Filipe Souza and a pizza from his new menu (images: Tadeu Brunelli)

NoMad London, London
Estimated opening:
Early 2021
To drink: Legendary NoMad cocktails
Chef Abram Bissell is in charge of the food and beverage spaces at the long-awaited London outpost of the NoMad boutique hotel. There are several drinking and dining spaces, including the classic NoMad Restaurant & Bar set in the glass-ceilinged atrium, and Side Hustle, which serves Mexico City-inspired sharing plates, reflecting chef Ian Coogan’s heritage. Later in the spring will see the opening of Common Decency, a craft cocktail bar with an East-meets-West theme. The drinks programme at NoMad will be overseen by VP of Food and Beverage at Sydell Group, Leo Robitschek, alongside bar director for NoMad London, Pietro Collina. Robitschek is the mastermind behind New York’s NoMad Bar, which sits at No.13 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 list.
28 Bow St, London WC2E 7AW

The atrium at NoMad London (image: Roman and Williams)

Sammy Junior, Sydney
Estimated opening:
On the menu: Cheeky miniature cocktails from an award-winning team
The trio of co-owners behind Maybe Sammy, the cocktail bar known for its outstanding hospitality and guest experience, are opening Sammy Junior, the ‘suave café sibling’ of Maybe Sammy and Maybe Frank. In the mornings, Sammy Junior will operate as an espresso coffee bar with classic breakfast bites from chef Rob Lechowicz, while the afternoons will see it transform into a cosy cocktail destination with mini cocktails, beer and wines. With an afternoon business meeting vibe, the bar will shut at 6pm, when punters should proceed to its nocturnal big sibling, Maybe Sammy.
66 King Street, Sydney

Small-serve cocktails will be a mainstay at Sammy Junior, Sydney

Deans on 22 (name TBC), Sydney
Estimated opening:
Early 2021
Room service please: Order a bottle of The Dean, The Frank or The Sammy
In addition to Sammy Junior, the co-owners of Maybe Sammy have also partnered with TFE Hotels to manage the food and beverage offering at a new hotel set to open in Sydney’s CBD district. Vince Lombardo, Stefano Catino, Andrea Gualdi and Martin Hudak will manage the bar, restaurant and in-room dining and drinking experiences, which will include their signature bottled cocktails.
The corner of George and Hunter St, Sydney

Andrea Gualdi, Stefano Catino, Vince Lombardo and Martin Hudak, the team behind the new hotel bar in Sydney's CBD

The bar with shapes for a name, London
Estimated opening:
Early 2021
On the menu: Vodka, banana and amontillado
With no actual name other than a yellow triangle, a red square and a blue circle, this bar in East London is inspired by the School of Bauhaus art movement. Co-founders Remy Savage and Paul Lougrat, who worked together at Artesian, will create an experience without borders that explores creativity through limitation. The bar will only stock 20 lines every cocktail recipe will be shared on Instagram and the team, which also includes Maria Kontorravdis, will employ people from anywhere in the world for three months at a time as part of its exchange student programme.
232 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8AX

The Bauhaus-inspired bar's team and a selection of its colour-coded cocktails

Red Frog, Lisbon
Estimated opening: March
Signature tipple: Drama – dark rum, orange wine and blue oolong tea
Lisbon’s Red Frog is relocating and transforming itself into a new bar hidden inside Monkey Mash, bartender Emanuel Minez’s modern tropical cocktail bar that opened in 2019. While Red Frog was previously a speakeasy-themed bar, it is now an actual speakeasy, hidden in a small room inside Monkey Mash. The reinvented bar will launch a ‘best of’ menu featuring cocktails from the last six years, with new creations made in Monkey Mash’s high-tech laboratory.
Praça da Alegria 66A, 1250-001 Lisbon

The new-look Red Frog in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon

Oncore by Clare Smyth, Sydney

Estimated opening: April
What to expect: Humble Aussie ingredients transformed into showstoppers
Former World’s Best Female Chef Clare Smyth of Core by Clare Smyth is optimistic about 2021, when she plans to open her second restaurant, Oncore by Clare Smyth, at the iconic Crown Hotel in Sydney. Oncore will support Australian farmers and producers, showcasing the richness of the landscape while providing the outstanding hospitality that is characteristic of all of Smyth’s endeavours.
160-162 Elizabeth St, Sydney NSW 2000

Clare Smyth, who will be opening her first restaurant outside the UK this year

Maz, Tokyo
Estimated opening:
Look out for: Creative tableware, colourful plates and unusual ingredients
Virgilio and Malena Martínez and the team behind Central, Kjolle and Mil in Lima have big plans for global expansion this year, starting with a new restaurant in Tokyo’s financial district. Serving the ecosystem-based cuisine characteristic of Central and Mil, chef Santiago Fernández will explore Japanese ingredients and culture, applying learnings from the group’s Mater Iniciativa research arm. Maz will be open for dinner only.
Tokyo Garden Terrace, 102-0094 Kioicho 1-2, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Virgilio Martinez and Santiago Fernandez, the chefs devising Maz in Tokyo

Olluco, Moscow
Estimated opening:
Prepare to discover: Seldom-tasted native Russian produce
In an ambitious project, Virgilio Martínez and the team behind Central, Kjolle and Mil in Lima are now set to explore Russian biodiversity with their first Moscow restaurant and experimentation centre, based in the city centre. Olluco will work with Mater Iniciativa, the research arm run by Malena Martínez, to connect with local producers and promote Russian ingredients in new and unique ways. At the helm is Nicanor Vieyra, head chef of Central for the past five years. Olluco is the name of a colourful Andean tuber.

The team behind Moscow's new Olluco restaurant

Schofield’s Bar, Manchester
Estimated opening: Spring
Look out for: The Schofields’ cocktails featuring house-made tinctures and infusions, inspired by their global travels
Legendary bartending brothers Joe and Daniel Schofield are set to open a new bar
in their hometown of Manchester, northwest England, this spring. After years in the works, the brothers have finally settled on a site – the historic art deco Sunlight House – which they believe best reflects their style of hospitality. Joe won the inaugural Altos Bartenders’ Bartender title in 2018 and has travelled the world collecting ideas for the bar that will become the siblings’ magnum opus.
Little Quay St, Manchester

Joe and Daniel Schofield outside Sunlight House, in Manchester's Deansgate

Sapiens, Lima
Estimated opening:
On the menu: Grilled courgette, aubergine and carrot with smoked yoghurt vinaigrette
Mayta chef Jaime Pesaque is expanding his restaurant group with Sapiens, a new concept based around a series of wood- and charcoal-fired grills. The grills are divided up for meat, seafood, rice dishes such as paella, and vegetables – the biggest section. The back-to-basics format focuses on the best quality ingredients and the addition of fire. The restaurant will produce its own cured meats such as alpaca salami, which are also available to go.
Av. Pardo y Aliaga 697, San Isidro, Lima

Three dishes from the new menu at Sapiens, Lima

Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi (name TBC), Tokyo
Estimated opening:
Don’t miss: Chef’s signature sourdough bread
Daniel Calvert, formerly of Belon in Hong Kong, has relocated to Tokyo to run a 12-table, intimate fine dining restaurant in the boutique downtown Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi – the smallest hotel in the global group. Expect refined cuisine using French techniques and Japanese ingredients, as well as luxury tableware and attention to detail.
1-11-1 Pacific Century Place, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo 100-6277

Twins Farm, Moscow
Estimated opening:
Look out for: The chicken bus, a repurposed bus now home to hens
With plans in the works for several years, the chef brothers behind innovative Moscow restaurant Twins Garden are finally opening their farm to the public. Guests will be able to visit the extensive farm outside Moscow and stay for the weekend in charming cottage accommodation. A small restaurant will serve dishes based on Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy’s farm ingredients, and visitors will also be able to buy vegetables, fruits and cheeses from the onsite store.
Okhotino village, Yaroslavskaya oblast

Ivan and Sergey Berezutskiy’s farm near Moscow

Two restaurants from the Alinea Group (names TBC), Chicago
Estimated opening: Late 2021
The group behind longstanding 50 Bester Alinea is set to open two new restaurants within the St. Regis Chicago skyscraper. Alinea’s owners, Nick Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz, haven’t yet confirmed any details on the openings, but diners can expect stunning views and creative cuisine.

This article will be updated as more new openings come to the 50 Best team’s attention. Please contact [email protected] with news of any 50 Best-related bar and restaurant launches.

Follow 50 Best on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for the latest news, features and initiatives in support of the global restaurant industry.


Chicagoan Royal Lichter first dined at Alinea in 2012 and has been back multiple times since… the most recent being the opening night last Friday of a reconcepted Alinea after five months renovating its Lincoln Park space, while the restaurant crew staged pop-up versions of Alinea in Miami and Madrid. Fooditor asked him for his impressions of the new Alinea, as a longtime guest and fan of Chicago’s most celebrated and acclaimed restaurant.

THIS PAST FRIDAY, MAY 20, Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (I call them, together, the brain trust) opened the doors of the re-imagined, re-born Alinea to the public. Alinea, literally, means “a new train of thought,” and a totally new menu is part of this new chapter for this temple of gastronomy. Gone are the days of the iconic Black Truffle Explosion and Hot Potato / Cold Potato—to make way for fifteen or so brand new plates of deliciousness.

As someone who’s been dining at Alinea for several years prior to the rehab, I simply needed to be there on opening night to see the new space and eat the new food. Alinea is famous for keeping records of its customers’ experiences, down to where they sit each time, to keep the experience fresh and I keep going back not only because the menu is constantly changing, but as a frequent diner I’m often given a chance to try out new dishes—so I get a glimpse of their creative process at work. I also feel like they are one of the only fine dining restaurant crews in Chicago who are constantly traveling, trying new restaurants and exploring ideas. I don’t travel as much as I might want, and for me one of the best reasons to travel is to eat new food—so Alinea can be something of a conduit to that, too.

How did I get in on opening night? I put in a request literally four or five months prior to the closing to keep me posted on a reopening day—I was that eager! Through simply asking, I was lucky enough to be a part of the first dinner service.

Looking down the new staircase into The Gallery.

UNTIL THEY CLOSED ON NEW YEARS EVE 2015, the restaurant had always offered just one style of ticket to enjoy their “Tour” tasting menu. Now, tickets to three distinctly different dinner experiences are offered. Before, the menu typically ranged from 18-22 courses—though I’d enjoyed meals there with as many as twenty-eight and as few as fourteen. Of the three different menus—”The Kitchen Table,” “The Gallery” and “The Salon,” we opted for “The Gallery,” which is around sixteen courses and “combines fine dining with experimental moments.”

As you enter off Halsted, gone is the shrinking hallway and sliding door that started you off with a note of mystery. Instead there’s a small host stand and to the left, one monolithic French Laundry-esque door, leading to The Gallery on the first floor. We entered that dining room to see one long, communal sixteen-person candlelit table classical music was playing in the background. Certainly, it’s a stark contrast to the minimalist, modern décor found in the Alinea of yore.

Little did we know, the parade of dishes had already begun—sitting on the table on a crystal clear ice block. The first bites of the evening were Ossetra caviar and king crab with various condiments. The first sip of the evening was complimentary champagne—Bollinger Cuvee NV. Not a bad way to get started at all! It should be understood that this was the only part of the meal that was communal—and it was fun at that, something of an icebreaker. After they refreshed our brioche once or twice and people began finishing, another curveball came our way.

The Kitchen Table. Nick Kokonas says the “configuration of the 4 [kitchen] lines did not change… but everything else did. We removed the dish washing and polishing room and moved it west… and then we enclosed that area completely so people cannot see it,” creating a space for diners to watch the cooks at work.

Post kitchen, we were escorted back to The Gallery, and surprised to find that while we were enjoying a cocktail, the room had been totally transformed and tables for two and four suddenly appeared. Dinner, from this point forward, remained in the same place. The lights were up, music was off, and conversation was now with your dinner companion. This kind of atypical, new, and fun way of starting dinner should not be underscored, however, unless new food is a focus as well.

One cuisine and style of food I hadn’t seen a lot of at Alinea until this dinner is Mexican food. Of course, it is Alinea Mexican food.

Everything we ate that night was totally new. Once we sat down at our table, we went on to eat a fairly long menu—around 15 substantially composed dishes. Some of them were theatrical or involved a bit of setup on the table—a well-established touchstone of a meal at Alinea.

Memorable courses? Well, heck. All of them, it’s so hard to pick. A course early on comprised of a gelatinous sheet of scallop paper that had been rehydrated with corn and butter broth should immediately put to rest any questions of “so you were there on the first night, but is the food good?” This course had so many great aspects to it—avant-garde form with great flavor, soothing aroma, new but comfortable mouth feel, perfect temperature. I can only imagine what a chemosensory scientist would have to say about this course.

The Gallery, where the author dined.

One cuisine and style of food I hadn’t seen a lot of at Alinea until this dinner is Mexican food. Of course, it is Alinea Mexican food. Another study in the senses, this course involved a bit of set up, but it was worth watching! In a pestle was what I believe to be burning cedar shavings. It was a chicken course and three other flavors were highlighted as well—plum, almond, and cinnamon. The burning cedar in the mortar and pestle was a really cool aromatic component, and the multiple service pieces all doing something different created a nice little diorama on the table. It’s almost like you are eating something at a restaurant amongst a maguey landscape (and the mescal pairing was much appreciated).

The major overall difference in the food between then and now is that where before, it was not uncommon for an “old” Alinea dish to showcase upwards of a dozen flavors and textures (I can recall enjoying a scallop ceviche dish several years ago that listed 14), now they’re more likely to showcase six or eight or ten. Alinea has been known as a place where they heavily manipulated foods—they did lots of things to the food in order to really surprise the palate. Many of the ultramodern Martin Kastner service pieces were created to show off what had been done with the food.

Now, the food is plated and service pieces are chosen more with the idea of perhaps evoking a feeling. Complex preparations are still very much part of their food, but it seems slightly dialed back—or the complexity extends past the food, now. To put it in broader philosophical terms, in the past Chef Achatz was arguably more interested in seeing what he could do to food. In 2016, it seems that the goal of Alinea is showcasing what can be done with food.

Progressive American cuisine is taking on a new identity and Alinea is arguably the vanguard of it. No Michelin 3-Star restaurant anywhere in the world has ever shut down, traveled the globe, all while gutting and redoing the interior as well as throwing all the old recipes out and starting over again. The space is just days old to the public, and that’s been the focus of attention so far, but pretty soon the spotlight will be shared with how simply great the food is—in a totally new way.

Royal Lichter, neophyte to food and fine dining with a liking for exploring. Don’t really know what I’m doing, just that I know I like to eat things. I’m twenty-eight, a Chicago native and I work for my family’s business on the Northwest Side. Recent food travels in the past five years include Spain, Japan, and France. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

#23 Eric Ripert

Restaurant: Le Bernadin

Location: New York, NY

Eric Ripert's world-renowned restaurant Le Bernardin has three Michelin stars and currently ranks 19 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. It has also upheld a four-star review from The New York Times for over 20 years.

Ripert hosts his own PBS TV Series, Avec Eric, and serves as a regular guest on Bravo's Top Chef.

And to top it all off, he has a French accent.

Mauro Colagreco reveals plans for three-year Mirazur renovation and restaurants in Bangkok and US

There’s nothing like reaching the top three in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants to spark a desire for change. For many restaurant owners, climbing the list serves not just as positive recognition and reward, but as impetus to keep evolving and avoid stagnation. After topping the list in 2017, Eleven Madison Park closed for a major renovation, while four-time No.1 Noma shut its doors and revamped itself in a completely new location. For Mauro Colagreco, success means reassessing the long-term life of Mirazur and building a sustainable future for its staff.

Right now, Colagreco is in Madrid, preparing for a month-long pop-up at the NH Collection Eurobuilding Hotel – the same site where Grant Achatz had his Alinea residence in 2016 and where Colombian chefs including Leonor Espinosa cooked in 2017. His team will put on a month of dinners with a special autumn menu served in a space designed to reflect the gardens and landscape around Mirazur, which is located in the Côte d’Azur, on the border of France and Italy.

While a section of the team cooks in the Spanish capital, Mirazur’s service is reduced from 40 to 20 covers, and instead of closing for its usual festive period from December until February, the restaurant will remain shut until the end of March to allow for reforms, which will take up to three years in total.

The first phase involves pulling out offices and bedrooms to make way for a test kitchen and a large wine cellar, while a later phase will take in a whole kitchen redesign as well reconfiguring the restaurant’s reception area, plus the creation of another garden. The end goal is to create an experience that allows every diner to experience Mirazur in its entirety.

“What diners get today at Mirazur is just the restaurant,” Colagreco says. “But we have gardens and we want to take our customers through those gardens so they can really discover the true Mirazur. It’s not just what you find on the plate but all the work behind it, the products and the research. We have all this work that we’ve been doing for years and now we really need to value it. It’s going to be amazing to feel proud of all our work around biodiversity, nature and the small producers, which is so important to what we do but isn’t always appreciated.”

Oyster Gillardeau and the view from Mirazur's garden

The project will involve the work of architects and French-Argentine artist Pablo Reinoso, who will help construct a journey incorporating Mirazur’s gardens, which cascade down the cliffside to the restaurant and further down towards the ocean. Colagreco has just been granted another hectare of land, further up the hill from the restaurant, which will be used to grow more of the produce that he serves, including the famous Menton citrus fruits as well as myriad herbs and vegetables.

While currently Mirazur has three different menus, as of March, it will have just one, so that all guests enjoy the same experience. Covers will be permanently reduced to 25, and in the summer months the lunch service will disappear, but diners will still be able to enjoy the view and sunset over two separate dinner services.

It may seem a bold move in a restaurant that is fully booked year-round and more in demand than ever, but Colagreco says part of the reason for change is to create a better work-life balance for his staff. Having already cut down the working week so that all staff take off Monday to Wednesday morning, he is conscious that his team is still overloaded.

“We want to work in a much more calm environment, because a restaurant like ours ends up with burnout – after four or five years, people are exhausted and they end up leaving,” he says. “When you work in a restaurant at this level, to have a personal life, or for example if you want to have kids, seems almost impossible. But we think it is possible. We just have to look for an intelligent way to create a business that can subsist economically, and in which people can still see themselves in the long or medium term.”

Colagreco and the cover of his cookbook, published in 2018

Colagreco and his team certainly have a lot of work on their hands. Next month, he opens his first US restaurant, Florie’s, in one of the oldest properties in the Four Seasons group in Palm Beach, which is undergoing a $45 million reform. The restaurant, to be run by Italian chef Florenzo Barbieri, will focus on fresh, almost Mediterranean cuisine, “not super fine dining,” similar to his successful and long-running Grand Coeur in Paris, though less heavy, less French.

In May 2019, he will open a restaurant at the new Capella Bangkok hotel, which will focus on the rich historic cuisine from between Nice and Genoa, using products from the farms around Bangkok. Chef Davide Garavaglia will move from Menton to the Thai capital – where Colagreco did a pop-up earlier this year with Gaggan Anand at Gaggan – to run the restaurant, whose name he won’t yet reveal. Colagreco will also visit Grill 58, the restaurant he opened in Macao earlier this year, and Azur in Beijing, which opened in 2016. The next few months will be full-on, but he is up for the challenge.

“They’re three big projects – the reform of the restaurant, then the openings in Miami and Bangkok,” he says, acknowledging the hard work ahead. Then he smiles. “It’s eight months of beautiful projects.”

Header image: Mauro Colagreco and the view from Mirazur

Mirazur in Residence takes place from November 12 to December 2 at NH Collection Eurobuilding Hotel in Madrid.

See the moment Mirazur was named No.3 at The World's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, in Bilbao:

Now follow The World's 50 Best Restaurants on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for more news, interviews and videos.

Miami – 1/22/15 – Harry’s Pizzeria, the Broken Shaker, Khong River House, and Blackbird Ordinary

Harry’s Pizzeria
I will be honest, after arriving from the arctic of the northeast US, my first al fresco meal in Miami could have been anything and I would have been thrilled. Lovely salads and a very tasty and light pizza (and I am exceedingly picky about pizza!).
Polenta Fries

Warm Brussels Sprouts & Stracciatella – pears, pistachio, herbs, creamy parmigiano dressing

Kale – roasted beets, onion, goat cheese, sunflower seed dressing, dill

Short rib pizza – cave aged gruyere, caramelized onion, arugula

The Broken Shaker
Such an incredibly cute outdoor space and you would never know that you were in the backyard of a hostel. I loved the small touches like the rosemary infused water. This is a place I could easily hang out in all night if I lived in Miami or was in town for longer.

Long distance call – Bombay gin shaken with strawberry cucumber shrub, allspice infused martini bianco and fresh lemon
Al Pastor AKA Mitchell Rizzo – Olmeca Altos Tequila shaken with spicy chorizo cordial, pineapple, fresh lime and a hint of mezcal

Strega Genesis – Bacardi superior white rum swizzled with liquor strega, basil, lime and celery bitters

Khong River House
My only regret of this meal is that we didn’t take the leftovers back to the hotel for breakfast the next day. We absolutely loved everything and I don’t think I have had a crab rangoon in 15+ years!
Thai 75 – Nolet’s gin, lemongrass, lychee puree, sparkling wine
Thai Garden – lavender infused Beefeater gin, yellow chartreuse, fresh lime, fresh pressed cucumber juice

Mekong Spicy Green Papaya Salad – green papaya, tomatoes, long beans, thai chili, lime, tamarind, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp, roasted peanuts & fish sauce

Laotian Drunken Rice Noodles – gingered soy sauce, Paradise Farm vegetables, thai basil

Duck Confit & Chinese sausage fried rice – green beans, sunny side up egg

Blackbird Ordinary
Oddly our hotel bar was not open past 10pm on weeknights so I walked the 3 blocks to Blackbird Ordinary which I had wanted to check out anyway. This would be a cool spot for a concert in the back room or with a group. But I unfortunately made a bad menu choice and this drink was incredibly sweet. I tried to order a second to redeem myself but after 20 minutes or so of trying to get the bartender’s attention I asked for my check and left.
Pink Flamingo – Beefeater gin infused with raw pistachios, house raspberry syrup, fresh raspberries, egg white and lemon

Thomas Keller: True gentleman

As he reflects on 25 years at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller shares his secret to the success of the Napa Valley restaurant. “The secret is this: go to work every day and do better than you did yesterday,” he says. “There is no long answer. It is guys and girls going to work and doing better than they did yesterday.”

It would take a long memory and considerable time to list the many accolades and awards bestowed on Keller during his career. He is the only chef in the US to hold three Michelin stars in two restaurants – The French Laundry and New York restaurant Per Se – for starters.

He has been named Chef of the Year by the Culinary Institute of America and Outstanding Restaurateur by the James Beard Foundation. In 2012, he became only the third American in food to be made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur for his work in promoting French cuisine in America. The other two recipients are Alice Waters and Julia Child. And, as president of Team USA, he brought home the gold from the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition in 2017.

He wears the success lightly, mind. “Everything that is written about you today is what you did yesterday. It is nice that people wrote nice things about you, or unfortunate that they wrote bad things, but that was yesterday,” he says.

The down-to-earth attitude has won him many fans among an army of young chefs who have trained in his kitchens. Grant Achatz, the chef owner of Alinea Group who first entered The French Laundry kitchen in 1996, says Keller exudes professionalism.

“He is somebody who is really proud of his profession and he is constantly trying to elevate the industry, not just his own restaurants or his team members. He is the advocate for professionalism in our industry,” he says. “Chef Keller was the first one in the kitchen in the morning and the last one to leave in the evening. He made it his credo to lead by example, knowing that all the young cooks were watching him the whole time.”

Cooking to nurture

Keller credits his mother with giving him a robust work ethic laying the foundations before he even entered a kitchen. “My mother raised me as a single parent and she helped me understand the importance of awareness, of paying attention and the importance of detail,” he says. “Those are things that I found in my home life and that is what gives you the foundation for your professional life.”

He received early cooking lessons from his older brother Joseph who was the first to show an interest in cooking – and who continues to work as a chef today. “He would teach me how to make hollandaise sauce or cook an omelette, he helped me understand lots of those things as a first mentor,” he explains.

The interest in cooking may have been piqued early on at home, but Keller didn’t embrace a career as a professional chef until 1977. In Rhode Island in the kitchens of The Dunes Club, he met another mentor – chef Roland Henin – who became a major influence on the young cook’s career. “One day Chef asked me why cooks cook,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to say, but he said: ‘No matter who you are or where you are, we cook to nurture people’.”

The words resonated with him his path was set. “That summer, in July 1977, was the moment I decided to become a professional chef,” he says. Henin was French and in the 1970s French cooking was the way for young chefs coming through – Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel were the big names and nouvelle cuisine was making waves. It was an exciting time to be a young cook, says Keller. “Aligning yourself with the great French chefs and this idea that chefs didn’t need to stay in the kitchen, they should be a person who had the ability to interact with guests, from the kitchen to the dining room.”

It marked the beginning of Keller’s career and his quest to move to France, which he eventually did in the early 1980s when he spent two years working in Paris. “It was monumental for me,” he says. “Coming back to New York after having experienced life in France, I took up the mantle of becoming the best chef.”

He always knew he wanted to open his own place. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, I am a nurturer and I always wanted to have my own restaurant,” he says. The first opportunity to be a restaurateur had come in the late 1970s before he headed across the Atlantic Ocean to France. Along with two friends, he opened the Cobbly Nob in South Florida – a short-lived venture that lasted around a year. “We were super inexperienced, super naïve and we lost whatever savings we had in that restaurant,” he says. “I was humbled by the experience, we all were.”

There were some lessons in the failure, “though I didn’t learn from our mistakes in the way I’d hoped to because I made some of the same mistakes in my second restaurant,” he says. The second shot came in 1986 when Keller opened Rakel in New York City’s Hudson Square neighbourhood. It was a heady time. “It was just extraordinary, the energy about the restaurants and the young chefs coming up. You are in New York, the centre of the universe, and you have an opportunity to make a stand and make a name for yourself.”

Visions of France in Napa Valley

In 1994, all of his experiences culminated in Yountville. That he ended up in Napa Valley was a coincidence. “Chalk it up to destiny or fate,” he says. He was driving through Napa Valley and a friend had suggested he check out The French Laundry. “I wasn’t planning on moving to Yountville but The French Laundry was there,” he says. “It was that simple. Sometimes life takes you to places that you don’t know you are going to get to.”

Taking over The French Laundry from Don and Sally Schmitt was a dream come true for Keller who had been inspired by seeing how restaurants in idyllic locations in the French countryside operated.

“In urban environments – Paris, New York or London – the restaurant experience begins when you walk through the door, but we are in a rural setting and the experience begins outside in the garden,” says Keller. “This is more of a holistic experience, it is wonderful seeing the chefs walking across the street picking herbs, the bread being picked up twice a day on bicycle from the bakery. All that happens here in a location like Yountville and it will happen in the countryside in France.”

The inspiration from France in the restaurant was obvious from the start. Critic Michael Bauer said: “Visions of the French countryside flooded my consciousness” when he pulled up to the restaurant for the first time in September 1994. He awarded The French Laundry 3.5 stars in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It was also chosen as one of the 10 best restaurant openings in America by Esquire magazine. But the biggest impact came with a recommendation from society writer Herb Caen who enjoyed himself so much that he dedicated two paragraphs of his column to the restaurant. It changed everything.

“All of the sudden Herb Caen saying he had an amazing experience at The French Laundry set us on a path of great awareness with people who were interested in dining. Coming to Napa Valley started to become something people did. That was the beginning of the success of the restaurant,” says Keller.

In the years since, Keller has opened a string of restaurants. Per Se came first, 10 years after The French Laundry. The two are similar in spirit yet different. “They are not identical twins but we have the same format on the menus, which change every day,” he says. “Corey Chow who is the chef de cuisine at Per Se and David Breeden at The French Laundry come from different backgrounds. They both come from the Thomas Keller background but they have different points of view Corey is Chinese and David is from the Blue Mountains. Your fundamental personality and work ethic are brought to you by those who teach you and parents are the most important.”

The menu changes every day and is never written by one person it always has been a job for the team, says Keller. “We sit together around the table at the end of the night and we all influence the menu. I have never written the menu at The French Laundry or Per Se because it is a collaborative effort.”

The approach represents a real opportunity for young chefs. “They get to influence the menu we want to make them part of the process,” says Keller. Other restaurants in the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group are Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc and, the most recent opening, the TAK Room (left) in the new Hudson Yards development in New York City.

Elevating standards

In a culture that embraces the concept of the celebrity chef and as someone who could have benefited from the status that this brings, Keller rejects the notion of the rock star chef. “When I started it wasn’t about rock stars or celebrity chefs. I didn’t become a chef to be considered a celebrity. Who really cares?” he asks. “I am a cook, I go to work every day and I try to inspire my team and make an impact. I try to be part of the process.”

He is keen not to overplay his role. Perspective is everything. “I don’t kill anybody and I don’t save anybody’s life. I might overcook your steak, but, you know, I will cook you a new one. That is the worst I can do,” he says. “Our wine team takes a cork out of the bottle and pour the wine. It is all easy.”

An enthusiastic sports fan, he looks for an appropriate analogy to express his belief in the team over the individual. “I started cooking because I couldn’t play baseball. I loved playing baseball, but I was never going to be good enough to make a living from it,” he says. “I realised I needed to find something else and the kitchen gave me that experience of team work. I fell in love with the spirit of kitchens.”

Certain of the power of mentorship from the start of his career, he has embraced the mentoring of young chefs to the full as he looks to pass on the mantle. “There is a point in your career when it is not about you and your restaurants any more. It is about the profession and how you elevate standards the only way to do that is by mentoring and letting those mentees leave your restaurants and go out and express those standards,” he says.

“It is up to you to empower them and allow them to be successful and make mistakes and help them to understand what their mistakes were. If you continuously train them and mentor them they become better than you. If they are not better than you, sorry, but you have done a shitty job.”

Across the US and beyond, chefs who have passed through his kitchens speak to this focus on people. “Chef Keller is a true gentleman. He treats everyone with the same respect, whether it is a guest who has just spent thousands in his restaurant or a dishwasher in his kitchen,” say Sandia Chang and James Knappett of Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs in London. They both worked with Keller at Per Se in the early 2000s. “He always believed in nurturing his staff and give us everything we needed to succeed. He is a very giving man. The work ethic he passed down to us is what has made us successful.”

He is proud to say the chefs in his kitchens are better than him. “I did a good job of giving them what they needed when they needed it – the opportunity to be hired, the training and the mentorship. When they leave they go out into the profession and raise the standards.”

For a professional who has been so prolific and so successful, it is perhaps little wonder that another award arrived, somewhat prematurely, in 2012 when Keller was recognised by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants with a lifetime achievement award.

The award might hint at the end of a career, but in the seven years since, he has opened several more restaurants and two and a half years ago The French Laundry underwent extensive construction work to install a new kitchen. He is passionately dedicated to the Ment’or Foundation, leading Team USA in the Bocuse d’Or competition and won silver in 2015 before bagging the gold in 2017.

Is there much chance of Chef Keller hanging up the apron anytime soon? “No, I don’t think so. I am 64, I have great teams in my restaurants and they don’t really need me any more but I enjoy being there and I want to continue being in The French Laundry and Per Se and continue being excited by the work they are doing,” he says.

“That I am where I am today is extraordinary. It is more than a dream. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. When I walk around and see it through the eyes of diners who visit for the first time I realise how lucky I am to be here and have such amazing people.”

Photos: Deborah Jones, William Hereford

One of Chicago's top restaurants closed when relations between owner and the creative team soured. Tina Nielsen considers the lessons for restaurant partnerships

The vibrant Chicago restaurant scene was stunned last December when news broke that one of the city’s – and the country’s – finest restaurants had closed. Awarded the top accolade from the Michelin Guide in 2017 when it obtained the coveted third star, Grace was one of only two restaurants in the city to hold the rating.

But then just before the holiday season, news emerged that Grace owner Michael Olszewski had fired sommelier Michael Muser at the end of November and on 19 December chef Curtis Duffy walked out. The rest of the staff followed in solidarity.

Trouble brewing

Barely a month after the closure, little is known about the circumstances Duffy and Muser left when they walked out it seems clear, however, that trouble had been brewing for some time.

Some details have transpired about the legal agreements and the 10-year contract signed by the pair. They appear to have grown discontent with the way things were going – claims of their creativity being stifled, which have been strenuously denied by Olszewski who has spoken to the press extensivly since the news broke – and made attempts to break from the contract.

Duffy spoke with Chicago magazine Make It Better shortly after the messy break-up, explaining that there was already plans in the making for a new restaurant. He and Muser would be opening a new better place that would make Grace “look amateurish,” he said.

For his part Olszewski intends to open another restaurant in the same West Loop space in due course.

Words of caution

Chicago’s only other restaurant to hold three stars Alinea seems less likely to run into the same trouble – and there may be a lesson for other potential chef/investor partnerships here. Jointly owned by chef Grant Achatz and co-founder Nick Kokonas, Alinea is a great example of a well run partnership.

Speaking of restaurants generally, Kokonas sounds a word of caution for potential investors – and the chefs – joining forces in a restaurant. “I would like to highlight the word business,” he says. “Even the most talented painter needs to buy the materials of their trade – canvasses, paint, brushes, etc. A successful restaurant makes money and reinvests it into the experience created for diners through service and cuisine. In order to create a great restaurant, you need to create a great business.”

His advice is for both parts to do some research before jumping into a partnership.

“If you are a chef, find a partner who is as talented in managing a business as you are in cooking. As for investors, no matter how great the chef or sommelier, understand that a restaurant is just like your core business and has the same requirements. I see a lot of restaurants failing – and owners griping – when really no one was at the helm of the ship beyond the kitchen and dining room. The public and the reviews never see that, but it’s critical.”

Speaking to Foodservice Consultant last year Kokonas described the mutual respect as the vital ingredient of his partnership with Achatz. “There are things he knows a lot better how to do than I do and even if I have a strong opinion about something, I have to realise he runs the Alinea kitchen and he knows a lot better than I could ever do,” he said. “I defer that judgement even if I do disagree with it and most of the time that is the right thing to do. And vice versa too. You have to have trust and mutual respect and once you have those two things you are good.”

As part of our series of interviews with the co-founders of some of the world's top restaurants, Nick Kokonas talks about the vital ingredients in his partnership with Grant Achatz

I met Grant at Trio restaurant in Evanston, Illinois. He was the executive chef after leaving The French Laundry. I became completely taken with what he was doing there. He was this young really driven person who in many ways reminded me of myself but in a totally different career and with a different focus.

I had spent most of my 20s and early 30s as a derivatives trader, having started my own firm when I was 26. In 2002 I retired from it and spent six months doing nothing because I was burnt out and then I started working for another firm.

Over a year I became convinced that Grant was one of the best people in the world at what he did and no one knew it. While I was a trader I’d invested in some technology companies and acted as an adviser to them. I knew how to start a business, how to raise money, but very little about the restaurant business.

When he presented me with his business plan in 2004 I told him that if we were going to be partners we’d have to be friends. That was very odd to him – he said: “I’m not really friends with the people who work with me.” I replied: “It’s different, you have to have a lot of trust and we are going to be business partners not employees.” I invited him to my house after talking to him once at the restaurant and a year later we opened Alinea.

I had worked with enough talented people to recognise somebody who is driven. Ultimately I had no idea whether he’d be a good business partner or not. I just felt he’d be successful.

I personally committed $500,000 to the project and quit work, which everybody thought was crazy. Raising the money was not hard. I had a lot of contacts I had made money for previously. The hardest part was dealing with somebody’s dream – the dream they’d had from when they were a kid.

A couple of early articles called me his patron, like we were living in the 17th century. I make my living off this. Grant and I are equal partners. We have five restaurants and 300 employees. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to the employees and their families. It has to run well as a business. I also have a software firm Tock that has come out of the restaurant business. It has 34 employees and we just raised $7.5m last year.

Grant was given six months to live nearly a decade ago. It is horrific to see someone go through that, especially someone who is only 34 years old and perfectly healthy by every measure. We had just been named the best restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine. I was in the doctor’s office when he was given the news that they would have to remove his jaw and his tongue and he’d still only live six months. I was instrumental in finding the clinical trial that ended up saving his life and his taste. It was a really horrific year that put a lot of things in perspective. At the time I never thought there would be another restaurant and I figured that I would be out of the restaurant business because I couldn’t run Alinea without Grant Achatz being there.

Today I spend 70% of my time on Tock and he spends 70% of his time on Alinea and then together we’ll work on Next, Aviary and Roister and all the projects we have coming up. He still is first and foremost a cook a lot of chefs transition more to a figurehead role and he hasn’t done that. When he is in Chicago he is behind the cutting board 12 hours a day.

A partnership needs mutual respect. I have to realise he runs the Alinea kitchen and knows it better than I ever could. I defer to his judgement, even if I disagree. Most of the time that is the right thing to do. There are things, such as pricing or marketing, that he’ll disagree with. You have to have trust and mutual respect – once you have those two things you are good.

The Michelin Guide to hotels and restaurants divides opinion across the foodservice industry. Tina Nielsen traces its history and asks why it is so influential

There is a scene in Noma, My Perfect Storm, the documentary film about the pioneering Danish restaurant, which sees chef René Redzepi address the kitchen staff. “The Michelin Guide comes out tomorrow,” he says. “Do we need it in our lives? Probably not, but it would be nice to have.”

It is a typically relaxed statement from Redzepi, but many chefs feel considerably stronger about the guide and the stars it dishes out every year.

Gordon Ramsay admitted to crying when Michelin retracted his two stars at the London in New York. In France, Bernard Loiseau committed suicide amid rumours that one of the three stars at his La Côte d’Or restaurant was about to be taken away. It was later reported that Loiseau was despondent over his debt issues, but Michelin still received the blame from some people – testament to the power and influence wielded by the little red book.

If more evidence is needed, consider Singapore-based French chef Bruno Menard – he has a constant reminder of his three stars tattooed on his forearm. He describes clinching them as akin to winning an Oscar in Hollywood. “It is amazing. It sounds like a lifetime achievement, but getting the three stars is probably just the beginning of something new. Your life changes,” he says.

At a time of countless lists, bloggers and user-generated restaurant reviews, he insists the Michelin Guide is still the one that matters. “You have to agree that Michelin is still the main reference. It is what made me dream as a kid and it is the reason I am a chef today,” he says.

Indeed, achieving stars is the primary goal of many young chefs when they set out on a tough career. It is the reward for hard work, skill and commitment.

“If you ask a 16-year-old chef what their ambition is, nobody is going to say ‘I want to get two AA rosettes or six out of 10 in the Good Food Guide’,” says British critic Andy Hayler, who has visited every three-star restaurant in the world.

He calls the Michelin Guide the gold standard. “Having supposedly multiple anonymous visits by people who eat out a lot and who are not taking any money, advertisement or disguised consultancy from restaurants is about the most objective way that you can design a food guide,” he says.

For some, it is less about the glamour. Niklas Ekstedt says that being awarded a star a year after opening his Stockholm restaurant Ekstedt meant a great change. “I think all chefs have a love/hate relationship with Michelin, but it was very important for me,” he says. “When we have holidays or bank holidays, Stockholm is dead as Swedes leave the city to go to their summer houses, and Michelin really helps us to fill those days. People look in the Guide and come to us.”

Others, however, find the stars a burden. Marco Pierre White – at the time the youngest chef ever to be awarded three stars, aged 33 – famously handed back his stars in 1999 and quit cooking altogether. It is fair to say it is a complex relationship.

Improving mobility
The Michelin Guide is the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, dating back to 1900. There might have only been 3,000 cars in all of France at the time, but brothers André and Édouard Michelin recognised driving as a lasting trend and foresaw that motorists would need to find places to refuel, rest and change their tyres. They created the first edition of the Michelin Guide and handed out the 35,000 copies for free.
A charge was introduced in 1920 by that time there were five country editions. Six years later the brothers created the famous star system.

Today the guides cover 18 countries and more than 50 cities around the world. A Singapore guide will follow in 2017. In addition to the star system, there is also the Bib Gourmand, the accolade rewarded to restaurants that provide “good meals at moderate prices”.

Though the focus is mostly on the more glamorous world of the star system, there are plenty of entries in the Michelin guide that don’t have stars but are recommended by inspectors. “The stars are an important part of the guide, but it is also about providing a good cross-section in every category and every style,” says Rebecca Burr, editor of the UK & Ireland guide.

Mystery surrounds the inspectors and their anonymity is fiercely protected. Michelin is cagey about the number of inspectors working for them, but they have in common a professional background and a thorough understanding of the industry. This may come from years working in a restaurant kitchen or the wine business.

They also need to be seriously committed to the job – a typical inspector has between 220 and 250 meals out a year. “The inspectors do have to be passionate about the business, but there is such a huge variety in the guide – whether that is a very simple bistro or pub or a high-end fine dining restaurant – they never get jaded,” says Burr.

New inspectors receive up to six months training, shadowing experienced inspectors in different locations across the world. This is central to the philosophy of the guide. “It has always been a global approach, so we’ll have people from Germany coming to the UK and vice versa,” she says.

Food on the plate
It might be a little known fact, but the Michelin Guide ratings are based solely on what they call ‘the food on the plate’. “We don’t close our eyes to the environment or who serves the food, but any chef operating at that level and serving that kind of food is not going to serve it in a filthy place with staff who can’t be bothered,” says Burr.

The food is measured against five criteria: the quality of the ingredients the skill in preparing and combining them the chef’s personality as revealed through the cuisine value for money and the consistency of culinary standards.

One of many misconceptions is that stars are awarded to chefs. They are not. They are awarded to the establishments, so chefs don’t take the stars with them when they leave a rated restaurant.

So how do you clinch a coveted star? When the UK and Ireland Guide 2016 was published Burr said that for starters chefs should not be cooking for the inspectors, but instead find their own way: “For those chefs it is about their customers and that is always our philosophy. It is about individual craft.”

She points to Spanish chef David Muñoz whose restaurant DiverXo in Madrid, Spain, was awarded a third star in 2014. “At that level between two and three stars we are looking for much more personality, signature and technically stronger cooking and he is a fine example of that,” she says.

It was big news when the avant garde restaurant in Madrid received a third star in 2014. But Muñoz is symptomatic of the wave of chefs Burr refers to who are following their own path. The food in DiverXo is very different and experimental, the waiting staff are young and the atmosphere relaxed. When diners enter the space they are met with flying pigs on the walls and giant ice cream cones doubling up as wine coolers.

“When we got the first star everybody said we wouldn’t get the second because of the way we do food and service, but I didn’t care,” says Muñoz. “I knew we were making something different and we were doing it our way. That was the most important thing. When we got the second star people still said we couldn’t get a third and when we did everybody went crazy.”

For Grant Achatz, the chef-owner of Alinea in Chicago, US, the fact that Michelin is unafraid to award the stars to more modern and innovative restaurants is key. “I like the fact that they give them to somebody who breaks the traditional mould of what a three-star restaurant should be. That tells me that they are cognizant of what’s going on in the world of gastronomy,” he says. “They are not saying only Ducasse and Ramsay can get three because they have candelabras and white tablecloths. In my mind the fact that DiverXo and Alinea are doing things that are wildly different and still get three stars, legitimises them.”

Respect and controversies
The guide may be revered and reviled in equal measure, but its influence can hardly be contested. Longevity is one reason, but its independence is cited by many as another contributing factor. “As far as the industry is concerned I think they respect the way we work and we are one of – if not the only – organisation that measures them against their peers around the world,” says Burr. “For a chef to have a star means they are being measured against chefs across the world it puts them into a special league.”

For Diego Guerrero, chef and owner of the starred DSTAgE restaurant in Madrid, it is simple. “Our star gets people to come to my work and we want people to come and see our work. They put you on the map and ensure that the press and the dining public know about you too,” he says. But beyond that he doesn’t take the stars too much to heart. “You don’t work to achieve the stars, you have to work for you and the public.”

Muñoz concurs. “I never expected to get my first, second or third star. Having said that I am very happy to have them and they are very important to me, but the most important thing to me is that we are fully booked,” he says.

But the chatter surrounding the guide is not exclusively positive – criticisms include the accusation that it has not changed with times, reflecting trends and innovation in cooking. Burr disagrees: “We have always been at the forefront of acknowledging any change in the industry. People have said, ‘Michelin has changed, they award stars to such different places now’, but it is not us who have changed, it is the restaurants.”

She cites the presence of Michelin in Copenhagen since 1983 as an example. Another is the stars awarded to pubs, reflecting the trend in elevated gastronomic offering – there are now 15 UK pubs with a star.

Guerrero had previously been awarded two stars in his old restaurant El Club Allard and when he opened DSTAgE eyebrows were raised when he was awarded his first star just five months after opening. He sees this as evidence the guide is attuned to the changing culture of high-end dining. “For me it is a clear sign that Michelin are happy to back entrepreneurship, young people and those who want to tell stories in a different way,” he says. “Michelin knows that the notion of luxury changes and the stars have to evolve too.”

Though Michelin doesn’t have a relationship with the industry, there is more contact than many might think. From time to time inspectors reveal their identity and speak with the chef. “I think it is important to find out what the philosophy is, what they are changing and how they feel things are going,” Burr says. “We want the industry to know that we are approachable and we are interested. We make a guide for our readers, but we are very understanding of what they have to do these days, from overheads and staff costs, and we hope them being in the guide means they will get a little bit of business from us.”

Beyond Europe
The Michelin Guide is still considered a French or European institution, and for good reason. Expansion into the US did not happen until 2005 when the New York City guide launched. The guide, after all, is part of the largest tyre company in the world and any new launches have to fit in with overall business strategy. “We have to look at where we want to promote the tyre business in the world, so it is part of an overall strategy, but there obviously has got to be a culinary scene,” explains Burr.

The relative novelty of the guide in the US is reflected in the perceived influence. “Of course we want to get the three stars because anything less would feel like we have failed, but to be completely honest the impact is not as significant here as it is in Europe,” says Achatz.

“I think Michelin probably means something to Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten that it doesn’t mean to an American chef,” says Pete Wells, the restaurant critic for The New York Times. “Of course there are American-born chefs who have worked in European kitchens and they would have been made aware of what a big deal it is.”

Hong Kong and Macau and Tokyo have followed, but Hayler believes that although the standard of restaurants is not supposed to vary much between different countries, they do. “In Europe there is quite a high degree of cross-checking to get to two or three stars – a national inspector’s assessment needs to be confirmed,” he says. “I am unconvinced that the same rigorous approach is applied across the world.”

He calls the US guides “exceedingly generous” compared to their European counterparts and believes it’s harder to gain three stars in France than in the UK, for example. But he reserves his biggest criticism for the Hong Kong guide, which he says is an “embarrassment”. “The Hong Kong guide is incomprehensible, and in my view it is devaluing the brand,” he says.

But Burr insists the criticism is unfounded. “There is going to be a difference between a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong and a starred restaurant in France. I have seen both and I understand both. The tagline is ‘a star in its category’,” she says. “We have the inspectors and a senior team that spends a lot of time ensuring that consistency in one-, two- and three-starred restaurants is maintained.”

Staying relevant
Michelin has been digital since 2001 and today Twitter users can follow inspectors on their travels around the world, albeit retrospectively. It has little choice in a crowded marketplace that now features several lists such the highly publicised World’s 50 Best Restaurants and individual restaurant blogs as well as user-generated review sites such as Tripadvisor and Yelp. The printed guide remains popular and is considered the core product, but to stay relevant the digital side of things is increasingly important.

“Other things have always existed and if anything our reference has become stronger in recent years because there is so much out there and people are sifting through and thinking ‘one is saying this and another is saying something else’,” says Burr. “The Michelin Guide is an easy reference guide – any recommendation has been independently assessed by professional people who know the business and the restaurants around the world. I think that is how we stay relevant.”

Grant Achatz has had an eventful career by anyone’s standards. He talks to Tina Nielsen about the highs and lows

Grant Achatz’s career seems to be made for the movies. The young and talented chef, named the best in the US, was diagnosed with tongue cancer and given little chance of survival, but was saved by radical treatment. Along the way, he lost the ability to taste and was forced to rely on other chefs to judge the food he cooks.

Achatz’s cancer diagnosis came two years after he and business partner Nick Kokonas had opened Alinea, his first restaurant, in 2005 and everything was going great. “It was like I was on this rocketship, this trajectory and then the brakes were put on really hard,” he says. “We were doing all these cool things with food and getting loads of attention and then you just get cut off at the knees.”

It was a cruel turn of events for the chef and represented a complete role reversal. “Traditionally what the chef says is the gold standard but I was in a situation where I couldn’t do the most basic thing of what a chef normally does, which is evaluate the food,” he explains. “I would cook something but then have to put it in front of my sous chef and ask ‘is this good?’.”

Looking back, eight years after being given the all clear, he is philosophical – he now believes that the cancer was good for him. “It interrupted me for a year and a half and the interruption was good because it didn’t allow me to fizzle out it slowed everything down,” says Achatz. “It put everything in perspective and it changed my way of viewing my interaction with staff and the diner’s experience.”

He names the cancer as one of the determining factors in a career path that has seen him pass through the kitchens of The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. He also had a brief stint at elBulli in Catalonia, Spain, a seemingly compulsory entry on every successful young chef’s CV. Today he has three successful restaurants to his name: in addition to Alinea, there’s rotating concept restaurant Next and cocktail kitchen Aviary. Next up will be the more casual Roister – all co-owned with partner Kokonas and employing 300 people.

Having grown up in a restaurant – his parents owned a diner in Michigan where a young Achatz launched his culinary career cracking eggs when he was five years old – there was only ever one aim in his mind: to become a chef. A great chef.

Was the ambition to reach the stage he is at now – one of the best in the world, aged 41? “That was definitely the hope and the expectation I put on myself, but you can never know,” he says. “You certainly cannot proclaim that you are going to be the next Thomas Keller or Heston Blumenthal, but you can hope and you can chase that goal down.”

Thomas Keller looms large in his career as a role model and a father figure – according to Achatz he has been the most direct influence on his career. “At The French Laundry he taught me all the techniques and how to manage, but Thomas was also the first person to show me that cooking can be emotional that it can be funny, intimidating and exciting,” he says. “Up to that point I’d thought ‘OK, you are going to cook to perfection’, but I didn’t understand the fact that you could entertain people with food.”

He was at The French Laundry from 1996 to 2001, a crucial time for the restaurant. “I watched Thomas push and push and get all these accolades and being the most creative he’d ever been in his whole career,” he says. “It was not until I found The French Laundry that I really thought it was possible to work at the highest level and be happy.”

If any more evidence was needed of the influence Keller had, consider the 2016 programme for Next – the autumn menu is called ‘October 28th, 1996’ and will celebrate the 20 years since Achatz’s first day at The French Laundry by recreating the menu.

Five years after joining Keller’s kitchen, Achatz surprised many when he decided to leave the best restaurant in the world to make wine. “Until that point, cooking had always been the focus in my life – I grew up in a family restaurant, went to culinary school straight out of high school, then I went to Charlie Trotter’s and then The French Laundry. There was never a conscious choice to be a chef,” he says.

It was not an easy decision to make and he admits he was “super scared” to leave his comfort zone. “I had put Thomas Keller on such a pedestal and he was my mentor it was frightening to think that he might not approve,” he says.

Though he enjoyed his stint as an assistant winemaker at La Jota winery, stepping away from the restaurant made him realise that cooking was his true love and he returned to The French Laundry after a year. “When I came back into the fold I was on fire,” he says.

It wasn’t the first time Achatz walked away, surprising those around him. Aged 21 he’d joined Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago with great expectations, but ended up leaving after just four months. “Charlie Trotter was the pinnacle, the tip of the triangle of American gastronomy and as a young kid my whole focus had been to work for the best and then become the best, but when I got there I just didn’t feel the connection,” he says. In his book Life, on the Line he describes the experience as challenging and ultimately unrewarding. It still appears a brave decision for somebody so hungry for success to leave what could be the making of a young chef.

“When I walked away I thought I was a huge failure. I had wanted to work in one of the best restaurants in the world and I didn’t like it,” he explains. “I started questioning my goals – if this was the best, I didn’t want it. That was a terrible feeling.”

The natural step after embracing the creativity of The French Laundry and learning so much was for Achatz to set up on his own and he began the search for a venue to create his own food.

The place to do this would be a small restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago called Trio and it would turn out to be another pivotal turn on his path. “It was a huge step for me because I wasn’t cooking for another chef I was no longer a soldier for Thomas Keller and I could do whatever I wanted,” he says. “It was an informative and opportunistic time for his development. “I was 27 years old and I did a lot of silly things with food, for shock value,” he says. “But I got to understand that the bells and whistles weren’t all that. It was fun and it was great but it wasn’t about the guest experience.”

Trio became even more significant in Achatz’s career when a semi-retired trader called Nick Kokonas became a regular guest in the restaurant and fell in love with the food. He approached Achatz with a business proposition to open a restaurant together. It paved the way for their first restaurant, to be called Alinea.

Alinea opened in Lincoln Park, Chicago in 2005. The following year Gourmet magazine pronounced it the best in America and countless accolades have followed. The three Michelin stars came in 2011, Elite Traveler has voted it the best in the world for four years running and it has featured on the World’s 50 best restaurants list since 2007. Achatz himself was rewarded with the James Beard Foundation’s top award of Outstanding Chef in America in 2008.

The ever-changing creative, playful and precision-based dishes have wowed critics and customers alike. “The whole concept was always constant evolution and not having signature dishes – constantly pushing forward – and I think we have done that very well,” says Achatz. He doesn’t like the term molecular cooking that is often used to describe his food, preferring instead to call it progressive American. “We are using globally influenced ingredients and techniques that are looked at through a very progressive looking glass,” he explains.

Ten years down the line and after serving 200,000 people, Achatz and Kokonas have closed the restaurant for two months for renovation while staging Alinea pop-ups in Madrid and Miami. They have big plans for the new space. “We are looking at closing off each room, which gives us an opportunity to curate the environment and play with sound, smell and light,” he explains.

With three successful Chicago establishments, and another – Roister – in the pipeline, Achatz finds himself in an enviable situation in a city that is at the centre of an interesting culinary movement. It’s partly financial. “I have a lot of friends in San Francisco and New York and it is ungodly expensive to open restaurants there. We pay one quarter of the rent that very well known chefs in New York City pay for their restaurants. That is 75% less, so you can serve the same food, you have an audience that is willing to accept and embrace creativity and it is affordable. That is why we are having this influx on young chefs who want to set up in Chicago,” he says. “The other thing is that, whether you are talking about restaurants, architecture or music, Chicago has a history of embracing creativity and risk-taking.”

Whatever Achatz does next, it’s likely to include both of those. No wonder he calls Chicago home.

This month’s Alinea pop up in the Spanish capital will see a unique collaboration. Tina Nielsen spoke to Achatz about his plans and working with David Muñoz

The American chef has closed his Chicago restaurant for refurbishment after 10 years, and moved into what is what is usually the VIP breakfast room in NH Collection Eurobuilding hotel for a month. The first week of the pop up will see a collaboration between Alinea and David Muñoz, the chef of DiverXo, Madrid’s only restaurant to hold three Michelin stars, which is also located in the hotel.

Achatz has often mentioned his connection to Spain – he travels there at least once a year and has many friends among Spanish chefs. “It was a natural place to choose,” he said when he spoke to Foodservice Consultant at the end of last year.

Doing international pop-ups is becoming a bit of a trend, why did you decide to take Alinea to Madrid?

After 10 years and serving 200,000 customers we have closed the Chicago restaurant for refurbishment and I knew that we’d have to find a source of income for all the employees. It just seemed a natural fit to do a couple of pop-ups after Madrid we’ll be popping up in Miami.

How did you land on NH Collection Eurobuilding as the home for Alinea?

Last year I was in Marbella doing a dinner with the Spanish chef Dani García and I was chatting with him and his partner about my pop up idea. They were both confident they could make it happen and we have worked with Dani García Group as well as the public relations company Mateo & Co to put it all together.

We wanted to partner with someone who speaks the same language as us and NH Collection really prioritises food and beverage. The Eurobuilding hotel is enormous and they had a kitchen just sitting there and not being used. We have transformed the space into Alinea. We have brought in new carpets, built new banquettes and brought in tables and chairs. We have even changed the photos on the walls.

What can diners expect to see on the menu?

We wanted to bring Alinea to Madrid and we also feel it is important to do an homage to Spain, so we want to incorporate a lot of Spanish ingredients but we will do it the Alinea way. It is a very different process because of the availability of products and the promixity of the markets – we don’t typically have that in Chicago. It is really great for us to be exposed to those new products.

How will the collaboration with David Muñoz work out?

It will be a bit different from the way it usually works – typically he’d do a course and then I’d do a course and so on, but instead we have decided to change it a bit. Because the restaurants are within the same building we’ll have diners starting with several courses in one of the restaurants and finishing in the other. In between there is a transitional room, with another experience.

How well do you know David?

We know each other. I visited DiverXo in 2007 in the old premises and a couple of years ago David came and staged with us in the Alinea kitchen. It is pretty rare for somebody established to stage in another kitchen, but he had a window before moving into his new location at Eurobuilding and he wanted to see what we were doing

It is really fun coming up with ideas with him. In many ways we are very different, I have eight or 10 years on him, but we are both very creative. A lot of chefs establish a repertoire and recycle that, but we will keep inventing. It is fun to find somebody else who speaks that same language.

Alinea in Madrid will be open from 12 January to 9 February at NH Collection Eurobuilding.

Frustrated by the number of no-shows in his restaurant, Nick Kokonas launched a non-refundable ticket system that has boosted profits and cut empty tables. Tina Nielsen finds out more

Online reservation systems aren’t new. The biggest player, OpenTable, has been operating since 1998. But the idea of pre-paying for dinner is without doubt a new idea in the foodservice industry.

It’s been pioneered by a restaurant owner who was keen to find a solution to problems that wouldn’t go away: the frustration of taking phone reservations and the number of no-shows.

Tock is a system requiring diners to commit to a date and a time slot for dinner, paying for a non-refundable ticket, in the same way that they might book for the theatre or a sports event. The ticket might be a low-price one, purely to hold a table, or one with a higher value that might give them a discount for opting for a time and date that is less popular.

Nick Kokonas, co-owner with chef Grant Achatz of three Chicago restaurants – Alinea, Next Restaurant and Aviary – is the driving force behind Tock, the new web-based ticketing application.

“We had some fundamental problems as a business, trying to communicate with all the people who wanted to call us,” he explains. During the course of an evening, the Alinea reservations team of three would receive 200 voicemail messages, each running at one or two minutes amounting to as much as four hours.

“Most were asking for a table for four on Saturday night and the answer would invariably be no. But if you didn’t at least call them back to offer a different table, they would think it was bad customer service,” says Kokonas.

The cost of running this service amounted to $300,000 in payroll and an average $260,000 per year on no-shows and short-seated tables, which were running at three to four people a night. As Kokonas says, “it seemed like the biggest waste of all time”. Tock deals with both problems.

A former derivatives trader and a restaurant industry outsider, Kokonas was geared to assess the challenge without the sense of conservatism ingrained in so many people in hospitality. Tickets seemed the obvious solution – at least to him.

“Hospitality people would look at me and say: ‘You’re nuts. That’s not how we do things’,” he says. Surprisingly, the sceptics included his business partner Achatz who, by his own admission, had built his identity as a chef and restaurateur on challenging convention.

But Achatz’s resistance came from the way he was trained. “The way you take reservations is by answering the phone, that is just the way it is,” he says. “Once Nick started articulating it to me, it was apparent that it would be a useful tool for the restaurateur – the ultimate sell was the advantages it also offered to customers.”

Rewarding flexibility

What exactly are those advantages? Number one, according to Achatz, is efficiency. “Customers don’t call and get a busy signal. They can book 24 hours a day and do it within 30 seconds,” he says. “Also, everything is transparent. They can scroll through the calendar, find out what times are available, make a selection easily and discover whether or not a table is available. If your preferred date is sold out, you can easily go through and find an alternative.”

Where Tock is really shaking up the market is by offering a ticket that varies the price, depending on the day and time of week. If a customer wants a table for two at Alinea on a Saturday night they can expect to pay $275 per head, but if they can be flexible and want to save some money, they can get exactly the same experience for $210 on Wednesday at 5pm.

“This is a huge incentive for people who are more flexible, and they get a 20% to 25% discount, which is significant,” says Achatz.

Tock launched in 2011 with Next Restaurant that, with its rotating menus is a different concept anyway. Kokonas says the first iteration was “stuck together with duct tape” – but it worked. The first day saw $540,000 in bookings for Next going through the system. “Next came out of the gate and worked really well. Customers were happy with it, so in 2012 we moved Alinea to it, and eventually Aviary too,” says Achatz.

Last year, Kokonas published a blog that revealed the data from 2013. Alinea served 20,050 diners for the year there were 302 no-shows or 1.48% of all bookings. Almost all of those were ‘partial no-shows’. And, of course, with Tock the restaurant collected payment for the food upfront. Next’s numbers were similar. In 2013 there were 23,288 diners, 364 (1.54%) no-shows. Only five of these were full table no-shows.

Tock now has a team of 11 engineers, headed up by co-founder Brian Fitzpatrick, who founded Google’s Chicago engineering office. It has serious financial backing too. Investors include Thomas Keller, chef and owner of Per Se and The French Laundry Rich Melman, owner of Chicago based restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You and Twitter CEO Dick Costello.

Chefs who have signed up to the idea include Wylie Dufresne, who used Tock to sell tickets to the coveted last dinners at WD-50 before it closed.

While the ticket idea has grabbed the headlines, Tock is a versatile system and Kokonas estimates that 90% of Tock customers will end up using the system for cocktail bar Aviary, which has no prix fixe tasting menu.

“In any given city there will probably be just 20 restaurants selling tickets. Most will take ordinary reservations but the system also allows them to sell special events,” he explains. “If you want to plan ahead and get one of the experiences, you can go ahead and buy it. If you just want to make sure you have a table, then you put down a small $20 deposit that will be taken off your bill,” says Kokonas.

Outside the US, only London’s Clove Club – which has a five-course tasting menu and an extended version – has so far adopted Tock in the current pilot version. The restaurant quickly became popular after opening in 2013, gaining a Michelin star after only one year. Clove Club’s founders often had to deal with the same problems as Alinea. “Around 5% of all reservations were complete no-shows and 10% in addition were short-seated tables,” says co-founder Daniel Willis.

He had heard about Tock on the “restaurant grapevine” and with approached Kokonas earlier this year. The tickets have had a major impact, almost eliminating no-shows.

The advantages for restaurants include the ability to track and analyse customer seating and demand, but Tock has also proved helpful in planning. “When you sell tickets, you get the money after 48 hours, so you have money to plan – like a normal business,” says Kokonas.

“We know how much fish we need to buy, so we have gone to our supplier and said: ‘We’ll buy $50,000 of fish from you this month. Let’s pay you for the next three months, and you give us a better price.’ Those savings we can pass on to the diner.”

Tock is set to launch more widely later this year – 480 restaurants globally have signed up to join, with a further 3,000 showing interest. But Kokonas is unsurprised that some parts of the industry are hesitant. “What’s weird in the restaurant sector is that people are so risk averse. But, if no one had bought a ticket when we opened we would simply have gone back to phone lines. There is very little to lose just by taking a little risk.”

As for diners who don’t like to pay in advance? “Chances are the people who won’t pre-pay wouldn’t be the type of people who would come to our restaurants anyway,” he says. “We have seen no change in our clientele since we started this four years ago.”

Kokonas is taking this as a sign that the industry is ready for change. “A lot of people say the industry hates technology, but I say they love it. If you look at most points of sale today they are antiquated and have not been updated in 18 years. This is going to change rapidly.”

Achatz too thinks now is the perfect time for Tock. “Ten years ago it wouldn’t have worked,” he says. “I don’t think people were ready for it then. Now, people are so tech-savvy – most of us walk around with computers in our pockets all the time.”

Michelin-starred chefs are popping up on the other side of the world, taking their whole staff – and sometimes the restaurant furniture too. Tina Nielsen takes a look at the big names swapping home for abroad

When René Redzepi, chef and owner of Noma in Copenhagen, announced that he would be moving the restaurant, staff and all, to Sydney for a 10-week stint in January 2016, he confirmed a trend for the world’s top chefs to stage international pop ups.

This summer The Fat Duck, usually based in the village of Bray in the UK, ended a six-month residency at Melbourne’s Crown Casino. Chef Heston Blumenthal moved the entire operation to Australia while the UK restaurant was refurbished. For the last two years the three brothers behind El Celler de Can Roca in Spain have closed their restaurant to go on tour for five weeks. And while Noma heads to Sydney, Alinea of Chicago will be popping up in Madrid and Miami during the first two months of 2016.

Gareth Sefton FCSI, director of SeftonHornWinch, says the motivation behind the pop ups is partly educational. “Chefs by nature want to share their own passion and creativity with everyone. They have a confidence in what they do and want as many people as possible to share their thoughts and ideas,” he says. “They will also find the different cultures they experience from working abroad influencing their own creativity.”

For Redzepi, this is his second major pop up, having staged a five-week period at Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental hotel earlier this year. Escaping a dark and cold Copenhagen for the Australian summer is reason enough to swap locations for a few months. But with the Japan pop up costing a significant amount in terms of both money and effort – it involved taking 63 staff members to Japan, shipping furniture from Denmark and remodelling the dining room of the Mandarin Oriental – there is more to this than getting a bit of winter sun.

Redzepi told Saveur that temporarily moving his team to Japan was a way to shake staff out of their groove. “Getting out of your comfort zone is an important part of being a cook.”

After two years of planning a five-week run with 3,584 guests enjoying the tasting menu and another 60,000 still on the waiting list at the end, suffice to say the pop up was a success. Redzepi described the time in Tokyo as “the greatest learning experience in my life. We came back to Copenhagen more lifted than ever, with bags of energy and inspiration, and many new friends.” For Sydney every single team member from the dish washer to general manager will join Redzepi on his next adventure.

The Copenhagen restaurant will close while Noma takes temporary residence in Barangaroo in Sydney Harbour. “This is an opportunity to broaden our horizons, to expand our minds and our tastes as we delve into this magnificent landscape,” says the Danish chef.

But while Noma has made its name using locally foraged, often little known ingredients, on its journeys abroad it does not replicate any Nordic dishes. Instead Redzepi and his team have travelled extensively all over Australia and will, in a way, turn Noma Australian – using ingredients they can forage locally.

For some restaurants, opening in a different location during a refurb of their usual surroundings becomes vital. When Blumenthal announced the temporary move to Melbourne, he referred to the fact that the Bray restaurant had needed to be refurbished for a long time and it would have been impossible to just tell staff to walk away for six months.

As Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago explains when describing the plans for his pop up in Madrid and Miami: “We have a team of 70 people, many of whom have been with us for a long time and our moral code would not allow us to tell them that they are getting laid off during those three months,” he says. “We have to pop up somewhere and generate enough money to cover payroll at the very minimum so we can retain the people so when we open again we have the same dream team as we do now.”

For staff, the opportunity to work in a different culture, learning to work with unfamilar ingredients, using new techniques and ways of working is exciting and helps to strengthen the team. Achatz is due to open his fourth restaurant with business partner Nick Kokonas and points to the importance of creating a culture where his team can grow. Many have been with him for a long time and he believes the change is important for them.

“Some have been with us since day one and it is a long time in fine dining,” he says. “We have a staff of nearly 300 and you start thinking a bit differently providing a culture that people like to work in. What is more exciting for a group of passionate individuals than to be able to live in Madrid and Miami, understand a new cuisine and meet new people in the industry?” He expects the experience to satisfy a sense of curiosity and inspiration that they don’t normally get in Chicago, or “the kind of things that don’t translate to a spreadsheet”.

If the motivation behind the global pop up is experiencing new culinary cultures, discovering unfamiliar ingredients and learning how to do things in a different way, Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca from El Celler de Can Roca have taken this to a new level.

Among the courses on the tasting menu at the Girona restaurant, this year re-appointed the best in the world, is a selection of five different mouthfuls, concealed inside a paper lantern globe. Named Eat the World, it is the result of inspiration from the brothers’ travels.

For the past two years they have closed their restaurant for five weeks in the summer and gone on tour, taking in several countries around the world. Last year saw them cooking in Houston, Dallas, Monterrey, Mexico City, Lima and Bogotá while this summer they visited Buenos Aires, Miami, Birmingham, Houston and Istanbul. In a partnership with Spanish bank BBVA they have served spectacular dinners to appreciative diners in each of the locations.

For head chef Joan Roca, travelling is an essential part of their development. “We want to learn and get out of our comfort zone to realise that we still have so much to learn from different people and in many different places,” he says. The three use the trips to pay tribute to the local cuisines as they discover local ingredients, many of them iconic in each country – such as the beef, mate and dulce de leche of Argentina.

Though they are already recognised as the best in the world Roca says they continue to learn all the time, which is vital for their restaurant to keep evolving. “We pick up new techniques, new products and new cultures. During the tour we create many new dishes and some of them will end up on the menu back at El Celler,” he explains.

El Celler also travels with the full team of 40 members of staff. “It is essential for us that the team comes along,” says Roca. “For them it is a great experience to learn, serving as a kind of apprenticeship as we have to deal with many challenges in different settings.”

They also incorporate an educational element to their trips and work with local catering colleges in each of the cities. The brothers pick two students from every school who are rewarded with a four-month stage in the Girona restaurant. “We believe it is vital for us to work with students,” says Roca.

But the top restaurants don’t do this just to inspire staff and learn about new ingredients. There is an element of promotion and raising the profile of the restaurant. Achatz also thinks there are financial reasons. “In certain cases I do think there is a financial opportunity with a pop up, more so even than the flagship restaurant, which is something to think about,” he says.

He has a point, says Jimi Yui FCSI of Yui Design: “The chefs gain form the experience both in financial terms and also as a way to solifiy their brand.”

Achatz has done pop ups in the US, swapping with Per Se and The French Laundry, plus a residency in Eleven Madison Park in New York. “They are fun and great for the team. In some cases they can be financially beneficial.”

The culinary world is seeing an increasing level of collaboration among chefs. As Roca says, it is common sense for chefs to travel. “This is not only the best way we can learn, but also the best way for us to spread the word about or own cuisines,” he says.

American chef Grant Achatz will be staging an Alinea pop up in the Spanish capital while the Chicago restaurant is being refurbished in the new year

The three Michelin starred restaurant, voted the best in the world by Elite Traveler magazine, is collaborating with Spanish hotel group NH in a pop up unlike any other to take place in Madrid.

The Alinea pop up will take place at the NH Collection Eurobuilding hotel for four weeks in January and February. Achatz and his team have put together a 16-course meal for the pop up, which will without a doubt be very popular. Reservations for the dinners will be sold via the Tock ticketing site where regular tickets for Alinea are normally sold.

Achatz spoke to Foodservice Consultant about the pop up earlier in the year. He explained that moving the entire Alinea team to Madrid would be an opportunity for chefs to discover a new culture and understand a different cuisine. He said Spain was a natural place for the pop up. “I have been going there at least once a year since 1999 and I just find the food interesting,” he said.

NH Hotel Group has an excellent track record in collaborating with top chefs. Already in the Eurobuilding is Madrid’s only restaurant with three Michelin stars DiverXo with young chef David Muñoz at the helm. Other Spanish chefs working with the group include Paco Roncero and Óscar Velasco.

Alinea will pop up in Madrid between 12 January and 6 February. Click here For more information.

Watch out for our feature on top chefs taking their restaurants global in the next issue of Foodservice Consultant magazine.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Alinea Pop-Up @ Faena Hotel (Miami, FL)

On February 27, Mrs. Hackknife and I had the great pleasure of attending one of Alinea Restaurant's pop-up meals in Miami, conducted while the flagship location in Chicago was undergoing extensive renovations. Mrs. H. and I have previously dined at Alinea and I can assure you that the associated experience is a spectacle like no other, so we were understandably excited to see what surprises were in store for us when Chef Grant Achatz and Co. took the operation on the road to South Florida.

The host venue for these pop-up dinners was the new and swanky Faena Hotel in South Beach, the type of place where you'd expect to run into LeBron James and where a giant, gold-plated woolly mammoth skeleton in a glass case (you can see it here) isn't really at odds with its surroundings. The dinners were held in a tropically-styled back lounge normally reserved for drinks (or possibly a breakfast service) and we were fortunate enough to be seated at a table up front, right next to the bar, which had been co-opted by the kitchen staff for plating dishes.

Our amuse bouche was a love letter from home, a Chicago hot dog disguised as a small gelatin cube of "hot dog" essence (that's the only way I can think to describe it) topped with dots of red tomato, yellow mustard, and green relish. In case you're wondering, yes, it really did taste like a Chicago dog (although I missed the poppyseed bun and the celery salt).

A circular platter not unlike the kind Grandma would put out for homemade cookies at Christmastime arrived next at the table, but instead of snickerdoodles was a disk of plantain/papaya crowned with a generous helping of Osetra caviar doused in a bit of rum, a wonderful fusion of luxury and Caribbean ingredients.

This is Alinea's version of guiso de maiz, or Cuban corn stew, served in a trick bowl whose sweet contents (an echo of late summer barbecues in the Midwest when the corn stalks are head-high) could only be accessed via metal straw. Perched above the stew on the glass rim were beguiling small (yet flavor-packed) creations featuring chorizo, tomato, pumpkin seed, and more corn.

In what could have only been conceived for Alinea's pop-up meals in Madrid (this is where they hunkered down before coming to Miami), a glass plate featuring a near-identical reproduction of a famous painting by Spanish artist Joan Miro (you can see the original here) appeared. Instead of acrylics, though, the "paints" were various sauces for a deconstructed snapper bouillabaisse, including green fennel/parsley/dill and red saffron aioli. Not only did the sauces individually pair well with the delicate fish, but also when slathered together in the act of turning the Miro into a Jackson Pollock.

Chef Achatz frequently appeared at the plating station, calling out orders and checking dishes while simultaneously consulting his smartphone (hopefully making plans for the future Alinea pop-up in Tampa).

The following course was another fish stew, although this one (called moqueca) is normally associated with Brazil and ended up being a hybird of Peruvian ceviche, featuring cobia and Key West pink shrimp marinated in coconut milk and leche de tigre (a citrus marinade commonly used in ceviche). A server poured citrus tea into the bowl, adding a dimension of aroma to the dish, which was dramatically kept cold by resting it atop a cauldron of steaming dry ice (you can see a snippet of video at the top of this posting).

Circling back to small bites, three unusual serving pieces were brought to the table, each nestling a particular combination of ingredients: a lump of crab tempura enhanced with green curry/cucumber and impaled on a vanilla bean, a flash frozen dollop of soda, lemongrass, and chili (this was Alinea's version of a "Siam Sunray", Thailand's new signature cocktail), and a chewy slab of pig ear seasoned with tamarind, watermelon, and Szechuan pepper (my apologies for the mediocre photo).

What you see above is essentially a salad disguised as urban art (or graffiti as they call it on the menu), edible flowers poking out of pothole shards of ash meringue (not as unpleasant as it sounds) paired with beets and goat cheese, all sporting a streak of strawberry vinaigrette (applied by a server at the table using a spray paint can, authentic down to the glass marble inside)

We outright missed taking a picture of the next course, one of Chef Achatz's signature creations - a small bowl of potato soup into which a needle holding some truffle, chive, butter, Parmesan cheese, and a chunk of cold potato has been placed. The diner slides the ingredients off the needle and into the soup, yielding a mega-tasty potato stew (or liquified loaded baked potato). Sadly, this hot potato-cold potato dish was retired at the conclusion of the Miami pop-up.

When is a centerpiece not just a centerpiece? It's when it's also a holder for pieces of a rich, pink bread made from (among other things) duck fat drippings. Where's the rest of the duck, you ask? Well, it showed up as part of several unctuous small bites featuring ginger, yogurt, and edible gold leaf, all resting in a bright bowl of clear duck consomme, a course fit for royalty if there ever was one.

I sensed some hijinks when another centerpiece was delivered, this time a flaming bowl of charcoal. After a few minutes, our server returned to extinguish the fire and reveal that one of the briquettes was actually a well-wrapped cut of Japanese Wagyu beef, charred to perfection by the fire (and left blessedly medium-rare on the interior).

This bite of meat represented the most flavorful beef imaginable (clearly, there's a reason that true Wagyu commands an astronomical price) and made the ultimate "steak and potato" dinner when paired with some romaine hearts and a light green chimichurri sauce (a la Argentinian grill).

Next up was another signature dish being put out to pasture, the amazing black truffle explosion (liquid truffle essence, chopped cabbage, and Parmesan cheese all packed within/atop a single raviolo) that dates way back to Chef Achatz's French Laundry and Trio days. This bite that launched a hundred modern tasting menus will be greatly missed.

We soon encountered another friend, a hanging piece of bacon (as if on a clothesline) cured with butterscotch, apple, and thyme. This dish was my first ever experience with Alinea's gastronomic magic at a Field Museum evening food event in Chicago in 2009 and I was pleased to meet it again.

Of course, no Alinea meal is complete without some sort of edible fruit leather balloon. The greatest hits parade continued with this green apple novelty, in which the diner sucks out the helium (trying not get the sticky leather in your hair or on your clothes) and then eats the balloon (the string, by the way is not edible).

When they rolled out the plastic table cover, I knew we'd reached our final course of the evening. Mrs. H. and I had had a very similar version of this dessert in Chicago, although this iteration had been slightly altered for the tropics. A flurry of syrups (banana, molasses infused with Fernet Branca - a bitter Italian liqueur) were dashed across the table (dare I say into another Miro-like arrangement?), followed by bricks of frozen chocolate mousse that are dramatically smashed into pieces, then sprinkled with edible glitter and chunks of dulce de leche candy. You are then free to scoop up this mad creation any way you like, each spoonful representing a different experience of textures and flavors (although, truth be told, I think I preferred the original a bit better).

The one downside of this whole meal (which was spectacular for the most part, well worth the long drive to Miami) was the pacing, an acceleration over what we'd encountered at the flagship restaurant. In this case, what had been a 3-hour evening-long event had been compressed into 90 minutes, and we found ourselves back on the street at 7:30, scarcely past sundown with nothing left to do that evening except marvel at what had just occurred. My guess is that the economics of the pop-up only made sense when two (or possibly even three) seatings could be jammed into each night still, having paid as much as we did, it would have been nice to linger a bit over each course. One thing hasn't changed, though - Chef A. and his crew remain at the top of their profession and we can hardly wait for what surprises the new and improved Alinea will have in store.

Grant Achatz Is Opening Alinea Pop-Up Locations in Miami and Madrid - Recipes

Bring the World Into Your Kitchen With These Michelin-Star Cookbooks

These books offer a glimpse into the culinary genius behind some of the world's best restaurants.


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In 1889, auto industry magnates Andre and Edouard Michelin came up with an innovative marketing tool to sell tires: they began publishing travel guides and maps to promote road tourism. By the 1920s, the guide had evolved from an advertising ploy into an authoritative dining guide. The brothers seized the opportunity and hired a team of “mystery diners” who secretly reviewed restaurants and awarded stars to the best of them. Today, Michelin guides remain a trusted source for gourmands around the globe.

Here are eight cookbooks that will help you channel the culinary genius of Michelin-star restaurateurs at home.

Watch the video: Alinea: Madrid. Grant Achatz (May 2022).