Grant Achatz, Alinea

Grant Achatz, Alinea

The idea of a tasting menu or a degustation, where a diner orders nothing and chooses to experience a progression of small courses that was designed by a chef with the intent to showcase his/her skill, is a fairly new concept.  It began with the French in the early 20th century, but only in the recent post-foodie era has the tasting menu gone mainstream in most restaurants worth its salt.

A few restaurants, such as the French Laundry, Alinea, and Momofuku Ko, offer only tasting menus.  At places like these, guests surrender themselves to experience the culinary viewpoint of the chef, and food allergies aside, try to minimize the extent to which dishes are modified (there’s often a tasting menu for vegetarians as well).  Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea, always in pursuit of novel dining concepts, has tried to shake up how things are done in these haute cuisine establishments. He has been contributing some pretty interesting pieces on food and dining in the Atlantic (definitely worth checking out).  In one article, Achatz presents the “adjective concept”, which is similar to the “Choose your adventure” concept in books:

“Each guest at a table gets a card with four rows of six words. The rows are defined by characteristics. In the example below,from left to right [check out the article for pictures of the card and an example of a dish]: Row one is flavor, two is texture, three is emotionally driven, and four is temperature. As a group, the diners have to select one word from each category or row. Once the group has made a decision, they turn in their choices to the waiter. The waiter hands the choices to the kitchen, where we create a dish based on the guests’ four choices. Soon after, the result of their choice–their exercise in limited free will–is served. Or will be.”

I think that this is a really intriguing concept, and it provides a new, interactive approach to the standard degustation, giving the diner options while still allowing the chef to demonstrate his/her abilities.  My concern is whether or not taste, in my opinion the most important factor in the dining experience, will become an afterthought.  24 composed courses that each vary according to different temperatures, flavors, textures, and emotional profiles sounds like a daunting task for most chefs, but then again Grant Achatz is not your typical chef.  Though I wonder what he would make that’s salty, soft, comforting, and < 0 degrees.  What can be soft and salty but frozen….and also tastes good?!?

posted by Sheng at 08:11 AM Filed under Celebrities. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.