Q&A with Grant Achatz

The contemporary American chef talks to HME.com
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Grant Achatz on stage at Madrid Fusion.
Grant Achatz on stage at Madrid Fusion.

HME.com caught up with Grant Achatz, one of America´s leading proponents of the avant garde culinary movement, at Madrid Fusion to find out if the wheels have dropped of the contemporary culinary genre and whether we will see him in the Middle East soon.

Achatz is owner and head chef of ultra contemporary Chicago restaurant Alinea, which is at the forefront of the movement in the USA.

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What it the current state of avant garde cuisine in respect to how it is perceived by restaurant goers?

In America we are still trying to catch up with Spain in regards to avant garde cuisine. It started in the US around 2004-05, but has moved slowly.

I think that recently, especially in the US, people have been quick to knock down this type of cooking. People have been quick to say it is dead and that there are no more ideas, but if you look at the history gastronomy it tends to reinvent itself every 15 to 20 years; at the moment the movement is about 11 years old.

What we saw is that at the beginning of a movement there was an explosion of ideas and people were really excited, but eventually these ideas were going to plateau.

It is an exciting movement, but the diners are beginning to predict it. The impact has been a little less, because if you are going to a restaurant expecting to be surprised, then you are not going to be surprised.

How was 2009 for Alinea?

We were very lucky and had a better year last year than the year before. We stayed along the a similar line in regard to what we were doing before and it appeared to work.

Do you ensure your restaurant takes care of environmental concerns?

It you are a chef and not responsible in regards to the environment and in the way you source your products you are simply not doing your job, regardless of what your genre is.
We are taking aggressive steps in our restaurants to use green chemicals and reduce our carbon footprint by installing a roof garden and water purification system.

We are no longer serving blue fin tuna, but the guest reaction when we were was interesting and some people didn´t even know about the way this food is sourced.

Everyone is very eco-aware now, but if these [controversial] products are good products it becomes very difficult for me not to serve it at the restaurant.

Even if I am eco-aware I have to ask myself what comes first — my restaurant or the environment?

Have you even been interested in opening a restaurant in Abu Dhabi or Dubai and where in your opinion does the Middle East stand as a culinary hub?

I have no interest in going to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but I also have no interest in going to New York or LA. Just because Pierre Gagnaire has a restaurant in Las Vegas [or Dubai] doesn’t mean it’s the food capital of the world. Outposts are valuable, but if you’re not in your restaurant how can it be authentic?

What upcoming plans do you have for Alinea?

We´re looking at the use of colour — chefs are aware of colour when plating and servicing food, but we´re looking at the colour of the room and staff uniform changes during courses. We are trying to dig into the psychology of colour, but it is difficult to implement as there is a huge risk in becoming too contrived; after all we´re a restaurant, not a Broadway production.

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