Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Dancing to Perfection at “NEXT” in Chicago
There is something about the beguiling nature of successful chefs that make us not want to stop writing about them. Chef Grant Achatz is one of those chefs – a chef with a compelling life story and an inherently artistic reservoir of drive and culinary genius. Since opening his now internationally acclaimed ALINEA he has gleaned myriad awards and recognition – the most recent being the prized three Michelin Stars from Michelin’s Guide Rouge for Chicago.
The new darling in Chicago, however, is now NEXT, co-owned by Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas. NEXT boasts a frontier-breaking concept in the restaurant world where customers clamor online to purchase dinner tickets for an edible culinary performance. Wine pairings are innovative and show an intellectual coherence. Everything, including wine, tax and tip, is pre-paid and the set menu price changes according to the popularity of the day and time of any given reservation; tickets for Sunday at 6 pm would be less expensive than, say Friday evening at 8 pm. The style and provenance of the menu is also scheduled to change every three months. It is a concert of several movements, a play with several acts, over whose content one has no say nor choice. It is proffered for consumption. Its temptation comes from the menu concept and the trust in the chef.
The opening salvo, fittingly, was PARIS 1906 with its inaugural menu dishes taken from culinary icon Auguste Escoffier’s ‘Guide Culinaire’. Far from being ‘outdated’ , Chef Achatz faithfully adhered to Escoffier’s suggestions and methods, ultimately emerging as strikingly contemporary yet in a traditional 1906 way, thanks to modern techniques such as sous vide and the use of blenders that Escoffier obviously would not have had.
The ‘plat de resistance’ of caneton Rouennais à la Presse, however, reverted to the traditional batterie de cuisine of the duck press – now a stunning and highly sought after piece of nickel-plated antiquity. NEXT’s Executive Chef, Dave Beran, wheeled in his table and his duck press into the center of the restaurant and before all 62 diners, gave us a demonstration. A seared, barely cooked whole duck (minus the legs – to be used for confit) was cut up with culinary shears, put into the press and the blood and juices pressed and squeezed out of the carcass to then be stirred and swirled at the last minute into the final glistening sauce. To say a frisson of pleasure spread around those gathered would be an understatement.
The Chicago Chapter was the very first private group to be welcomed into NEXT and the excitement was palpable. It was the first day of summer and we were a full house comprising many of Chicago’s leading professional scions from the hospitality industry . The reception was held in the new concept cocktail lounge of AVIARY – an Alinea style cocktail experience using molecular techniques but using liquor, fruits and any other ingredient that might come to mind, with studied food pairings alongside the cocktails.
Co-owner Nick Kokonas welcomed us and spoke willingly and at length about NEXT’s embryonic formation and subsequent evolution into a unique concept dining experience aligning it to performance art. Executive Chef Beran gave anecdotes of how the final recipes were chosen and the traditional Chaîne toast was proposed by Chevalier Michael Belsley after which time we were seated in waves of three groupings to facilitate the intense and detailed work of the kitchen and service staffs.
Halfway across town, Chef Grant Achatz was producing a 32 course dinner at ALINEA for another private group. Not to mince words, then, Achatz had his plate full. His tenacious work ethic and commitment to our Chaîne evening meant that at some pertinent point in that other menu, he had to head to NEXT where he was hailed by us with whoops of joy, applause and respect. Chef Grant Achatz then spoke of his vision and concept for NEXT, took questions from members and found himself flanked on all sides by his dedicated and faithful team. A framed Chaîne des Rôtisseurs plate was awarded and became part of the history of this ground-breaking chef and his gastronomically literate ideas.
Kitchen tours were made and then we all left, our feet hardly touching the ground, clutching a signed copy of the Achatz/Kokonas book “Life, On The Line”.
An exciting and exclusive evening in the hottest and most sought after restaurant in town is planned for us! We will have the entire NEXT Restaurant to ourselves, and it will be the first private event that Chef Grant Achatz and Co‐owner Nick Kokonas have agreed to. Many of you have certainly been following the intense online activity for tickets. Some of the details are still being finalized and will be communicated at a later date.
This is what is planned:
The menu will be the inaugural PARIS 1906 collection of dishes
Reserve wines – selected by NEXT ‐ will be poured with each dish.
Chef/Owner Grant ACHATZ is expected be present for part of the evening and will give the food commentary as well as his vision and concepts. Chef Achatz will also be dividing his evening between the No. 1 restaurant in the United States, three Michelin Star ALINEA, and the Chicago Chaîne at NEXT.
We will be given a kitchen tour ‐ a table or two at a time at the conclusion of the dinner.
Included in the price of the dinner is a copy of the book “Life on the Line”, signed by both Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.
Executive Chef Dave Beran will lead his team and will undoubtedly ensure that this Chaîne‐Chicago evening will go down in the annals of one of memorable proportions.
There will be no refunds (unless we can fill your reservation) as we will be paying in advance.
We will run all credit cards and cash checks immediately on receipt of your reservation.
Given the exclusive nature of the evening, I am expecting to sell out very quickly, so to avoid disappointment I can only advise reserving promptly.