Alinea - Review
By Grant Achatz
The Chicago dining sensation Alinea is so much more than a restaurant. Wunderkind chef Grant Achatz has crafted an eating experience so extraordinary that diners have been known to be moved to tears. Using manipulations of texture, surreal presentations, and molecular gastronomy techniques as esoteric as "pillows of scented air," Achatz achieves at times outrageous pairings of flavors that can stir strong human emotions. Just as Alinea defies easy classification, so too does its namesake book. To call Alinea a cookbook belies its essence as a work of art—there are 400 stunning photographs by Lara Kastner—and a window into a brilliant scientist's lab of food alchemy. The book's heft (it clocks in at almost 400 pages) also conceals the struggles of its chef/author, who worked on the cookbook-in-progress during long hours of chemotherapy sessions in his battle against tongue cancer (which, thankfully, he won).
Given the book's glossy pages, it may find a more comfortable home on your coffee table than in your kitchen. Still, diehard Alinea fans eager to replicate the magic of the restaurant will not be disappointed. The recipes for over 100 dishes are taken verbatim from the Alinea kitchen and not simply "adapted" for the home cook. This means you might have to invest in an antigriddle and volcano vaporizer and might need to go shopping for some exotic ingredients like Ultra-tex 3 and transglutaminase if you want to participate. You can experiment with Achatz's approach of flavor reversal in recipes like raspberry goat's milk, red pepper taffy, and pistachio. Dabble in his penchant for global awareness with a dish of lamb with akudjura (Australian bush tomato seeds), olive, and eucalyptus veil. Pour your own paraffin wax bowls for Hot Potato, Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Parmesan. If you're truly stumped on how to tackle a recipe, you can access the Alinea Mosaic website (free with purchase of the book) which features extensive video demonstrations, a sourcing guide for unusual ingredients, and an online forum. In all its many layers, Alinea will offer you not just a new way to cook but also, as co-author Nick Kokonas puts it, a new way to think about life.
Potato Soup (One part of "Hot Potato, Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Parmesan")
100 grams (3.5 oz) Yukon Gold potato
225 grams (7.9 oz) black truffle juice
500 grams (1 lb 1.6 oz) heavy cream
25 grams (.9 oz) white truffle oil
5 grams (.2 oz) kosher salt
Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch (1.3-cm) dice. In medium saucepan, bring potato and truffle juice to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until potato is tender. Add cream, return to a simmer, and remove from heat. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. With blender running on high speed, add truffle oil in thin, steady stream. Add salt and blend briefly. Strain through chinois into covered container. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Reviewed by Rachel Levin