During a conversation with Ruch Reichl at the IACP Conference in New York, chef Grant Achatz announced plans for an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, a television show, and two documentaries. He also briefly mentioned that the feature film adaptation of his memoir Life On The Line is still being developed.
Achatz didn't give many details on the TV and film projects but did share that he's meeting with Radical Media, the award-winning "transmedia" and production company behind the Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts, to see about a cooking show that can be "educational and fun" and as progressive as his restaurants.
There are two documentaries in the works, one of which was announced back in 2009. That film is tentatively called Taste, and it will be directed by R.J. Cutler. Achatz did not discuss the other documentary project.
The museum show, which Achatz said won't happen for another two years, will be a kind of "culinary funhouse" occupying a large space within MCA. One of the pivotal inspirations for the project is Sleep No More, the experimental, participatory staging of Macbeth in New York. Achatz has seen it three times. He wants to be able to "do that with food" and to "create a journey" in which visitors have to navigate the hallways and corridors of the installation, encountering different sounds, textures, colors, and foods as they move through the space.
The announcement comes four months after Achatz revealed plans to make some significant changes at Alinea in the spirit of "thinking off the plate." At IACP, Achatz shared further details on those efforts with Reichl and the audience. The restaurant has considered having waitstaff change their wardrobe throughout a meal ("We photoshopped a waiter wearing a green suit and serving the asparagus course"), and he's working on "layering" the dining table so that once a dish is finished, the service team can remove the plate and surface to reveal an entirely new theme for the next course. Achatz also thinks he's figured out how to serve floating food, thanks to a sous chef who made an edible helium balloon out of green apple taffy. "You'd never imagine people taking hits of helium at a three-star Michelin restaurant," he said.
Some advancements have already made their way into the Alinea experience. Inspired by chef de cuisine Matt Chasseur's New Hampshire background, they decided to take all the tables out of one of the dining rooms, fill the space with pine, dim the lights, and have guests eat "peppermint snow" off of the leaves. They called it "Winter In New Hampshire." They've been playing around with a similar idea, occasionally escorting parties to a larger table to join other diners — strangers, effectively — where they have to interact and share a course. And the cellists Achatz mentioned as a possibility for the restaurant are now developing a specific score to be played live during the dessert course, which for several years has been plated on a silicone sheet draped over each table. "It actually changes the flavor of the food," said the chef, giving as an example the day he and the kitchen staff tried Maytag Blue Cheese while listening to loud music. "You couldn't really taste it anymore."
Towards the conclusion of the program, Reichl brought up the burdens that can come with treating food as art. She cited the time at chef Ferran Adrià's elBulli when she found a couple of dishes to be "disgusting." Food writer and Adrià devoté Colman Andrews gave her a simple explanation: "Ferran doesn't want you to like it." It's unclear if Achatz would go to the point of shocking customers without any concern for flavor, but he did explain how brief moments of intimidation and discomfort can lead to magic at a restaurant.
Presented with the possibility that customers might start coming to Alinea for the experience and not the food, Achatz responded, "I think they're already coming for the experience. The food is just a component of that."
More details as they come our way.