On Netflix’s new culinary competition series The Final Table, Chicago chef Grant Achatz represents America at the titular table, where nine of the world’s culinary masters sit. Here’s everything you need to know about the influential chef and his storied career.
Who is Grant Achatz?
Achatz is chef and partner at lauded fine dining establishments Alinea and Next, the cocktails bars the Aviary and the Office, and the casual restaurant Roister, all of which are located in Chicago. The chef and his team also operate locations of the Aviary and the Office in New York City. Alinea has garnered the most praise for Achatz. The restaurant has held three Michelin stars since the Chicago guidebook was first published in 2011 (Roister has held one star since the publication of the 2017 guide).
The chef has also written a few books with business partner Nick Kokonas. They published an Alinea cookbook in 2008, and followed in 2011 with a memoir, Life, on the Line, which recounted Achatz’s fight with cancer in 2007. The duo has also released two digital cookbooks featuring recipes from Next, which famously changes up its concept every four months.
What was his journey through the culinary world like?
Achatz grew up in the restaurant industry. He worked at his parents’ restaurants in Michigan as a teenager, and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1994. Post-graduation, the chef spent some time at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago before heading west for four years of tutelage under Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, California. “It felt like I was rubbing shoulders with the master,” Achatz said during his dedicated episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, released in 2016. “I wanted to be Thomas Keller and I was super dedicated to learning how to cook like him.”
He moved back to Chicago in 2001 and took over the kitchen at Trio in nearby Evanston. Achatz was named one of Food & Wine’s “best new chefs” in 2002, and his influence on the restaurant eventually landed it five stars from the Mobil Travel guide, making it one of 13 establishments to hold such a rating. He and Kokonas opened Alinea in 2005. It was named best restaurant in America by Gourmet in 2006, the first of many accolades to come, including recurring spots on the World’s 50 Best list. In addition to Chef’s Table, Achatz has also appeared in documentaries like Spinning Plates (2012).
What is Grant Achatz’s food like?
Look up a history of early-aughts molecular gastronomy, and Achatz will be listed as one of the biggest names in the movement. He serves lengthy tasting menus of tiny, impeccably composed dishes — often with elaborate, over-the-top presentations. “Meals take advantage of every sense, so guests should expect scented vapors, unexpected tricks, sizzling charcoal and tableside preparations,” Michelin’s inspectors write in the 2019 guide. “The olfactory experience is vivid — if you keep your eyes closed, intense wafts of citrus or smoke will easily reveal what course was just served.”
Achatz calls his cuisine “progressive American.” In a recent interview with the Institute of Culinary Education, he explained what that means: “Progressive being the utilization of cutting-edge technique and the exploration of creativity. And American being eclectic ingredients and regional items, and more of a global melting pot of cuisine styles.”