DETAILS: Did you know he was coming?
Grant Achatz: No, that was a coincidence. I didn't cook it for him—it was something that was already on the menu.
DETAILS: That's amazing. In the book, the term "molecular gastronomy" pops up only a few times, and not in the best light. The first time it does, it's you saying you'd never heard the expression before. How do you feel about it today?
Grant Achatz: I think the way the term is used has changed rapidly because the majority of the practitioners in the world have all denounced it. We've all said, "That doesn't really define what we do." And also there's this shift that's happening right now with cuisine. El Bulli's about to close and they were clearly the leading practitioner, and a lot of people are just moving away from it in the way they cook—even us. I would say that the science of cooking is less important to us creatively and execution-wise than it was five years ago. So where before I would be looking at scientific equipment and certain starches and gelling agents as sources of inspiration, and now it's more of theater and expressing feelings through colors and presentation.
DETAILS: You called Thomas an artist, and some people use the word to describe you. Do you think of yourself as an artist?
Grant Achatz: Well, you can't really call yourself that, you know? First and foremost, I'm a chef. And if you want to say that chefs can be artists, I probably wouldn't argue against you. Playing with emotions is certainly within the realm of art. So there's my answer.
DETAILS: Did cancer change the way you cook?
Grant Achatz: Because my ability to taste was stripped away, I had to rely on other things. Some are obvious, like my sense of smell. But I found myself trying to evaluate food by unconventional means, like the way things sounded. And as your taste comes back, you go, 'Wait a minute, maybe this is the impetus for a creative course. Maybe I should pay attention to sound more."
DETAILS: Now that you've recovered, are you pulling 100-hour work weeks again?
Grant Achatz: Yeah, especially right now. Alinea's busier than we've ever been. The stakes just keep growing and growing because we've won the accolades. This in itself is plenty to keep me busy, but of course there's the other things, like the new restaurant.
DETAILS: Which is called Next, because it's such a big departure. What's going to be different about it?
Grant Achatz: I think once again it's a groundbreaking concept, just like Alinea was six years ago. We've kind of taken the existing model and flipped it upside down. In terms of gastronomy, we're reinventing the restaurant every time by using it as a time machine to not only define gastronomy, but have a look into the way society works. Our opening menu will be Paris 1906. And then we'll jump to the future with Bangkok 2060. And operationally, the pricing structure, making people pay in advance—it's just not normal. If it works, it's going to change the restaurant industry.
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