Coming Attractions: The Stay-at-Home Celebrity Chef


Grant Achatz (shown here), owner of Chicago's famous Alinea restaurant, and Michael Ruhlman, the author of the Making of a Chef trilogy, are teaming up for what promises to be a major culinary event in Chicago on March 4. For "The Making of a Chef (A Conversation with Grant Achatz and Michael Ruhlman)," which will take place at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, the two men will discuss celebrity chefdom, the hypermodern/avant-garde/ molecular-gastronomy movement, and what it actually takes to create one of the best restaurants in the world. Achatz and Ruhlman have a history together that goes back ten years. They first met in the summer of 1997, when Achatz was a line cook at the French Laundry and Ruhlman was writing that restaurant's cookbook with Thomas Keller.

grant achatz
The first time I staged under Grant Achatz was at Trio, the legendary Chicago hinterland restaurant where he made his mark as a trailblazing chef. I'd arrived early, opening the screen door to the kitchen to find him there alone. Though we'd corresponded with what I thought was warm enthusiasm, he coolly shook my hand, instructed me to change into my chef's jacket downstairs, and then to wait until the other cooks arrived. For a quarter of an hour, I stood by and watched while he worked silently with his back turned toward me. During that time—and then for another stage a year later at Alinea—I continued to watch Achatz work, which is easy to do because he's almost always in the kitchen (unlike many of the world's top chefs).

The last time I visited Alinea's kitchen was for the filming of Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie. During prep, Achatz broke down a tangled mass of fresh rosemary. He carefully selected only the most delicate branches and then trimmed the tips into precise points. Achatz reserves for himself many such jobs, which other chefs would delegate to stagiaires. When asked why, he shrugged, saying, "Because I like having contact with nature. And I find a certain kind of meditation in repetitive, menial tasks."

The discussion is part of Steppenwolf's Traffic Jam 2007, a three-week festival featuring one-night-only presentations of storytelling, performance, and music. The series will be broadcast in fall 2007 on Chicago public radio (WBEZ). Alinea is right across the street from the theater, and you can bet Achatz will be back in his kitchen the minute the discussion is over.

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