We caught up with Grant Achatz in January 2015, when Curtis Duffy joined him at the three- Michelin-star level.
GRANT ACHATZ AND NICK KOKONAS
RESTAURATEURS. GOLD STANDARD-BEARERS. INDUSTRY TRANSFORMERS.
Since launching one of the world’s greatest restaurants, the founders of Alinea have opened more venerated spots, bested tongue cancer (Achatz), tussled with the haters (Kokonas, mostly) and created a reservation system that books millions of dollars at restaurants every day.
How do you keep the passion flowing after two decades in business?GA: I don’t think you make a choice to keep it going or not—that’s what makes it passion. It chooses you. Hopefully you find inspiration in other aspectsof the business, like creating an uberprogressive cocktail bar ora supper club. That’s what keeps it interesting. NK: It’s a fascinating thing to constantly reinvent. Next has been through 28 menus, so we’ve essentially opened 28 different restaurants. Alinea does that in a completely different way. But we’ve done it all ourselves, and that’s probably what I’m most proud of.
How has the scene here evolved since you opened Alinea, and how has Alinea helped shape it?GA: Not only has the city’s culinary bandwidth expanded tremendously at the top end, but you’ve seen it fill in at every level. When you think of chefs who have come through Alinea’s kitchen—John Shields, Curtis Duffy, Dave Posey—it’s pretty insane. NK: We look at everything around the experience of dining as just as important as the food and the service.
What stands out to you now about the time when Alinea opened? NK: Most people thought it was an ego project, which it definitely wasn’t. We both gave up a lot to make it happen, but I think being terrified is a good thing. It’s highly motivating. GA: The idea of fine dining got turned upside down, and a lot of that innovation happened in the Midwest before the coasts. I think the city embraced our quintessential Midwestern risk-taking, and I don’t think Alinea would have worked in any other city.