I Want What They're Having

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Who hasn't seen another table getting better treatment at a restaurant? Who hasn't felt slighted as free courses sail forth from the kitchen to tempt other diners, who clearly rate special attention from the kitchen?

And what happens when the chef is a celebrity in his or her own right, and one of the main attractions of the restaurant and the experience? Grant Achatz is one of the country's biggest celebrity chefs, and people plan trips to Chicago around when they can get a table at Alinea. He's sensitive to this. He knows people want to see him, want to feel what it's like to visit the kitchen and be present at the creation.

He has begun to document his fascinating new way to bring that experience straight to the diner--prepping the course on a gray silicone mat that took months of experimentation to pioneer. He's still working out the details, and how to give more and more tables the experience at each seating.

But there's another problem, and as he says today, it goes beyond logistics. It's envy. It's wanting to feel special at what is inevitably a special-occasion meal. It's feeling slighted if someone else gets an experience you don't.

Parents know what it's like to give each child the same amount of attention and equal amounts of treats, even at different times. Imagine doing it with dozens of children every night--ones you don't know. Grant hasn't found all the answers yet. I'm fascinated--and moved--that he's looking for them.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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