I Want What They're Having

By Corby Kummer

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/i-want-what-theyre-having/20329/