Project: Create a dish for his Chicago restaurant Alinea
A world-renowned chef and restaurateur, Achatz was named “Outstanding Chef” in 2008 by the James Beard Foundation. His Chicago-based restaurant Alinea was awarded a prestigious three-star rating from the Michelin Guide both this year and last and in March, he published Life, on the Line, a memoir. Here he explains how he creates a new dish.
Sketch Grant Achatz; Photo: Christian Seel
When we create a dish for Alinea, we think in terms of key ingredients, sensation, season. Sometimes we focus on the serving dish. The “apple bowl” service piece, by design, lets us explore an ingredient, theme, or flavor profile in three layered sections. We found the piece and got really excited about it, but it took us forever to get enough of them.
For this course, “rabbit, parfait, rillette, consommé,” we wanted an unmistakable association with autumn. So we chose a palette of oranges, browns, and black, as well as flavors of brown spices, apple, cinnamon, wild mushrooms, and squash—all of which go well with the various manipulations of rabbit. The course progresses in temperature from a chilled section in the beginning, to a warm one in the middle, to a hot one in the end. The unveiling of each section adds an element of surprise and anticipation for the guest.
It had been almost three years since we’d had rabbit, traditionally a fall animal, on the menu, and we wanted to showcase every part of it. We first made a chilled mousse from the livers, and contrasted the smooth texture with crisp shredded rabbit belly. In the center is a warm rillette made with the rabbit leg, confitted. Cinnamon is the most prominent aromatic element, and takes the form of a spice gelée at the very top, melting on the palate to punctuate the richness of the mousse.
We always wanted the bottom to be the strongest aroma aspect. We tried placing herbs and citrus peel on the bottom, and thought of having a hot stone somewhere on it. In the end we went with something more functional: a boiling-hot, intensely flavored consommé scented with a cinnamon-stick sachet. The aroma steams up through the perforated insert, complementing the flavors of the rillette above.
We do different tests of every dish. Someone will have an idea, work on it, and put something in front of me. I’ll taste it and make comments and suggestions. We’ll continue the process until we all think it’s where we want to be. If we have concerns that a dish will be too challenging for the customer, we usually address them before it goes onto the menu; a lot of thought goes into every dish before we even serve it. With the rabbit, we wondered about the amount of strange or intimidating things. But we put the course on the menu in October, and it’s still on. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
—As told to Corby Kummer