Hervé This
October 22, 2011 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Reconstructing nostalgic childhood food at Grant Achatz Next Restaurant. Background on 'Eater'. Previous menu of 1906 Paris. The business behind Next. Moléculaire!
posted by growabrain (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If you're interested in Achatz, you should read the story of his tongue cancer, which is pretty amazing. You're a young up-and-coming chef who some rank as one of the best in the country or world and your doctor says they have to remove your tongue. Insane.

Also - it's pronounced Ack-Ets (rhymes with Racquets), which I offer only because it took me a long time to figure this out.
posted by Mid at 4:45 PM on October 22, 2011

I was going to add: Previously
posted by growabrain at 4:51 PM on October 22, 2011

Very cool. I particularly loved the mixer beater with the cake batter.
posted by Gilbert at 5:12 PM on October 22, 2011

I liked the mixer beater as well; the mini-campfires were a nice touch too. Attractive and thoughtful presentation in general, really--I thought it was imaginative without being cutesy. And oh, the food looked very tasty. But since I don't live near Chicago (and the tickets sold out immediately anyway), I will just have to settle for watching the video a few more times.

(As an aside--does anyone know what the background music is in the video? I couldn't find the name of it anywhere on the YouTube page. I've heard it many times as CBC, NPR and Radio Netherlands bumper music but have never been able to identify it.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:22 PM on October 22, 2011

Achatz was on Fresh Air a while ago.
posted by nevercalm at 5:35 PM on October 22, 2011

does anyone know what the background music is in the video?

How it Ends - Devotchka
posted by pashdown at 5:44 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Apple cider doughnuts with foie gras frosting

I'm trying to imagine what that tastes like but I just can't.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:14 PM on October 22, 2011

My mom tried feeding me Brussel sprouts, but I had to send them back to the kitchen when I found out they weren't cored. Ah, childhood memories.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:26 PM on October 22, 2011

Thank you pashdown--you have solved a two-year-old mystery for me!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:38 PM on October 22, 2011

Wow, from 1906 Paris

Caneton Rouennais a la Presse

Incredibly elaborate French preparations have been coming back into vogue for a while now. Daniel featured a pressed duck dish in 2009.

Here is a video of the preparation for Next 1906 Paris.

Check out this elaborate, looks like sterling, press at La Tour D'argent.

You can own your own.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:18 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pressed duck at Daniel. About as far from molecular gastronomy as it gets.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:32 PM on October 22, 2011

I don't see what separates a duck press from an all-metal sausage press like the Chop-Rite. The duck presses turn the screw directly rather than through a gear, and the spout is shaped differently, but other than that they seem about the same.
posted by jedicus at 8:27 PM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, surely the picture at Sur la table is not of a duck press, unless you're meant to lay the duck carcass out on it and bludgeon it with the rolling pin...
posted by jedicus at 8:29 PM on October 22, 2011

Well, apparently it's fixed now, but when I made that comment the picture at the duck press page was of this ravioli maker.
posted by jedicus at 8:39 PM on October 22, 2011

I can't think of pressed duck without picturing Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:41 PM on October 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Who is this video for? It runs like a bad Apple ad full of gratuitous examples. Steve Jobs would probably say it sucks, because the experience that they are depicting is largely inaccessible to the majority of its viewers.

There are ways to advertise your product tastefully. I'm not against marketing; I am against catering to rampant consumerism and creating unattainable ideals.
posted by polymodus at 8:42 PM on October 22, 2011

Good call on the sausage press. I suppose the duck presses are just extra fancy because they are meant to be used table side at fine dining, the ones in use at La Tour D'Argent are undoubtedly hundreds of years old. If I ever get the urge to make pressed duck I'll have to try a sausage press.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:52 PM on October 22, 2011

Oh, I think I can see one potential difference. The duck press has an inner container so less of the solids, like bone splinters, escapes. Nothing can ruin a meal like eating poultry bone splinters. A fine strainer can take care of that though I guess.

Is this the first duck press derail?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:59 PM on October 22, 2011

I've had the previous two menus. They've been fantastic.
posted by me3dia at 9:52 PM on October 22, 2011

You better believe this review has spoilers! Moving on...
Ladyfriend and I were the absolute *first* two diners to experience NEXT's new menu this evening, after being lucky enough to hit refresh at the restaurant's website last Monday at midnight when tables were made available. Tickets to NEXT are sold in the fashion of a sporting event, so you can theoretically arrive at the restaurant without your wallet. It also means that you can't just pop in when you feel like it, and the next three months is basically sold out. Anway, We had absolutely no idea what the menu was, as it was not released until earlier this afternoon, in the form of a short video. We were whittling away time at a nearby cafe, anxiously awaiting the restaurant to open when the video popped up..I had this thought before watching that expecting a concrete "menu" for this meal was like asking your favorite band for a setlist before their show. And yet, I knew that the three-minute video could not begin to encapsulate the 2.5 hour meal we just experienced.

A few impressions from the meal my body is still (but brain will never complete) digesting:

PB&J - This was in the form of a "bomb," something that's become popular in the foodie world...a gooey surprise encased in a crunchy-seeming fluff ball. SO always makes fun of me for eating even the smallest food item in at least two bites...and here I made a slight misstep. The gooey peanutty-custard innards dripped all over my hand onto the peanut and pomegranate "jelly" bedding. No utensils were given to scoop up the rest, which was presented in a small wrapped box. Our server said she was going to show my box to Chef Achatz, to see what might be done to help doofuses like me in the future.

CHICKEN SOUP - The chicken was in noodle form, and the cube of what looked like chicken was a hollandaise that dissolved into the broth as it was poured into the bowl. Said bowl was sombrero-sized, and I could not enjoy all of the broth with the given spoon. And, seeing as we were the first diners, the waiters were not quite sure what "issues" would pop up during service (see also: PB&J). So, I picked up the huge bowl (pictures of this meal will soon surely mob the interwebs, I only took one) and drank the rest of the broth. The waiter walked up to me and said, "I wish I had a photo of that."

FISH-N-CHIPS - This dish was presented as a child's drawing of a balsamic stick figure gone' fishing under a meyer-lemon-curd sun. Stickboy stood on tempura dirt, casting a waffle-fry net to catch a scrumptious steamed walleye cube that jumped from the undulating waves of cucumber. Safe to say this was the tastiest edible drawing I've ever eaten, and I do recall nibbling crayons in my youth...

MAC & CHEESE - An educational mac-n-cheese primer, this dish showcased eight or so different prominent regional mac-n-cheese preparations. Apparently, some people like their mac-n-cheese with cubed feta and granny smith apples, tomatoes, (powdered and then cubed) hot dogs, crutons, and lots of black pepper. Two distinct macaroni elbows had been caramelized and reconstituted, to represent those of us who ate the baked, casserole version of mac-n-cheese. Each of these flavor accents were served in a Ferris wheel arrangement surrounding the dish. Every cubic morsel of this dish was wild and distinct, and I'm not sure I'll ever eat mac-n-cheese again, without at least spending some extra prep time in the kitchen.

AUTUMN SCENE - Ever had a split, smoking campfire log set in front of you on a table? This dish expertly captured a romp through the woods in Autumn. The carved-out log was stuffed with gently smoking dried reeds, under a plate of glass on which the dish sat. The "foliage" included crunchy deep-fried chard leaves, toasted garlic and black pepper (i think) "dirt," polenta "mud," a charred carrot "log," and a spherical, wispy white onion tumbleweed.

HAMBURGER - A short-rib "patty" served over a semi-solid sesame "bun," with the various condiments spread out artistically on the plate. Fairly standard Achatz fare, but awesome nonetheless. The hidden gem here was the pickle spear, dehydrated and shrunken to the size of a baby's pinky finger (though still flavorful). SO did not see hers, and I was lucky to catch it before drowning it in the peppercorn-laden mustard. The final savory course of the meal...

LUNCH BOX - During our tour of the kitchen (more later), I heard the expediter saying "two males, two females," and realized the reason for this...this course was served in a gender-specific lunch box. SO got a Moon Dreamer lunchbox, the gentleman's course arrived in an A-Team lunchbox. Inside were several sandwich-bagged, decadent treats that I will probably never find in a sandwich baggie again. For instance, house-made "Funyuns," wagyu jerky, housemade apple-brandy fruit roll-up, parsnip pudding (served in a small, lidded tupperware container), and a truffled sandwich cookie a la Oreo. Oh, and yes there was a Thermos in the lunchbox, and we made a toast, drinking the house-made fig/grape/pomegranate juice out of those small plastic thermos cups.

"FOIE"STING AND DONUTS - Certainly the most evocative of my childhood, our next plate held three apple cider "donut holes" and a hand-mixer beater slathered in sweet foie gras frosting, to be picked up and licked. Some strong emotions welled up inside when I recalled my mom (who can no longer do kitchen things) always telling me "Don't lick that batter, it's got raw egg in it." Licking a hand mixer beater at Chicago's hottest restaurant, at age 30, was some weird vindication...and proof that life cycles back, but can always be moved forward, if not always by us, but I digress. Here, the host was watching our progress...I think perhaps because there were only so many extra hand-mixer beaters to go around, and ours probably needed to be sanitized and re-dipped post haste.

SWEET POTATO PIE - The sweet potato campfire logs, served on a jagged slate tile, were torched at the table. The fire raged just long enough to roast the small house-made marshmallows, which were served with bourbon ice cream and apricot gelee. The classic ending of a campfire, when the embers are dying and all that's left is a few charred logs...you get this cold feeling, squeeze your knees into your chest and get ready for bed. At NEXT, you get to eat the charred campfire and the warmth rises from the "ashes."

HOT COCOA - No curveballs here, just some much-needed time to reflect on the meal and wash things down.

After the meal, once we realized that no more forks, spoons or stunning plates would be placed before us...we knew it was time to go. The host asked if we would like a tour of the kitchen, which of course we obliged. Welcomed into NEXT's nerve center, we saw time-stamped table tickets (to mark the flow of tables' courses), a silent crew of stagiaries (saying only "Yes Chef" occasionally), and Chef Achatz just ...there doin' stuff.

I tried not to be too groupie-ish, but told the host that after reading the New Yorker profile of Chef Achatz's culinary dedication, and victory over painfully ironic tongue cancer, I was absolutely captivated and had to visit one of his restaurants. And, now we have autographed menus from the opening night of his third season of NEXT, which should probably be put in a safe deposit box.

After eating, and discussing with my girlfriend, we came to see Next's "Childhood" menu as an exploration of life starting over again fresh...of Chef Achatz journey to hell and back, at one point losing his sense of taste COMPLETELY, and then slowly gaining it back. Yes, cancer can do millions of more horrible things to the body, and even end lives. I'm guessing people who've been cured, or are in remission probably just want to forget about it and move on...but it must leave an indelible mark. And, so once he knows he has his life back, he capitalizes on this burning desire to recapture what it first felt like to taste FOOD, while spending his adulthood gaining the impeccable skill to reconstruct our favorite childhood dishes from the ground up.

One word review: Bravo!
posted by obscurator at 12:56 AM on October 23, 2011 [39 favorites]

Kiddie food porn.

Had to say it.
posted by fungible at 1:19 AM on October 23, 2011

oops, forgot to mention the variously stuffed Brussels sprouts served during the "hamburger" course...and yes mom, I ate them all!
posted by obscurator at 1:21 AM on October 23, 2011

Indistinguishable from satire. I love it
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:30 AM on October 23, 2011

polymodus: "Who is this video for?"

Uh, ME?

You just watched a video of an edible crayon drawing, his and hers lunchboxes, and marshmallows roasted at your flippin table on sweet potato 'logs', and you came away from it bitter?

Are you also angry at sunny days and kittens playing with balls of yarn??
posted by danny the boy at 2:32 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

What I love about posts like these and metafilter, globally, is that I am being shown the accomplishments particular to my own generation. The menu is evocative to me because it was us that licked Sunbeam beaters and took metal lunchboxes to school and (according to some reads) were the last generation to tromp unsupervised in the woods. It makes me feel delighted with the marks we're making, and how we seem to so respectfully reconstruct the new medias of our childhood and how they were, at the time, mixing (sometimes awkwardly) with iconic notions of growing up.

Thanks obscuator, for the review, which was so sweetly done.
posted by rumposinc at 7:02 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

does anyone know what the background music is in the video?

It's from the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, which was composed of instrumental versions of Devotchka songs.
posted by Praxis at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2011

I inherited a silver duck press. Some one I know thought the duck was supposed to be alive when put in the press.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2011

Thanks obscuator for the detailed review. Yours is the only one I've come across so far.
posted by kathryn at 1:32 PM on October 23, 2011

SQUEE. Thank you for the review! SO EXCITED. I have a 4-top at Next this Friday, and I was lucky enough to dine at Paris and Thailand. Fingers crossed for an NKOTB lunchbox!
posted by IWoudDie4U at 3:28 PM on October 23, 2011

Also, if you're interested in Achatz, I'd read he and his partner Nick Kokonas's book. And when you're done, watch what happened at the book release party. Better than videos of puppies and kittens for cheering up.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 3:37 PM on October 23, 2011

People who've been multiple times - what's the secret? Hitting refresh x1000 seems like a mug's game.
posted by Mid at 6:08 PM on October 23, 2011

Re: getting tables. Being obsessed. I've gotten a table, first round, all three times. For Paris, I signed up on the first or second day and made it into the system before they let in the masses. For Thailand I got in again, and got the table for the weekend I wanted. I also dined their a second time with a friend. For Childhood, I woke up at 6 AM, which is unusual for me, and my first crazy person, obsessive thought was "check Next" and not "go back to sleep" and I called a friend to notify them and booked my table all at the same time. Most of this involved having a panic attack and clicking furiously and knowing exactly when or whereabouts tickets would go on sale.

Actually, my best tip would be to set your home browser on the computer you use most often to the Next website. Once or twice I came in to work and there were available tables. I sadly watched the clock tick down on a Kitchen Table for the Thailand menu the last few weeks of service, knowing I wasn't going to shell out for round 3.

You either have to be a special kind of crazy-person obsessed, or lucky. Like, "I am professionally framing my Next menus by year" obsessed. You get to recognize the other crazy people on Facebook, they're all getting in, at some point. Because they're crazy. Chicago restaurants, esp. Achatz et. al., are my life, my love, my lady. I know I won't be as lucky next time around with the El Bulli menu, so I'm counting my lucky stars until January.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 6:40 PM on October 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The current Next ticket process is:
1. one big on-sale at the beginning but holding back approximately 25% of the available tables
2. random unannounced weekly sales for tables, over the weekend, on the web site, but only for the coming week (these are usually posted about on Facebook right after Nick has flipped the switch)
3. daily tables via email, announced only through Facebook (usually in the early afternoon)

"Like" Next Restaurant's page on Facebook, then turn on SMS updates. That's how I got our Tour of Thailand tickets.
posted by kathryn at 12:26 PM on October 24, 2011

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