There is a great article in this week’s New Yorker about Grant Achatz, the famed chef of Chicago’s Alinea restaurant. The article provides background on Achatz and Alinea, details Achatz’ battle with cancer, and interweaves concepts regarding the science of taste. Achatz opened Alinea in 2004, after working under Thomas Keller at French Laundry in Napa, awing the food world and me with his originality and talent. Alinea specializes in molecular gastronomy, “which aims to take familiar foods and, using scientific techniques, give them new tastes and textures.” Achatz gives diners only two choices: the tasting (12 courses) or the tour (24 courses). Each course consists of, at most, a few bites, but of the most incredible, satisfying food you’ve ever had. I have only eaten at Alinea one time, in March of 2006, and label it as the best meal of my life. The only imperfection in the meal was that Carlo wasn’t there, which is why we are desperately trying to go when we visit Chicago later this year.
Three years after opening Alinea, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer (apparently there is no Stage V) and was told he would lose his tongue and his sense of taste. Achatz is fighting on, trying to avoid surgical removal of his tongue and thus far, his treatment has been successful. He is even regaining elements of his sense of taste, one at a time. He claims it has made him look at taste anew, and perhaps he will be an even better chef for it. Nonetheless, the bitter irony of this story is inescapable. Obviously, there are worse, more tragic things than losing one’s taste, but there is something mythological about a genius artist losing the sense that he depends on to thrive. [literary buffs, is there is a myth out there? Shakespearean or Dickensian tale? I majored in accounting…] Either way, it’s a good read and even if you’re not into food and chefs, it’s the New Yorker, so there is a cartoon on every page.