The restaurant industry is heavy on ego and for a few of us who discuss the current events there is sometimes the compelling notion that flexing our muscles against our subjects will bring civility to the land.
Yesterday was a variant of that day. With a saturation that would make Chang’s pork buns consider a sauna bath, the blogs were sweating of Gael Greene, Tom Dobrowski and New York’s favorite temperamental chef, David Chang himself.
Following a week of ongoing “did he or didn’t he cancel his reservation?” at the recently borderline-infamous, Momofuku Ko, the lady of leisure finally spoke on the fiasco. What did Gael Greene say of her experience and most dubious encounter with Momofuku Ko? Well, you can find it here at her site, or on any other blog out there.
What struck me, with all this hoopla and chatter, on what will turn out to be a nonsensical and unforeseen PR ploy, was that I found myself looking for something to cleanse my palate from all the dirt.
Luckily, there was another story circulating, coming to us from The New Yorker, who a month ago conducted the profile on Mr. Chang that instigated a swarm of press coverage when it unveiled him as a surly and paranoid craftsman.
This month The New Yorker profiled a chef with every right to those aforementioned adjectives, but has succumbed to neither. Grant Achatz is the chef of Alinea in Chicago. Noted for his methods of molecular gastronomy, his dishes are deemed as playful as they are challenging.
But for a chef preparing such complex and nuanced flavors, Grant Achatz is at turmoil because his ability to taste those flavors is wanly. Chef Achatz was diagnosed with oral cancer a year ago. It was a year ago that the doctors told him they’d have to remove his tongue. A year later, Chef Achatz, is still working, still creating, and still tasting with his tongue, even if only slightly.
Dependent on his smell and his sous-chefs, Chef Achatz continues to take his menu beyond the bounds of imagination. In reference to his work and one time mentor, Thomas Keller, and his signature dish, he said:
“Thomas has his Oysters and Pearls. We just don’t do that. We develop dishes that we feel are great and that eventually replace them.”
At the time of the profile Achatz and his chefs were working on a cylindrical dessert composing the flavors of strawberries, Nicoise olives and violet. He was trying to capture the essence of spring using his sense of smell.
“The idea that, in certain red wines, people often smell strawberries with ‘purple flowers’ and olives. The flavors are put together on the assumption that if they smell good together they will taste good together.”