The Why Guys
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Grant Achatz (Chef and Co-Owner of Alinea and Next, Chicago) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why does a restaurant have to have a permanent address?
At my restaurants, we have already asked, why do cocktails have to be liquid? Why does food need to be served on plates? Why do reservations have to be taken over the phone? We’ve proven that, in all these cases, they don’t. The next question we’re going to ask is, does a restaurant have to have a permanent address? Why can a musical act, a theater troupe or a circus go on the road, but a chef or restaurant cannot? There is no good reason, except that people have not tried it yet. We will: We have already brought Alinea to Eleven Madison Park in New York, and they brought their restaurant to Chicago. Why can’t we go to Paris, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Austin, Miami? Seems very doable to me.
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The Why Guys
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Brooks Headley (Pastry Chef at Del Posto, New York City) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why do restaurant desserts need to be so complicated?
They really don’t have to be so complicated. Is baking a science? Well, yeah, there is some science involved, sort of, but my grandma did not really care about that, she just wanted to make awesome cookies. And she did! Often. Remember, sweet stuff is still food. It needs to be seasoned and cared for, the ingredients championed, the fruit gushingly embarrassed and red-faced at its plump ripeness. Desserts need to be wildly delicious. And simple, in the absolute best possible way.
Negative space is my muse. The stuff that ain’t there. The stuff that does not exist, the stuff that makes all the other stuff, like, totally, way cooler. As the amazing Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, once said: “The greatest ingredient in cooking is restraint.” The dude speaks the truth.
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The Why Guys
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Pip Hanson (Head Bartender at The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, Minneapolis) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why do cocktails need to be cold and strong?
Strong alcohol flavors don’t really complement food, and ice-cold drinks aren’t very aromatic, so at Marvel Bar and our sister restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, we have created something new: hyper-diluted, lightly chilled cocktails.
Here’s the thought process: Like whiskey, cocktails open up as water is added. Hyper-diluted cocktails are extremely subtle and clean, especially compared with the bitter, boozy standard of most cocktails. Similarly, I sometimes prefer whiskey cocktails after they’ve warmed up a bit, because they become more flavorful. So we serve some of these drinks only lightly chilled—we aim for 55 degrees, cellar temperature—to maximize aroma. Once you adjust to the difference in intensity, you find incredible complexity and purity in these drinks. They can be tantalizing.
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The Why Guys
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Jason Hammel (Chef and Owner of Lula Cafe, Chicago) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why should we expect recipes to turn out the same every time?
I had a grandmother who could really bake. Her lard-soft pumpkin cookies would greet me at the door, always tasting exactly the same. But their consistency didn’t become a marvel until she died, and I was left to my own devices with a recipe on an index card. Not one of my batches tasted the way I remembered. I soon realized that the recipe alone would never bring back a flavor I had lost. And it got me thinking about my life as a chef. Were recipes necessary? In my kitchens, hcooks always carry a notebook with them. Inside are lists of ingredients, reading like poetry: Leeks, melted/Riesling/goat butter/chopped dill. These become sauces and vinaigrettes. They are guides and inspirations, meant to be explored. Following a chef’s vision is what teaches young cooks to taste and learn and interact with ingredients. An over-wintered leek will not behave the same as a hot summer leek; it won’t need the same amount of wine, butter or dill. Instead of writing down measurements, we should teach how to explore the craft of cooking with our senses. When I imagine my cookbook, I see words and images, not cups and ounces. I would write my grandmother’s cookie recipe this way: Creamed sugar and lard/1 small can pumpkin, 3 eggs, some nutmeg/A simple frosting/Lined in parchment in a red Tupperware container almost out of reach/Sun coming in from a mountain road/The cookies baked gently, remaining soft, so that they stick to your fingers and you haveto lick them off, one by one.
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The Why Guys
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Dan Barber (Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY, and Blue HIll, New York City) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why does cooking have to start in the kitchen?
What if we could “cook” or manipulate flavors in the field, long before anything got into our kitchens? Different finishing feeds (like whey or apples) have been known to improve the taste and texture of pork—but what if we started looking at the entire life cycle of the pig? We might come to the realization (as I have) that a pig fed on grain is far less tasty than a pig that has intensively foraged on mixed grasses and roots. But which breeds, and what grasses, lead to the most specific improvements in flavor? Farmers have been figuring these things out for a long time, of course, but chefs can co-write and curate these procedures for the future of delicious food.
We can do the same with vegetables. For example, we worked with Stone Barns Center farmer Jack Algiere to try to infuse fennel with the pomace of hazelnuts, and the fennel tasted deliciously of lightly roasted nuts. And we’ve started storing apples with dried elderflowers—it makes an apple taste like a pineapple.
But what if we start even earlier in the life cycle? What if chefs began “cooking” a dish with seed breeders, encouraging certain flavors by asking breeders to select for them before the seeds are even planted? Innovation doesn’t need to start and end in the kitchen. Instead, we should be thinking about our recipes from the ground up.
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Dan Barber, Best New Chef 2002