A Behind-The-Curtain Look at Chicago's Buzziest, Most Mysterious Pop-Up
And you thought dinner at Alinea was mind-bending.
Over the past few weeks, the duo behind some of Chicago's most avant-garde restaurants took a break from their usual service to make a brief foray into the art scene. Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Alinea, Aviary and Next opened an uber-conceptual pop-up called The Progression: an immersive, choose-your-own-adventure food experience. In collaboration with visual artist Adam Siegel (who also created the art for their new restaurant, Roister, which just opened next door to the pop-up), Achatz and Kokonas took over an abandoned restaurant space to create what the Alinea website describes as an "unedited and spontaneous" experience and an "improv version of dining." The team pulled the impromptu concept together in just three weeks.
Tickets sold out fast, so chances are you (like us) couldn't experience the amazing dinner. As consolation, we asked Siegel to describe the dinners for us. Here's how a typical night went down:
Upon arrival at The Progression, guests were given a black bag filled with bottles of liquid, which were combined with sabered Champagne to make a mystery punch. Then, guests entered a room covered in five of Siegel’s massive paintings, where the first course was delivered by a disembodied hand. The dish: tiny bites of nori and caviar and Wagyu beef and puffed onion, passed through a white curtain by an anonymous server.
From there, things got more surreal. In a bright white dining room, guests were served a creamy white soup. The catch? Diners were instructed to eat in complete silence. “The rooms' energy changed completely,” says Siegel, who himself went through The Progression twice. “You could feel people struggling to contain their emotions about what they were eating."
Siegel says his art and the sublime experiences of the pop-up were meant as a sensory challenge to the diner. “I was given almost complete artistic freedom to create work that would reinforce chef Grant’s and Nick’s vision of a dining experience that defied normal boundaries. Hopefully it illicits a greater connection to the senses."
While The Progression has closed, Achatz and Kokonas hope the experiment will translate into new concepts for Alinea—and our fingers are crossed for more conceptual pop-ups in the future.