Back in February, I was lucky enough to spend a few nights in the kitchen at Chicago's remarkable Alinea restaurant. Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea, and his whole crew were amazingly gracious and helpful, as I did the reporting on a story for Wired about Achatz, and the ways he's reinventing food.

The kitchen - spotless, sparkling stainless steel - looks like a chemistry lab. Dominating an entire counter, with a smooth steel top and an industrial frame, sits the antigriddle. Built by lab supplier PolyScience, it can chill food to minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit in an instant. Another station features an infuser, more often found in head shops and Amsterdam coffeehouses, which pumps mace-scented air into cotton pillows that cushion a duck-and-foie gras dish. And in the spice rack alongside the cinnamon and paprika are carrageenan and sodium alginate - chemicals used to thicken and stabilize foods. The whole place bubbles and pops with dehydrators, vacuum sealers, immersion circulators, and induction burners.

The genius at the heart of the lab is Grant Achatz (rhymes with rackets). A veteran of famous kitchens, the 31-year-old chef opened Alinea on the north side of Chicago a year ago. "When we started putting this thing together I told everybody, 'This is going to be the next best restaurant in the country,'" Achatz says, "'and we're going to do it the way I want to do it.'"

If you're in Chicago and want to see the future of food, it's worth trying to get into Alinea.

AuthorMark McClusky