A big week around here. First, last Thursday, Wired won three National Magazine Awards. We won General Excellence, Design, and Magazine Section, for the front of the book Start section. Here's a quote from the judges' comment on the GenEx award:

In its 16th year, Wired continues to evolve as the most innovative and sophisticated guide to how technology is changing the world. Ranging across business, entertainment, science and culture, its mix is surprising and intuitive, articulated with graphic attitude and old-fashioned reporting. Wired is sometimes hilarious, often ironic, relentlessly smart and always engaging.

I'm just so darn proud to work here, with such amazingly talented people. And getting recognized by your peers is really gratifying.

And if that wasn't enough, the Alinea cookbook, which I wrote for, won the James Beard Foundation Award for the best book about "Cooking from a Professional Point of View." We beat out the latest from Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal, which is hard to imagine.

Thanks to Grant and Nick for pulling me into the project, and for making it so fun and so rewarding.

I now have to come up with something for next week.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesFood, Wired
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So, what did you have for dinner Tuesday? Here's what Kristen and I ate: frenchlaundryalineamenu.jpg

The occasion was the final in a series of three dinners that Grant Achatz of Alinea and Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se, held to celebrate the publication of their new books, Alinea and Under Pressure.

Now, you might have seen me mention about a jillion times that I helped write Alinea (which makes a great holiday gift!). One of the perks of working on the book is that Kristen and I were invited to attend the dinner, which is one of those moments where your work provides you with opportunities and experiences that you'd never imagine.

It was a pretty magical evening, one that the Mrs. has captured nicely over at her blog. (Of course, there's what happened after dinner with the kids, which you can also read about there.) There was such a buzz in the air, people just completely over the moon to be at TFL for the dinner, and all the front of the house staff and chefs just as excited as we were.

Some of the individual dishes were knockouts. Grant's new chestnut dish, with quince, chocolate, and a bacon doughnut, was spectacular, a perfect distillation of his ability to balance the savory and sweet in a way that very few chefs in the world can. Keller's beef dish, cooked sous vide of course, showed the power of the technique, resulting in a perfect medium-rare throughout, powerfully flavored and perfectly textured.

But in the midst of the meal, I started to realize that there's something lost when you combine the vision of two chefs like this. A meal at Alinea or French Laundry is a completely considered experience -- not just the food is meticulously prepared, but so is the room itself, the attitude of the wait staff, the lighting, the music, everything.

Alinea is about challenging you, throwing you off balance and then righting you. The French Laundry is much more comfortable, suavely sophisticated and welcoming.

So when you put food from one context into another, it felt a little weird. Maybe it's that I'm too inside the world of Alinea after all the time spent working with Grant on the book, but his food, coming to the table without the wit and snap of Alinea's servers, felt ever so slightly out of place to me. Delicious, but not quite the same as it is where it's created to be.

This certainly isn't a complaint, and the sense didn't diminish my appreciation of what will be one of the meals of my lifetime. But it was an interesting realization; I had never really thought about it quite that way before.

After dinner, we went back to the kitchen to hang out with the chefs, and with Alinea owner Nick Kokonas and his wife Dagmara. As we sat there sipping champagne, talking to these people who I've come to consider my friends over the past several years, I reflected on just how amazingly lucky I am to be part of this world, and to have these chances.

Kristen asked if I'd be embarrassed to ask Grant and Thomas to take a photo with us. Of course I wouldn't be -- I wanted to capture this moment as much as anyone:


AuthorMark McClusky

1) Flew to NYC to host a discussion between Chef Grant Achatz and former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold at the New York Public Library. Wired co-sponsored the event, timed to the publication of the Alinea cookbook, which is available for your holiday gift-giving pleasure at Amazon, or at your local bookstore. 2) Looked out into the audience to see a cross-section of the New York foodarati: Tim and Nina Zagat, Jeffery Steingarten, April Bloomfield, Alex and Aki from Ideas in Food, Ed Levine from Serious Eats, and Ruth Reichl.

3) Had a great conversation on stage with Grant and Nathan about cooking, philosophy, and why New York is a tough town for avant garde chefs. Ed Levine called it "a lively, informative, and, as you can imagine, extremely heady panel." Woo! You can listen to our discussion right now; I'm told that video will be available on iTunes before too long.

4) Went out to dinner at WD~50 with Grant and Nathan, Steingarten and Reichl, and some other friends and family of all. 14 courses and many glasses of wine later, we rolled out at about 1:30 AM, having had not only a lovely meal, but a rollicking good time. At one point, I called Kristen to say good night, and told her that she'd never believe who I was sitting next to at dinner: Ruth Reichl. "What are you doing on the phone with me," Kristen said. "Get back in there!"

5) Woke up just hours later to get on a plane home, where I got to see my wonderful wife and two little girls.

It really was just a spectacular couple of days, the sort of experience that you'll never forget. I've been lucky in my career to work with and meet some pretty amazing folks, but this really will go down as one of the highlights.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesFood, Wired

On October 29, 2008, Wired and the New York Public Library will host an event called The Cutting Edge: Tales from the Culinary Frontier.

James Beard-award winning chef Grant Achatz and sous vide guru Nathan Myhrvold will explore the ways that science and technology are transforming our notions of food. Using new tools and techniques, top chefs are creating dishes that range from the simply delicious to the otherworldly, challenging both the mind and palate. Kitchens, once the home of stoves, food processors and not much else, are becoming more like laboratories, stocked with centrifuges and canisters of liquid nitrogen.

Grant Achatz is the chef and owner of Alinea restaurant in Chicago. Nathan Myhrvold is the CEO of Intellectual Ventures and former CTO of Microsoft.

I'll be moderating the discussion, which should be terrific. I've written about both of these guys for Wired, and can't wait to get them together.

Tickets are on sale today!

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesFood, Wired

It is my strong belief that the classic sandwich at Chick-fil-a, the (mostly) Southern fast food chain, is just about perfect. It's just a chicken breast, breaded and pressure-cooked, served on a white bun that's been toasted and buttered. Garnished with dill pickle chips. Between the seasoning, which is excellent, and the contrast of the soft bun with the snap and acidity of the pickle, it's just terrific. My mouth's watering writing this, I kid you not. Given that the nearest Chick-fil-a outlet is 40 miles away from me, what am I to do? McDonald's has a new solution: the awkwardly-named "Southern Style Chicken Sandwich." It's clearly an homage (rip-off?) of the Chick-fil-a version, consisting of a breaded chicken breast, a "buttery tasting" bun, and garnished with dill pickles.

A former boss and I have spent years bemoaning our lack of Chick-fil-a access, so when this sandwich was announced, we wondered if it might just be good enough to satisfy our desire. You can check out his review on his blog.

I finally had one yesterday. How was it? Actually, pretty good. I would imagine if you had never had a Chick-fil-a sandwich, you'd be impressed. The breading is much heavier than a Chick-fil-a, and the seasoning isn't quite as strong (a quick check of the nutritional information shows that the Chick-fil-a packs a whopping 1300mg of sodium, while the McD's makes due with a paltry 1090mgs).

And the bun doesn't measure up to the toasted, buttered Chick-fil-a bun. "Buttery tasting" (which comes from liquid margarine) isn't a substitute, although it has the same soft texture.

But overall, it's tasty. Good, even. Given the number of food scientists that McDonald's employs, I guess it's unsurprising that they can ape a competitor's dish well.

If the Chick-fil-a is an A, it's a B for sure. Good enough, in fact, that I'm thinking of heading there right now.

AuthorMark McClusky

This week, The New Yorker has an 8,000 word profile of my friend Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea restaurant in Chicago. As a magazine editor, and as someone who's written about Grant in Wired, it's interesting so read this story. The big difference between this and when I wrote about Grant first is that Grant has gone through an unbelievable battle with mouth cancer.

Three days later, a head-and-neck surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, not far from the restaurant, examined Achatz. He was surprised to see a man with advanced cancer show up for an appointment with his business partner. The doctor explained that the standard treatment would be to remove two-thirds of the visible portion of Achatz’s tongue and sew a piece of tissue, probably from his arm, onto the remnant. Achatz would have a natural-looking tongue, but it would have, at best, limited sensory function. He might even need a tube in order to eat. Achatz says he thought at first that the surgeon was joking: “I’m, like, C’mon, this is 2007. You guys don’t have this figured out by now? It’s, like, barbaric. C’mon, there’s got to be an alternative treatment.”

Achatz and Kokonas left the appointment stunned. Though it was only 10 A.M., they went down the street to a Mexican restaurant and ordered margaritas. Kokonas could already sense that Achatz was not going to let anyone cut out his tongue. Kokonas said, “Let’s attack this like we attacked the restaurant.” He began Googling, looking for an option other than surgery.

It's definitely worth a read. Mentioned several times in the book is the Alinea cookbook, which I'm writing some pieces for. In fact, I'm hoping to finish my final edit today. Weird how timing like that works, huh?

AuthorMark McClusky

Iron Chef fans, you know that cook with glasses who works with Mario Batali? That's Mark Ladner, and he's an awesome cook his own self.

AuthorMark McClusky
CategoriesAsides, Food

Available on Amazon as of today: the Alinea cookbook. If you haven't heard of Alinea, it's the Chicago restaurant that Gourmet magazine named the best in America:

Meanwhile, someone new has entered the arena. His name is Grant Achatz, and he is redefining the American restaurant once again for an entirely new generation. And that - more than his gorgeous, inventive, and delicious food - is what makes Alinea the got-to-go-to restaurant in the country right now.

I can't even express how proud and excited I am to be involved in this project. When I first ate at Alinea for a story I was writing for Wired, I knew that I had stumbled into a completely new world. Chef Grant Achatz and his team blew me away, not only with the astonishing creativity and taste of their food, but also with their dedication and commitment to the restaurant, and to one another.

I stayed in contact with Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas over the next couple of years, as Grant was diagnosed with cancer, and then beat it back. When they asked me to contribute to their cookbook, I said yes in a heartbeat.

It's going to be an amazing project. I'm writing about the science behind some of Alinea's dishes. Meanwhile, maybe the two best food writers in America, Jeffery Steingarten and Michael Ruhlman, are also writing about Alinea. Michael Nagrant of hungrymag.com is also bringing behind-the-scenes looks at this amazing place.

The book will be out in October, and you can preorder it either at Amazon, or better yet at Alinea's site, where you will get a limited edition of the book and also access to Alinea Mosaic, where there will be videos from the kitchen at Alinea, extra recipes, and tons of images.

AuthorMark McClusky

I had coveted a Boos Blocks cutting board for quite some time -- they seemed incredibly well made, heavy and strong. So I was very excited when we got one as a wedding gift, especially since I really enjoy the sort of maintenance that Boos suggests for their boards. I'm the sort of sick bastard who really does like oiling and scraping down a cutting board. So, imagine my dismay when I noticed that our board, list price of $83, is starting to split along one of the seams between pieces of the board, 16 months after we got it. Figuring that a premium product like this would come with premium service, I contacted Boos:


I was very excited to get a Boos cutting board as a wedding present about 16 months ago -- I'd been wanting one for ages.

Sadly, the board has begun to split apart at one of the seams between two pieces of wood. I've been religious about oiling it and taking care of it per your instructions online -- it's disappointing that it's breaking.

Is there any warranty for the product, or any thing else you can do to help me out?

Unfortunately, the response was really disappointing:


Sorry to hear that you are having problems with your cutting board. We do have a 1 year warranty against workmanship and defect. Unfortunately you are out of warranty so I cannot replace the board. I know you said you have been oiling it religiously, but it sounds like maybe it needed oiled more often. What you can do is oil the board really well about 4 nights in a row and allow the oil to even out and hopefully the cracks with close up within a couple weeks. You do need to oil the board at least every 3-4 weeks. The only other thing I can suggest is to see what the dealer that sold the board has as far as extended warranty. Sorry I couldn't be of more help to you.

Danielle Blain

Customer Service

217.347.7701 ext. 237


The suggestion to contact the dealer does me no good, since it was a gift. And, as I had noted in my mail to them, I'd followed their care instructions to a T.

I don't know why I was surprised that they didn't come up with a solution; maybe I had some sort of romance in my mind about them, given the lovely rhetoric on their site. But I'm bummed out that they didn't make good, and didn't respond to my follow-up email telling them just that.

Anyone have any suggestions for other good cutting boards?

AuthorMark McClusky

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