Chef Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant Alinea has taken the people’s choice award for world’s best restaurant, ahead of the main event in London Monday, when an influential group will proclaim the 50 best dining destinations in the world.
For the first time since its launch in 2002, organisers of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants opened up a people’s poll inviting galloping gourmands to vote for their favourite dining destination.
Taking the popular vote is Achatz’s Michelin-starred Alinea for food that makes you “laugh as well as think.”
But Alinea, as fans and diners know it today, is about to undergo a major conceptual overhaul, after a decade of re-inventing the dining experience.
In an extensive interview with Fine Dining Lovers, a website published by the same folks who organise the World’s 50 Best, Achatz revealed more details on the rebirth of Alinea next year; on why he’s choosing to change at the peak of his game; and how he plans to, literally, rip the restaurant apart.
“We don’t want to become a museum of ourselves,” he said in the interview. “The guiding philosophy of this restaurant since day one has been ‘keep it going.’”
Just as he introduced Americans to the concept of interactive dining, plans for the new Alinea also challenge the old paradigm of the restaurant experience.
For example, instead of passively waiting for servers to bring them their meal, guests at the new Alinea may be asked to walk into different rooms for different courses: one room may be kept dark, another bright; another may be diffused with complementary scents, music, and light projections.
“There might be a room where there are no tables, there might be a fire in the middle of the room or it might be pitch black and you have to find the food. Elements of art gallery theatrics but we still want to make it a restaurant, at some point you’re going to sit down at the table and have food,” he laughs.
Were Achatz to pull this off, however, it would be a direct riff from other international chefs, most notably French chef Paul Pairet, whose Shanghai restaurant Ultraviolet pioneered the concept of turning the dining experience into a multi-sensory, culinary theatre.
After five years of research, Pairet opened Ultraviolet in 2012, where timed atomizer sprays infuse the room with the smell of soil to accompany an earthy dish, and where seven projectors beam images onto a 360-degree wraparound projection system and interactive tabletop.
Likewise, courses are paraded out to their own soundtrack that could include everything from the sound of rainfall in the jungle, to AC/DC.
The idea also inspired El Celler de Can Roca in Spain to create a one-off, gastro-opera for a star-studded guest list that included Freida Pinto and Ferran Adria.
Meanwhile, after hinting about embarking on a culinary world tour in a video interview last year, Achatz has made good on his desire to rethink — again — the traditional notion of fixed addresses with plans to open pop-ups in Madrid and Miami while the restaurant undergoes renovations in January and February of next year.
Talks are also underway for a pop-up in New York.
His next restaurant Roister, also in Chicago, is also slated to open late summer.
The results of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants will be announced Monday in London.