Grant Achatz on His Latest NYC Restaurants & What Makes a Great Chef
Michelin-star chef Grant Achatz chatted with us about his latest New York City restaurants, The Aviary and The Office, and why he decided to bring his culinary talents to the Big Apple.
What made you want to open your latest spots, The Aviary and The Office, in New York City?
GRANT ACHATZ: Well, I think there’s always been a level of proving yourself in New York. I have, obviously, a lot of industry friends there. They were like, “Oh, yeah, you’re a big fish in a small pond. If you really want to establish yourself, you need to come to the big city and do it in New York.” So there was that. I think it was a perfect storm of opportunity for us, partnering with the Mandarin Oriental in that iconic space with that view overlooking Central Park. I’m very close with chef Thomas Keller and he’s in the building. It all seemed to fit for the time and place, honestly.
I’ve always found you to be a chef that has a succinct vision for what each of your restaurants is supposed to be and mean. What do Alinea, Next, Roister, The Aviary, and The Office respresent to you?
GA: For Alinea, it’s always been about constant creativity and evolution. That would be the hallmark of that restaurant and still is, just constantly reinventing and evolving. Next is a shape-shifter. We thematically choose to do the four menus a year but the restaurant dramatically changes, both in its personality, service, and food and beverage offerings. Roister, the newest one to come online, is kind of the anti-Alinea in that it’s, by intent, not super refined. It’s loud, it’s kind of rustic, it’s boisterous. With The Aviary, I’ve always looked at it like the Alinea for drinks. It was always about taking that approach to thinking outside the box, in terms of flavor combinations, and rethinking the vessels that you put cocktails in, and taking that creativity to the extreme. And The Office, it’s a traditional speak-easy style bar, and I just liked the juxtaposition of The Aviary and The Office, especially because they’re right next to each other. There’s this great yin and yang that I think really compliments them both and makes them stand out in a different way. I think, without that juxtaposition, they would be less successful on their own.
There are plenty of chefs that make great food, but at some point there’s got to be something beyond that that turns a good chef into a great chef, no?
GA: I hate to keep going back to the creativity, but for me, that’s what I want my legacy to be. That’s what I want people to think of me and say about me when I’m gone or after I eventually retire and stop cooking. I’m 43 now. Alinea’s been open for over 12 years and I’m just very proud of the fact that we’ve kept pushing in terms of the creativity. It would be awesome if 35 years from now, young cooks coming out of culinary school flipped open the Alinea cookbook or watched something like the Chef’s Table Netflix documentary and said to themselves, “Throughout his entire career, he just never stopped pushing the creativity.” To me, that’s what it’s all about.
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