The Trotter era comes to a close. All hail Grant Achatz - the new foodie king of Chicago!

November 16, 2010

Today, superstar chef Grant Achatz will rightfully take his place as the king of all Chicago food. The chef at Alinea has been awarded three stars by the famed Michelin guide. Now, you've probably read about this Michelin phenomenon all week on your food blogs and online news sites. Chicago is only the second American city to be Michelin-ized. Yes, it's the same company that makes tires. They also judge food (that they hope you'll drive to).

Grant Achatz received three stars - and that's just the beginning of the Achatz takeover. Here are some other reasons why he is now king.

  • Achatz has a new restaurant opening in 2011 down on Fulton Market. It is pioneering a new "ticket" system, where instead of reservations, you buy a fixed priced ticket (over $200). This ticket will be hotter than a Bears playoff home game. (Will we start to see restaurant tickets on Stub-Hub?)
  • Achatz is releasing a book this week.
  • NBC was planning on filming at Alinea sometime this week (not sure if this happened since Michelin switched the announcement date) 
  • Achatz stars in a new line of web-commercials for Lexus. They are being released tomorrow.
  • Achatz is in the NY and LA media right now for his preparation of cocktails at a recent charity function. Everyone is eating them up (literally- he made edible cocktails).

Needless to say, Mr. Achatz has prepared well for this week and the announcement of his three star Michelin rating. So what can we expect from Achatz? Court-side tickets at Bulls games? Will he show up in Sneed every other day? Will they put his face on the old Brooks Brothers' building on the Kennedy? I say he should become the new spokesman for Danley Garages.

Winners: Business partner, PR firm, Chicago culinary scene

Losers: Anyone who can't afford $250 a head.

At some point, the coverage of this high-end cuisine and talented chef becomes similar to coverage of Ferraris at the auto show. Yeah, they are cool and they probably win a ton of awards, but I'm never going to have one because they cost three times what a car should cost.

I'm all about great food and great experiences. But the focus on high-end food in Chicago is disturbing. The business model is flawed - prices for property are sky-high, service salaries and hourly wages are more expensive than ever and the prices for food and exotic ingredients are staggering. So to make a profit, most of these restaurants will pass the savings expenses on to you. I know I sound like my Dad when he is at the $9 sandwich shop (Oh, Jus...no...no..this is no good. I'll be in the car...), but I think I'm in a safe place to argue that a dining experience that will total $500 a couple is pretty extreme and very un-Chicago. This is a working class city with a ton of rich people. And rich people like rich food. So this isn't as much about Achatz being the provider, but more about the media putting him front and center as the chef we should all experience. Mr. Achatz is a astounding talent and deserves credit for pumping life into this culinary community. But what's the limit? Sure, Trotter has been doing this for years. And he has a niche. But Trotter paved the way, Achatz turned it into a 3 lane expressway.

As I ranted about Alinea to my co-writers (um, I mean morning news producers), they said to me "Dude, it's not for you."

Indeed.

Personally, I'm going to wait til he opens a molecular gastronomy sandwich place. "I'll have the air and butter sandwich to go. Dad, what do you want?"