In recent weeks, we have been speaking about the prestigious and world-famous cooking school: the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Specifically we have looked at some of their biggest-named students and what they have gone on to achieve using their world class education. Last time, we spoke about Michael Mina, the egyptian-born culinary extraordinaire who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to create a culinary empire. Today I will be speaking about Grant Ahcatz, one of the great pioneers of culinary creativity.
Grant Achatz was born in a small town in Michigan, USA in 1974. It was there that he first started his culinary career, working at his family owned restaurant in his spare time. Realizing that cooking had become a passion for him, Achatz decided to take his career to the next level and enrolled into CIA.
During his education Grant Achaltz would learn many of the standards and techniques that he prides himself on today- gaining the foundation and skills needed to springboard his career into the next level. As he puts it himself: “I entered the CIA at a very young age with no fine dining or classic training,” he says. “The school gave me the foundation that is required to execute the cooking style that I now use”. After Graduating from CIA 1994, the pinnacle of his culinary career would begin.
Upon graduation, Grant Achatz would spend a brief time working in the restaurant Charlie Trotters in Chicago. He later moved to California to work for 4 years under esteemed chef Thomas Keller at the high quality restaurant, French Laundry. Grant Achatz would later describe Keller as his ideal mentor, having learned a large amount of what he now knows from Keller. In his words: “It felt like I was rubbing shoulders with the master” ,” I wanted to be Thomas Keller and I was super dedicated to learning how to cook like him.”. Now from his high quality education and extensive experience under Keller, Achatz was ready to shine.
After his stint with Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz would move back to Chicago to take over the kitchen of the luxury restaurant Trio in 2001. While already esteemed, Trio would soar in popularity under the leadership of Achatz, eventually achieving 5 stars from the Mobil Travel Guide (Now Forbes travel guide) one of only 13 establishments to hold the rating at that time. His leadership and culinary talents proven, Grant Achatz would then take the momentous step that all culinary greats eventually make…
In 2005, Grant Achatz opened his first restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago. The cuisine served at his restaurant was something that, up to this point, had been relatively unheard of: molecular cuisine. This method of cooking involves elaborate tools to extract flavours using chemical and physical reactions within the ingredients. This combined with Achatz’s signature addition of complementary smells and sights to his cooking made Alinea an explosion of sensory experiences. This revolutionary method of cooking intrigued and delighted visitors to the restaurant, which garnered high acclaim almost instantly after opening. Alinea would be named “best restaurant in the USA” by Gourmet magazine in 2006.
Tragically, Grant Achatz would be struck in the prime of his life and career with a terrible affliction: tongue cancer. He battled fiercely with the disease, which could potentially cause him to lose his sense of taste permanently, a devastating blow for any chef. Even more worryingly, doctors warned him that after his surgery, he only had a 50% chance of living for more than 2 more years afterwards. However, Grant Achatz miraculously beat the odds and is still alive to this day. While he did indeed lose his taste due to the chemotherapy treatment, slowly his sense of taste would recuperate. In the period after his surgery, he would describe his taste to be at first non existent, but one by one certain flavours returned to his pallet, starting with the sensation of sweetness. While understandably shaken by the ordeal, Achatz credits his recuperation as a learning experience, as he was able to isolate individual flavours as they came back to him one by one. In his words in regards to his recovery:
“So my palate developed just as a newborn — but I was 32 years old. So I could understand how flavors were coming back and how they synergized together. … It was very educational for me. I don’t recommend it, but I think it made me a better chef because now I really understand how flavor works.”
Despite his health problems, Grant Achatz continued to excel as a chef. His first and most famous restaurant, Alinea, has received 3 Michelin stars and has maintained them all since 2010, as of yet this is the only restaurant in Chicago to do so. Grant Achatz also opened one other fine dining restaurant, Next, and two cocktail bars all of which have gone on to gain heavy prestige in their field.
Throughout his career Achatz has proven himself to be a creative and ingenuitive chef with a unique mind for cooking that has brought him at the very front of the culinary world. He is one of the leading pioneers of molecular cooking on the global stage and has continued to invest in creative technology to help revolutionize the modern dining industry. Overall, Grant Achatz can be considered to be one of the most exciting, up and coming chefs of the 21st century, however he could not achieved his goals if he did not take the plunge from his family-owned restaurant to the prestigious classrooms of CIA, as he put it himself:
“You can’t push boundaries without having a foundation. The CIA was critical in building that foundation and that fundamental understanding of food, the way it behaves, the way it comes together.”
Inspired yet? Well you should be! Grant Achatz has taken an incredible journey to become who he is, and it all started at the Culinary Institute of America. If you would like to follow in his footsteps, or start your own story, then we can help you! Just send an email to [email protected] and we can explain how you can pursue a CIA course from the comfort of your own home!
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