Grant Achatz: Culinary Daredevil

A 1903 August Escoffier recipe, Suprême de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, as fantastically interpreted as a baroque tartlet by the awardwinning chef Grant Achatz. His next restaurant, called Next, will open in February 2011 and will have a century-spanning menu. Image by Martha Camarillo from the 20 December 2010 Time article "The Miracle Worker."

The Aesthete Cooks isn’t the only foodie fascinated by historical cuisine. As Joel Stein explains in the 20 December 2010 issue of Time magazine, daredevil young chef Grant Achatz — whose career nearly derailed when he developed tongue cancer — is launching a new restaurant with a past-perfect attitude. Read the terrific article here.

As Time explains, Next, which will be located in Chicago, where Achatz already runs Alinea, “will have a different menu every three months, pegged to a particular place and time. He’s starting with Paris in 1906 and then moving on to such pairing as Sicily in 1949, Thailand in the future and so on.” My dream would be for Achatz to conjure a menu based on London in the 1920s, with inspired adaptations of the influential recipes of chef-restaurateur Marcel Boulestin.

Make reservations ASAP if you can because Next is sure to be the hottest ticket in the Windy City: It opens on 1 February 2011.

Grant Achatz’s memoir, Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Gotham Books) is being published in March 2011. Pre-order a copy from Amazon right now.

If you’re interested, the dish shown in the photograph is Achatz’s spirited take on a 1903 recipe by the great Auguste Escoffier (1846 — 1935): Suprêmes de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, or Breasts of Squab Saint Clair. Escoffier’s directions are printed below. His classic cookery book did not offer lists of ingredients or detailed instructions, so have fun. Whether you want to add a cooked bird claw as a panache, as Achatz does, is up to you. Squab can be ordered online from D’Artagnan; click here.


(Breasts of Squab Saint Clair)

SOURCE: Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier (1903)


With the meat of the legs prepare a mousseline forcemeat, and, with the latter, make some quenelles the size of small olives, and set them to poach. Poële the breasts, without coloration, on a thick litter of sliced onions, and keep them underdone. Add a little velouté to the onions; rub them through a tammy, and put the quenelles in this sauce.

In the middle of a shallow croustade, set a pyramid of cèpes tossed in butter. Raise the fillets; skin them, and set them on the cèpes; coat them with the prepared sauce; surround with a thread of meat glaze, and place the quenelles all around.




8 comments on “Grant Achatz: Culinary Daredevil

  1. friendandfaux says:

    Oh dear, I’m not quite sure!? Creative yet creepy.

  2. Charlotte says:

    So interesting to see what this chef has done with just a paragraph of a recipe! I consider The Escoffier Cookbook to be something of a life preserver among my collection of cookbooks. It is so helpful when it comes to everyday cooking (at our house!), looking up dishes mentioned when reading a classic novel or trying to figure out dishes served at one of our favorite French restaurants. It is a well organized maze of cooking information that has taught me there is really nothing new under the sun when it comes to cooking. Thanks for the post!

  3. This reminds me of the first fresh chicken I bought when living in Taiwan. We are used to neatly trimmed birds which remain anonymous with no trace of chicken-but this one we boughthad, in Chinese fashion, the feet and head still attached. We didnt realise this at first and when we prepared it the head popped out as did the feet. My wife screamed and refused to have anything to do with the preparation thereafter. Our amah had no problems and efficiently dealt to the offending appendages!

    • Indeed; I was used to buying a live chicken at market in North Africa, when I lived there, and having it slaughtered, plucked, and then handed to me, warm, in a plastic bag, and then carrying it home.

  4. Magnaverde says:

    In 2006, Chicago celebrated the 150th anniversary of architect Louis Sullivan’s birth and, as Historian of his Auditorium Theatre of 1889, I proposed a huge blowout dinner with an authentic menu of period dishes, which would be held in one of the restored public rooms of the former Auditorium Hotel, now Roosevelt University’s Chicago campus. I knew it would cost a bundle, but philanthropist/Sullivan fan Seymour Persky generously subsidized the whole thing, and a good thing he did, too, since the $100-a-plate ticket wouldn’t begin to cover the costs of the food, the wines–I think we had five–or the decor, a greenhouse worth of potted palms, plus every piece of Aesthetic period silver I could beg, borrow or buy. I drew the line at stealing, mainly because everyone in town would know I was the culprit.

    Anyway, thanks to Seymour, my big challenge wasn’t the cost, but the menu. I thought it would be cool to have not only dishes of the period but those with some kind of Chicago connection as well. Turtle Soup Lady Curzon–that is, basically, two-thirds sherry–was named after a local merchant’s daughter who had ended up Vicereine of India, and its date of creation was only off by a few years, but eating something for dinner that’s older than I am would be flat-out wrong. Also, foie gras, which seemed to be included in half the big-deal recipes I found, happened to be illegal in Chicago in 2006, so that was out. And there was no way in hell I was eating sweetbreads, so we weren’t serving those, either
    authentic or not. So much for complete historic accuracy. In the event, we relied on those evocative period favorites steak, shrimp & chicken–although we did have a duck-&-currant confit course in there, too, somewhere–all gussied up with miniature molded aspics, edible flowers, heavy sauces, elaborate presentations. No squab claws, however. There is a limit to how much authenticity I want on my plate. Which brings me to Next.

    It sounds like a really cool idea, at least in theory. The problem–for me–would be the long waiting list, since between the day you call for reservations (say, when the menu is NYC, 1965) and the day that you actually show up, everything will have changed. Paris in 1906 I could handle; Paris in 1943, I don’t know. Leningrad in 1943? Forget it.

    What would probably get me on board for sure is if Achatz redid his decor to match the menu, and going by the photos in Stephen Calloway’s Twentieh Century Decoration, the yellow-lacquered walls at at Restaurant Boulestin make it look like an excellent place to start. Then again, if they did that, too, I wouldn’t be able to afford the place. Not, of course, that I can afford his curent place now, for that matter. Like I said, this is all theoretical talk. Talks cheap.

    Speaking of time travel & food, however, if you should ever find yourself between trains in Chicago, be sure to let me know, and we can go eat. I know two places that are as close to time travel as you’re likely to get until they get the Holodeck from Star Trek perfected, and best of all, they’re not self-conscious concept restaurants filled with beautiful, trendy people wondering who the hell let me in, but the real thing, never changed from the day they opened. We could have waffles at a Howard Johnson’s Coffeeshop wannabe from 1957 that, miraculously, has survived the near-extinction of the real deal, or we could have Chop Suey at an Art Deco Cantonese restaurant straight out of Edward Hopper. Bring the whole family!

    Tonight, though, I think I’ll try Catherine’s recommendation of that Shrimp & Hominy dish from June Platt’s.

    • That dinner sounds amazing!!! Am seriously jealous I didn’t know about it (or receive an invitation). And I would be very happy to stop in Chicago, with the family in tow, and dine avec vous! Such a good idea. And both restaurants you name would be fine with us! Speaking of shrimp and hominy … we’re having that again tonight!

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