While the rest of the (very lucky, elite few members of the) food world got to watch the magic of 21st Century Limited — the Alinea/Eleven Madison Park collaboration — unfurl before their eyes in all of its autumnal glory, only Grub Street saw the kitchen elves backstage, setting up the incredibly extravagant event. The biggest takeaway from all this: Daniel Humm and Grant Achatz are insanely meticulous.
One would imagine that the collaboration (this half, at least) would only consist of Alinea packing up “everything that was Alinea” in a U-Haul van and unloading it at Eleven Madison Park, but not only did Achatz want to replicate the Alinea experience, he wanted it to match the space he would be serving his classics.
So those scarlet oak leaves? Raked from Achatz’s birth state, Michigan. That black truffle explosion? It arrived at the optimal time for its consumption, thanks to Achatz’s insistence that the staff time how long it took for it to leave the kitchen and reach your table. That painted tablecloth used only for one course?
Achatz devised a way for the tablecloths to be peeled away mid-meal to reveal an acrylic on canvas painting that also matched the color schematic of a corn-and-huitlacoche course that would be served at the same time. Cooks took lessons from the artist Thomas Masters and would come into work on their days off to paint the tablecloths, the same way they’d paint a plate with sauces. That’s twenty or so food components for that one course, a custom glass plate, hours of art instruction, a lot of the cooks’ free time, and 30 or so limited-edition tablecloths. All for a salad that may take four minutes to eat.
Grub Street has more photos from the kitchen, and you should probably feel inspired to buy a new desk organizer about seven slides in.
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