GUNS, GUITARS AND GASTRONOMY: A Conversation with Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Alinea


Interview By Jeth Rollins Odom

Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas of Chicago’s Alinea, named the best restaurant in the country, dropped by Seattle last week to promote their new book Life, on the Line.  I was scheduled to do the interview but could not make it. I asked my buddy (and cooking pal) Jethro to fill in for him.  Because Jethro is a more of a human being than a food blogger, a freewheeling conversation ensued, and they discussed everything from their book, hunting, and music to their newest projects about to launch in Chicago: a restaurant called Next, and its companion bar, Aviary.

Nick Kokonas: So, Jethro’s not a food writer, he’s subbing for a food writer.
Grant Achatz: Thank god.
NK: So you know what that means?  Actual intelligent questions that we haven’t had.
So, any questions you don’t want to answer, just say “fuck you”, and whatever.
NK: You’re going to get like, twelve “fuck you’s”.
GA: Ah, come on…
NK to GA: By the way, I finally read that interview. Joe Satriani? That’s where you went with that?
GA: The guy can play guitar, man.
NK: Yeah, in ’84.

Nick, you were in a band.  What instrument did you play?
NK: Guitar and keyboards.
What kind of style?
NK: I went to college in the late 80s/early 90s, so you’re looking at the Cure/REM thing, but you’re also looking at Firehose, more edgy stuff like their song “Brave Captain“.  Standard issue of that era, but a lot of fun.

Concerning the book, I really liked how in the preface you start off with this really disturbing imagery of Grant peeling out his inner throat, which cuts to him giving this great speech crediting all the people he knows, and then the first chapter starts with him making Jello as a child.
NK: The reason we start the book out that way is that you know the outcome.  I mean, there’s a picture of him on the cover. If he’s dead, this sucks, right? So, because he’s not dead, you know the outcome, so it’s important to get that up front, so here’s the highlight of the book, you get that the first second, and then we show you how we got there.

Why did you choose to write an autobiography while you’re both in your mid-30s?
NK: That’s his question, it’s not my autobiography.
What do you mean? You’re in there too.
NK: The only reason I’m in there too is that I’m the Everyman, so I give the opposite viewpoint, you know what I mean? I’m like the diner guy, y’know?  The thing is that he can’t talk about his own food from the third person, right? I mean you can, but it’s kind of weird and awkward that way, so that’s why we did that.
GA: It’s a really good story, I think for one.  First and foremost, I think what we experienced, and I say ‘we’ because he’s the one who really pushed the whole thing along, in terms of seeking out treatment.  You know, people go through life, and they find themselves in situations of adversity whether it be medically related or something else.  They don’t realize that the second, third, fourth answer is not the best one.

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