Kitchen as a stage
Chef Grant Achatz is known for his three-Michelin starred Alinea, an ultra-high-end example of molecular gastronomy. His Aviary cocktail lounge and Next rotating-theme restaurant also represent the fine-dining echelon of the industry. For Roister, opened last month, the Alinea Group wanted to challenge itself to do something different, says Executive Chef Andrew Brochu. That something? A casual-dining restaurant that is set up to engage customers in a new way.
“People want to see [the kitchen], I think; it’s that simple,” says Brochu, especially at a Grant Achatz restaurant. So Roister took its display kitchen to the max—its motto: “The restaurant is the kitchen, the kitchen is the restaurant.” Brochu says it’s the most open he’s seen. “It’s smack dab in the middle, and we are surrounded,” he says.
And it’s not slinging the fancy foods Achatz is known for, instead taking on dishes such as lasagna, fried chicken and smoked oysters. Starters range from $10 to $20, individual entrees are north of $25 and entrees designed for sharing start at $55.
While Brochu admits that having the kitchen on display is tough operationally (“We have to be tight, and we have to be precise, otherwise you are exposed negatively in front of everyone,” he says), it helps accomplish the desired vibe of the space. “We wanted the fast pace and intensity of a kitchen to drive the energy of the whole restaurant.”
Service also is different at Roister. “The kitchen is running food, we are serving counter seats. We have really just tried to break down those walls between front and back,” Brochu says. That part, along with the rest of operations, goes back to Roister’s goal: “We want to be accessible to as many people as we possibly can.”
It’s not just about seeing approachable food in the kitchen. The music is guest-selected, because Roister crowdsources its playlist. And guests have a choice of how they score a table. Alinea Group partner Nick Kokonas’ ticketing system—book a seat for a specific day and time, paying a nonrefundable deposit that is applied to the bill—is in place here, but guests can walk in, too. While part of it stems from a desire to show that the ticketing system works beyond tasting menus, it’s also to let guests dine how they want.
“It is a challenge to be precise every minute of the day and night. In a closed kitchen, you can fake it—a good service or bad can be masked if you’re hidden. this is not hidden at all.”
—Andrew Brochu, executive chef
Photography by Matthew Gilson