Never mind the high standards he set for American cuisine with his cooking at Trio, Charlie Trotter’s, The French Laundry and his own Alinea. Achatz’s creativity in the kitchen undoubtedly kicked fine dining up a notch (sorry, Emeril). But the real upheaval would come with the opening of Next, Chicago’s perennial pop-up restaurant. Other chefs were crowing about a menu tweak here or there to accommodate seasonality or shifts in guest preferences. Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas decided to wipe their place clean every few months and recast it as a whole new concept, with only the staff and name carried over.
That daring extended to the menu. When Achatz decided to turn Next into a three-month-long celebration of the tastes of childhood, he incorporated such whimsical touches as serving school-lunch staples (including pudding cups and a beverage packed in a thermos) in vintage hard-sided lunch boxes. Guests could order a pair of blender rotors that had been dipped in cake batter, a flashback to the days when they’d lick the blades clean after mom baked. When Next adopted a vegan theme, servers surprised diners by spooning their salads out of the table centerpieces that looked at first glance like some sort of miniature seascape.
It’s the sort of whimsy and creativity that forever shattered preconceptions of fine dining.
The disregard for tradition even extends to the means for booking a table. To secure a seat, guests have to buy an online ticket whose value fluctuates in accordance with supply and demand.