For the next three months, Grant Achatz’ Next Restaurant will feature a 30 course meal from the recipes of Ferran Adria that he created at elBulli. I was lucky enough to get a ticket on the opening week to what is literally the hottest reservation on Earth at the moment. With thousands of people vying to get in, how did I manage to pull off the impossible?
A rap battle, of course.
Facing Off On Facebook
Last week, Next Restaurant decided to reward the active “Nexties” on their Facebook page by choosing 120 people or so to dine there on opening week through email submission. Over 5000 people sent in an email. The Facebook page was abuzz last Monday evening as people waited to see if they had been picked. A myriad of posts were put up on the page, with people commenting on various threads. It was in many ways like a big party. One guy put up lyrics, which was followed by a limerick. Then I joined the fray, and it began to spin wildly out of control.
So, yeah, we were all getting a little punch drunk. Sadly, an confirmation email never arrived for me. I missed the boat, and would have to try for season tickets (which turned out to be that you would have had to enter the site within TEN SECONDS or miss out. Serious demand.). The following day I received a private message from Rupert Vaughan. He’s considered “the Mayor of Next”, having been to each menu they’ve served – twice. After inquiring about restaurants in San Francisco from my earlier posts, this happened:
“Hey, Jethro, how did you get a ticket to the elBulli menu?”
“Oh, the Mayor of Next liked my rap battle.”
Back In Chicago, Back To Next
There’s no way I could turn down an opportunity like this but I had to act fast. So I took a deep breath, got out my credit card, and booked a flight for the coming weekend. Trust me, I’m deep within in the 99%. But sometimes it’s all worth it.
My Jet City Gastrophysics crime partner Eric and his lovely wife let me crash at their place. It was sunny, but it was cold. Man, it was chilly. I spent the day going to the Chicago Art Museum and trying to make sure I didn’t catch a cold or trip and fall or eat a loaf of bread or do anything at all that could mess up the upcoming evening.
Rupert and I thought it would be fun if the guys all wore the same thing. We decided we would all dress like Ferran Adria does when he’s not cooking: dress pants and jacket with a dark shirt underneath.
For an extra homage, we pinned on a white rose to represent Roses, Spain, the location of elBulli. Understated and classy. After we all met up for drinks, we headed over to Next to experience the meal of a lifetime.
The elBulli Menu At Next
As befitting the Mayor of Next, we sat at the Kitchen Table. It’s a round table that seats six, walled off from the rest of the tables. One wall, however, is made of glass, and looks into the kitchen as they prepare and plate the dishes. Liquid Nitrogen boiling away in styrofoam boxes, dishes being individually weighted to make sure every dish gets the exact proportion. It’s always eye opening to see a kitchen execute a menu like this. And well, it looks like this:
We were immediately given a special treat. The first course was a drink from 2004 – a nitro caipirinha with tarragon concentrate. Jason, their bartender, was having dinner there the same evening. Chef Beran told him to come to the Kitchen Table and prepare the mix and then chef would freeze it with the liquid nitrogen tableside. He rose to the challenge and expertly balanced out the flavor before Chef Beran took over and did the rest.
And from there we went into the menu. And the drinks. Man, there were a lot of drinks. We all got a little…animated. A special shout out to our server Doug is warranted here. He kept us happy and informed as we speculated if someone saw Natalie Portman in the main dining room or if he knew every little detail about every dish, as we melted into a hazy gastronomic bliss. A soldier on the front lines, and he acquitted himself well. As did I – I was a member of the Clean Plate Club throughout the entire meal.
It’s Different Now
I had a brief conversation with Eric during the meal:
Eric is right. This meal blew my mind. The interplay of textures and transformation of textures while eating was especially amazing to me. The thin crispiness of bread paired with the melting of iberico ham fat; the crunch of a croquette only to have a thick chicken sauce burst across the tongue; the simple act of eating flecks of ice with different flavors powdered upon it. I had conflicting feelings: that I should never cook again, or I should cook twice as much.
I had this feeling before, except it was about playing guitar: seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan in concert. I was lucky enough to see him five times. His playing was so effortless and soulful, it was just mind expanding. Even when he did covers of other’s music, like “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. Those are some of the most remarkable musical memories for me, and I’ve seen literally hundreds of bands. I mean, it wasn’t Jimi playing his music, but hey, man, it was SRV playing it. And blowing it up. Just like this meal: OK, it wasn’t in Roses, Spain and Ferran didn’t cook it, but hey, man, it was Grant Achatz and Dave Beran cooking it. And blowing it up.
I can’t thank Rupert enough for having me join him. A true once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I look forward to paying it forward in the future.
P.S. I know, I know. At this point you’re thinking, “DUDE, where are some shots of the food?!”. Check out this series of photos on Facebook or this blog post. God, you expect me to do everything. Sheesh.