It wasn’t so long ago that Grant Achatz was flipping eggs in his parents’ small Michigan restaurant. Of course, even then Achatz knew he wanted to be the best at whatever he did, which, for the young Midwesterner, meant being the best chef he could be. The first, immediate post-high school step for Achatz was graduating—with high marks—from the Culinary Institute of America. Next came the Chicago stagier circuit, including a stint at Charlie Trotter’s, followed by a tour of some of Europe’s Michelin-starred restaurants. But it wasn’t until he stumbled upon a job posting for Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry that Achatz really hit his professional stride.
Achatz spent the four years under Keller's wing, learning, as Achatz puts it, “how to cook and how to live life.” Within two years, he had risen to the ranks of sous chef. During this time, he also took a one-year hiatus from the kitchen to work as an assistant winemaker at La Jota Vineyards. A brief, but revolutionary, stage at Ferran Adria's el Bulli in 2000 sealed Achatz’s fate as a future American culinary leader. Achatz returned to the States ready to begin cooking on his own terms. At 26, he accepted his first executive chef position at Trio in Evanston, Illinois and began to cultivate his own style.
Toward the end of four successful years at Trio, Chicago entrepreneur and fervent Achatz admirer Nick Kokonas proposed a partnership that would create a restaurant worthy of the young chef’s talent. Alinea not only changed the Chicago restaurant scene (earning 7th place in San Pelligrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and Achatz the 2008 James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award), it elevated and expanded the standards of sophisticated cuisine across the United States. And though he might easily rest on the plentiful laurels of Alinea (or his books Alinea and Life on the Line), with the recent opening of time-and-place-hopping concept restaurant Next and role-swapping concept cocktail bar Aviary, Achatz has once again reaffirmed his commitment to creativity and innovation.