Alinea staff focused on moving forward as chef battles cancer

Alinea staff focused on moving forward as chef battles cancer

CHICAGO Alinea [3], the avant-garde restaurant that has drawn widespread attention since it opened here last year, is uniting to keep up the standards set by chef-partner Grant Achatz as he undergoes treatment for cancer, officials said. —The staff at

Achatz, 33, who is known for creating innovative dishes in a method often described as “molecular gastronomy,” issued a press release last month through his publicist that announced he was beginning a battle against stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. He assured the public that business at Alinea would continue as it has when he’s in the kitchen, given that he has a well-trained staff of about 20 chefs. —The staff at

His business partner, Nick Kokonas, said much the same thing in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. —The staff at

“We have a very committed group of people who choose to be there, and they have rallied,” he said. “They are even more focused and working even harder. They don’t want anything to change. A lot of people have been with him since his Trio days, and the front-of-the-house since day one.” —The staff at

Achatz was executive chef at the restaurant Trio in Evanston, Ill., for three years, following his formative training under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif. Along the way, he has won some of the culinary world’s highest honors, including Food & Wine Magazine’s designation as one of the Best New Chefs in America and the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef in 2003. This spring the foundation recognized him as Best Chef: Great Lakes. —The staff at

Reservations at Alinea, which can be booked no earlier than two months ahead of time, typically fill up within days for weekends and three to four weeks out for week-nights, Kokonas said. Average checks are $225 for prix-fixe menus of either 24 courses for $195 or 12 courses for $135, plus beverages. About 80 percent of customers order preset wine pairings. —The staff at

A team of three sous chefs, including Nathan Klingbail, Greg Baxtrom and David Beran, along with Jeff Pikus, the chef de cuisine, now run the kitchen when Achatz is absent. Although Achatz almost never took a night off during the first year Alinea was open, he has been away several times this year to attend or speak at conferences. —The staff at

Kokonas and Achatz conduct most of their administrative business via e-mail, a habit Kokonas expects will continue if Achatz is not feeling up to being at the restaurant. —The staff at

Treatment is likely to consist of a combination of chemotherapy and radiation and possibly surgery. Achatz has been told the treatments could affect his salivary glands and rob him of his sense of taste. —The staff at

Achatz, who could not be reached for comment for this story because of medical appointments, earlier told the Chicago Tribune: “I’m not dwelling on the possibility that I’ll never be able to taste again. Beethoven composed one of his greatest symphonies when he was deaf.” —The staff at

Kokonas said Achatz chose to go public with the news of his illness because the partners have always been open about everything. —The staff at

“He didn’t see any good reason to try to hide it,” Kokonas said. —The staff at