It’s taken this long but molecular foodies and muscle car junkies have a common champion in Grant Achatz, the quasi celebrity chef behind celebrated restaurants Alinea and NEXT. Grant qualifies as quasi celebrity to me because for all he’s accomplished, he remains rather modest. I feel than rather than being the loud facade, he’d rather be the heart and soul of his endeavors. In fact his restaurants don’t have signage for all I can tell, and their websites are virtually non-existent. You have to get tickets to get into NEXT through Facebook and to that, I say good luck.
I met Grant at a custom car garage on the near west side of Chicago to pick up his beautifully restored 1970 Pontiac GTO. A real throaty hog. In fact this story for the Wall Street Journal was about his emotional relationship to his car. We slammed the two heavy doors and drove north, then west. We made small talk about the car, his job and when he wakes up in the morning. I learned he only drives the car a handful of times per year and mostly to amuse his two kids who think it’s the shit. We pulled into a loading dock area of a food distribution company where I had arranged to shoot. I joked that they probably didn’t provide NEXT with any ingredients. Grant looked around and took in the air heavy with diesel fuel and pork, saying that he’d not be surprised if they did. As we shot, there was nothing I wanted him to do that he didn’t trust me me to try. Even this idea, when I asked him to commune with the machine and give it his heart.
Story goes that as a kid, Grant and his dad bought and restored the GTO over 2 years, part by part. He drove it while in high school but as time passed he lost possession of it. Forgetting about the GTO, again the car fell into deep disrepair. Grant went on with life, having a family, defeating tongue cancer and building his career. On the night of his book release, Life on the Line his business partner who had located the car, had it brought back to pristine condition and surprised Grant with it as a gift. His first name is subtly printed to the center of the steering wheel below the letters GT, which appears shorthand for his name. As he tells the story, the process rebuilding the GTO with his dad taught him the value of deconstruction and rebuilding, the premise on which he approaches food.
Hair and Make up: Jenna Baltes. Assisted by Tim Blokel and Esvan Rivera.