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Frank Mahony: The Chef Has No Clothes


Frank Mahony

Frank Mahony

The Chef Has No Clothes

6/15/2008   Comment on This

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I am a chronic complainer. Like my old philosopher pal René Descartes used to say, “I complain, therefore I am” (or something like that).

You may have heard me express my dissatisfaction about a recent dinner at Alinea – voted the Best Restaurant in America in 2006. I had Grant’s food at other restaurants before, so I knew what to expect. I have no “issue” with the chef, Grant Achatz. He’s doing his thing – making food he “believes in” which reflects his tastes and style. I know all about his battle against cancer and how he is a very dedicated and hard working guy. I can’t give him a hard time for following his vision; I just don’t like his food.

My problem is the “ass kissing” critics. Nobody has anything negative to say except me. I cannot be the “only” one who didn’t love it.

I’ve had all types of far out food at all types of far out places that I sometimes liked and sometimes disliked. You can’t like everything. Yet, I can’t find any negative “professional” critique of Alinea. It’s the opposite; critics describe the food as if some kind of perfection has been achieved. In my opinion, the courses don’t flow well and I didn’t like many of the ingredient combinations that oddly jumped back and forth between sweet/bitter/savory until my palate felt like an ashtray after 20+ courses. One entrée featured a pasty sauce called “burnt bread” that tasted like a puree of the crap that falls to the bottom of your toaster. I’ll concur that the food is plated more artistically than at any other place I’ve been but I would not vote Alinea the best restaurant in America or even Chicago.

As I said, I cannot be the only one who had this thought - but obviously, I’m the only one speaking up and/or being honest. It’s not that I don’t appreciate unusual foods and flavor combinations. During a recent meal at Schwa, we had pickled crab in a slightly-sweet banana sauce and a dessert of sweetbreads (thymus glad) in a sweet rutabaga sauce. Both were unusually different and awesome.

These days, chefs are celebrities and it seems nobody wants to be the one to say, “The Chef Has No Clothes.” In the June issue of Chicago Magazine, writer Dennis Ray Wheaton laid it on so thick I can see the brown stain on his nose. You wonder if he is just positioning himself to get a table any time he wants (always be wary of guys with three names).

Come on critics! You’re like little kids in the big city for the first time, amazed by the bright lights. You're not supposed to be drinking the Kool-aid. We read your “professional” opinions to hear real pros and the cons. There should always be some of both or you’re not being honest to us or yourself and you don’t sound credible.


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