As with live theater, preparation is a crucial aspect of the final production at Next in Chicago, one of the world’s leading avant-garde restaurants. The restaurant completely overhauls the menu with a new theme every four months, and each new round begins as an informal series of conversations between Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas, and Dave Beran. The chosen concept is then explored through eight to 10 weeks of reading, recipe testing, and—when needed—travel.
In this process, no detail is considered insignificant, writes Trine Tsouderos in Slate. For the current theme “The Hunt,” artists were commissioned to make plates, birch bark was sourced for presentation, and the menu was designed to read like a story. At Next, the whole experience—from the flatware to the actual food—is designed to bring diners into a new realm.
A large fan base built by Achatz’s critically acclaimed Alinea is no doubt an advantage; however, the restaurant still faces the challenge of keeping a fine balance with each theme. As Tsouderos outs it, “Go too showy and the restaurant will seem gimmicky, like an upscale Rainforest Cafe. Get too conceptual and the whole thing’s just pretentious.”