Recently Chef Grant Achatz appeared in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. We thought we’d share this excerpt of the script where he is talking about the development of the Anti-Griddle.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with chef Grant Achatz. His new memoir, “Life, on the Line,” is about his avant-garde style of cooking and about getting diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer. The treatments eradicated his sense of taste, and he was uncertain it would ever return. It did. He’s been in remission since late 2007. Achatz co-founded the Chicago restaurant Alinea, which was named best restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine in 2006. In 2008, he was named best chef in the U.S. by the James Beard foundation. In a few weeks, he’ll open a new restaurant called Next. When we left off, we were talking about his food innovations.
You’ve had to create new technology in order to create some of the foods that you’ve created. Tell us one of the unusual pieces of technology that you either borrowed from another field and now use in food, or that you basically created.
Mr. ACHATZ: We realized early on with the opening of Alinea that we were going to have to look to other disciplines and other avenues for technology and tools that would help us cook, shape, manipulate the ingredients in the way that we wanted. One of the items that we came up with is called the anti-griddle. And we partnered with, collaborated with a company in Niles, Illinois call PolyScience, and PolyScience is owned by gentlemen by the name of Philip Preston. And Philip is a big foodie, and his company basically supplies the medical industry with a lot of temperature-control technology. So he does specific water bass that can be either super-hot or super-cold, down to like 100th of a degree. So he was very versed in laboratory-style equipment.
We came to him and said, you know, maybe there’s some way that we can collaborate on a piece that basically is the inverse of the pancake griddle that I grew up cooking on at my parent’s diner. So you have a large, stainless steel surface, and instead of it being hot, we want it to be incredibly cold. And he got kind of excited about the challenge, and three days later, he had what he called the Frankenstein version of it…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ACHATZ: …which was the prototype. It wasn’t real pretty, but it worked. And so that stainless steel plate gets negative 50 degrees Celsius. And it allows us to freeze – not only freeze things that normally don’t freeze. So, for instance, if you take a cup full of olive oil and put it in your freezer at home overnight, you’re going to wake up the next morning, and it’s still going to be liquid because the freezing point of olive oil is very, very low. So you take a tablespoon of that olive oil and you put it on top of the anti-griddle, and it will instantly freeze.
GROSS: What’s an example of something that doesn’t usually freeze that you’ve frozen and served?
Mr. ACHATZ: Well, I think olive oil is a good one – is a good example. So we, you know, we’ve actually made olive oil lollipops, essentially.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ACHATZ: So you can take olive oil, freeze it on the anti-griddle with a stick in it. And then once it comes off the anti-griddle, we seasoned it with very – depending on whether we wanted it sweet or savory. So in this case, we did a savory olive oil lollipop, where we seasoned the outside with salt, smoked paprika and some dried basil. And so basically, you’re now kind of in the South of Spain with those flavors. And it looked like a lollipop, came on a stick, and it was savory and fatty. And as soon as you put it on your palate, of course, the olive oil immediately starts to melt and kind of floods the palate with this smoky paprika, savory, almost like a roasted red pepper oil. It was really interesting.
GROSS: Part of what we base our sense of taste on is what we see on the plate.
Mr. ACHATZ: Absolutely.
GROSS: And that affects our expectations. So if the shape of the food or the texture of the food doesn’t conform to our expectation of what that food is, is that going to taste different because of that?
Mr. ACHATZ: I don’t know that it will taste different, but you’ve touched on something that is what we really focus on, you know, and this is – this goes back to part of crafting that emotional experience. So if I present to you something that I call a root beer float, and again, it’s not in a glass. It’s on a plate. It’s not liquid, it’s solid, and it’s not brown. It’s completely clear, and I say root beer float, and you look at it and you look at me and you think I’m crazy, I think that’s a good thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ACHATZ: Because now you’re already – you’re engaged, and that’s kind of what I was talking about before. We’re engaging you on so many different levels. And then the payoff is that when you put that perfectly clear, bite-size cube in your mouth, it tastes like a root beer float. And then everybody wins.