Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 2, Episode 1 - Grant Achatz - full transcript

Discover the amazing story of one of the greatest innovators, how he started experimenting with flavors, textures and aromas, and how he battled a disease that almost killed him.

[Grant Achatz] Early on in Alinea,
we had this realization that...

there's other disciplines
that we can draw on for inspiration.

We would go to art galleries and you would
see these giant-scale pieces of art.

And I would always say,
"Why can't we plate on that?"

It frustrated me that, as chefs,

we were limited to scale that was
determined by plate manufacturers.

Why not a tablecloth...
that we can eat off of?

Why do you have to eat
with a fork or a spoon?

And why does it have to be served
on a plate or in a bowl?

Why can't we come up with something new?

Every element of the restaurant
we try to break down and go,

"Is this the best way it could exist,
or is there a better version?"


There are no rules.
Do whatever you want.

[opening theme playing]

[air hissing]

[Francis Lam]
So when I was in culinary school,

Grant was named one of Food & Wine's
Best New Chefs,

and my chef instructor was like,
"This is bullshit."

He was so incensed by the description
of one of Grant's dishes

where you pour boiling water into rosemary
to get the rosemary scent while you eat.

And he's like, "That's the most
pretentious thing I ever heard.

If you want rosemary,
you put it in the damn dish."

And you know, fast-forward
however many years later, I'm at Alinea,

and you put a dish on a pillow,

and there's a scent coming out
of the pillow,

and every time you cut into the dish,

and there's a little puff of the scent.

And I'm like,
"This is magic. This is magic."

[Francis] I really can't think
of another restaurant where,

when I tell people
about the experience of it,

I don't even wanna tell them
how you get into the place.

Because even the experience
of walking into Alinea

is disorienting and weird

and kind of uncomfortable,
but kinda magical.

You open the door and it looks
like a hallway that goes on for 100 feet.

And maybe eight steps into it,

a door to the side of the hallway
just opens.

You're like,
"Wait, where was the rest of the hallway?"

And you look,
and it's an optical illusion.

But in retrospect,
it's also this thing where you realize...

they're totally gonna mess with you.

They're totally gonna screw
with your brain.

And for ever-how-long you're there,
you really don't know what's gonna happen.

The questions that Grant asks himself
are so unlike

the questions that any other chef
that I know have asked themself.

He's asking himself questions
like, "Can I make that float?"

Or, "Can I make that invisible?"

Or, "Can I hide this food
in front of the guests?"

For Grant, creativity means
doing something that's impossible,

and has never been done and is new.

I think really what they did
when they built Alinea

was start from the very bottom
and think about...

"What is every element of a restaurant
guest experience?

And how can we change it?"

What they've done is

make something that looks and feels
enough like a restaurant

for you to think
that what you're doing is having dinner,

when in reality,
you're having an experience

that you can decide is dinner or theater,

or performance or therapy,
or, you know... [laughs]

whatever the hell you walk away
from feeling and thinking about it.

[indistinct chatter]

[man] But I need centerpiece runners,
12 by 23.

-You ready for these corn?
-[man] Yes, Chef.

Okay, where's my runner?

Walking the centerpieces now, Chef.
I'll get you corn runner, Chef.

[Grant] The leading chefs in the world
know that they can make delicious food.

So, we have to take it a step further.

At Alinea, we're actually trying
to curate an experience.

I want the guest
to have a sense of wonderment.

"What's gonna happen next?"

[air hissing]

They shouldn't go,
"I know what this is gonna be like."

They should expect the unexpected.

There's always been a bit
of a misconception, I feel, that...

we are growing things
in test tubes and petri dishes.

Actually, we're sourcing
as responsible chefs.

And so, we're starting
with a fantastic product,

and then we're twisting it along the way.

We throw out those challenges,
where we go,

"We've got this beautiful thing.
How can you uphold this integrity,

but make it look like something...
nobody's ever seen before?"

We can cut it different ways,

we can purée it, we can foam it.

Or, we can make it look like
something else.

And so the idea was...

What if something looks like a strawberry
but it actually is a tomato?

And have something that looks like
a tomato, but it tastes like a strawberry.

Is it a tomato?
Is it a strawberry?

It's kind of a mind game.

I can give you a slice of bread
and a tomato,

and you could eat it and go,
"Wow, it's delicious."

And you can have
the tomato/strawberry course

with pumpernickel crumb, and you can go...

-[waiter] Order in, two.
-..."Wow, that's delicious, and...

[chuckles] that's really cool."

That's what we have to do, right?

Otherwise, I just give you
a slice of bread and a tomato,

and you go,
"Why am I paying $500 for this?"

[chuckles] Right?

So this is a bread--

French fries for you, garlic aioli,

-then two of the regulars...
-[boy] Me?

-What did you get?
-[boy] The hamburger.

[Grant] I was four and a half

when my mother and father
got their first diner.

I spent more time in a diner
than I did in my actual house.

What do you want?

[Grant] Uncle Norm worked
at the diner as a cook.

And he was the bully uncle.

You never knew
when he was trying to pull a prank

or he was being sincere.

So, we had these pickles.

He would grab a bundle of French fries

and wrap the pickle
around the French fries,

and he would pop one in his mouth.

And I happened to see him.

In my head, I'm going,

"He's doing it so that I do it,
so that he can laugh at me,"

is basically what I was thinking.

I go, "All right. Let me try it."

Reluctantly, I took a little bite,

and it was delicious.
And I go,

"That sounds terrible. It sounds gross.
Why does it... why does it taste good?"

He went through the steps of explaining
why it worked.

You have starch, you have fat,
you have acid, you have salt.

Everything balances. And at that moment,
I fell in love with cooking.

And it wasn't about physical cooking.

For me it was about curiosity,
it was about toying with things.

When I was probably 16,
I would garnish a Western omelet

with an orange twist
and a sprig of parsley or something.

And my dad would be like,
"You're wasting your time.

Food just needs to be hot and fast."

There was never
any elements of expression,

or storytelling or art...

To my father,
it was nothing more than a paycheck.

I thought there has to be something
more than Western omelets and hamburgers.

[Grant] Well, I wonder
if you were able to trick people.

[man] Right.
[Grant] It'd be cool if there was

a silhouette of...

-an orange slice under there.
-[man] Yeah.

And it was dropped in front of somebody,
and they would look through that

and say, "Oh, well,
there's an orange under here."

And then you would lift it and...

it wasn't an orange.
It was something else.

[man] That would be interesting,
if we can have

the food actually play off
of the pattern in the piece.

Then we can basically build
a pattern that

you wouldn't necessarily read as anything
other than a decoration.

That could be really neat. Yeah.

[Grant] It's a fun dynamic to be able
to surprise people with food.

That's always the thing for us.

At every turn,
there's, like, a little twist.

For this current course, it started tiny.

It was the idea of a centerpiece

that's evocative
and produces conversation,

and then, ultimately,
it becomes part of the meal.

Now you have something
that is both beautiful and functional.

So then we take that idea and we just go,

"How many times can we do that
in the course of the meal?"

We took all the tools out of the belt
and we used them all.

[indistinct chatter]

[Grant] You have what appears to be
just a pile of wood on fire.

There's a sense of intrigue
and mystery there

because you don't really know
why the fire is there.

Then we trick you into thinking

the fire is there so that you can take
the pine branches off

with the unagi and the plum
and warm it up.

And then at one point,
as you're eating your way through

all of these other components,

the captain will come over to the table,
remove the fire...

pull apart the fire.

In the middle, you have

a piece of chicken thigh
that's been wrapped in kombu...

roasting in that fire, hidden.

They go, "You're actually cooking
in front of us. We didn't even know it."

And now they have basically
eight courses within a half hour

that are all somehow weaved together.

The thing that's important for me
is the guest has...

the a-ha moment,

where they feel
that they've "discovered" something.

It's like being a kid and opening
the present at Christmas.

Until you lift that lid and peer inside,
you don't really know what's in there.

And then there's the reveal.
And then there's the reward.

It's a magic show.

Thank you. Thank you.
Good night. Thank you.

[Grant] I remember,
when I was at culinary school,

I was just ripping through cookbooks.

And Charlie Trotter's first book
had just come out.

He was taking food to a new place.

That's ultimately what drew me there.

I was diner and culinary school educated.

So, I can cook a mean breakfast.

But I was young and green, and...

I didn't know what fine dining was.

I walked in the kitchen.

It was nothing like I'd ever experienced.

It was... cutthroat.

The cooks would sabotage you.
They wanted to see you fail.

[laughs] There was no teamwork.

And at the pinnacle of this,
at the head of the totem pole,

stands Charlie Trotter.

He was a master manipulator.

He could get inside your head
and make you move like a little puppet,

however he wanted.

Just the idea of

the connection that you have
when you cook for somebody.

There was none of that.
It felt sterile.

It felt stripped away.

It made me question
everything about... cooking.

Maybe I made the wrong decision.

Maybe I'm not good at this.

I told him I needed to leave.

He tells me how, if I leave,

there'll be no record of me
ever working at the restaurant.

I won't amount to anything.

I leave Trotter's defeated,
questioning everything.

I mean, literally, look at this.

-This one's super cool.
-Want me to get more from your house?

-I mean, look at how, just, cool that is.
-That's badass.

-Yeah, yeah. Totally. Totally.
-It looks like a pencil.

-And smell it.

-It's, like...
-Yeah, it's just like--

-...crazy. Yeah.
-Yeah. Awesome.

[Grant] For me, aroma's always
been incredibly important,

in terms of my memory.

That scent of roasted turkey...

[snaps fingers]
immediately transports me back

to when I was ten years old
on Thanksgiving Day surrounded by family.

That's a powerful thing.

If you can capture that,
if you can harness that

to make a...
a great dining experience...

I think it's compelling.

I started thinking about involving smells
into the experience.

How do we insert
seasoning food with aroma?

[Grant] Simon?
[Simon] Yes, Chef?

[Grant] How are the pillows?
[Simon] Pillows are good, Chef.

Ready to go.

[Grant] I had a friend
come back from Amsterdam,

and showed me, uh, a vaporizer.

We started filling the chamber with
all kinds of these really strong aromas,

and we were able to take that aroma,
encapsulate it in a pillow,

and have that flavor a dish at the table.

[Francis] In a restaurant where you are
working in the emotional realm

as much as you're working
in the sensory realm,

scent is gonna be the bridge
between the two that's most direct.

Everyone has that moment
where they smell that first perfume

or that first cologne
that your, like, first date wore.

And you remember it
[snaps fingers] instantly.

It doesn't matter where you are,
how old you are.

You remember it instantly.

When they play with aroma,

they turn a meal
into a truly emotional experience.

We treat the emotional component
of cooking food

as a seasoning.

You add salt, you add sugar,
you add vinegar...

you add nostalgia.

If you're able to move people,
we're moving on to something else.

It's not just about food. It's not just
about a restaurant or eating dinner.

It's about something more.

[Grant] After leaving Trotter's,

I was paging through
a Wine Spectator magazine.

And way in the back,
there was a little paragraph

about this new restaurant

that had just opened in Yountville
called The French Laundry.

I read it and I said,
"You know, I wanna work there."

I go out there, walk in the front door

and the first person I see
is some lanky guy mopping the floor,

so I literally ask if the chef's in.

And he said...

"I'm Thomas."

It was such a departure coming
from Charlie's, management style,

to some guy that was the only one
in the kitchen, mopping the floor.

I started October 28th, 1996.

Thomas had won James Beard
Best Chef: California that year.

The next year he won
Best Chef: United States.

It felt like I was rubbing shoulders
with the master.

I wanted to be Thomas Keller.

And I was super dedicated
to learning how to cook like him.

Everything is analyzed.

Is it perfect?
If it's not, how can we make it perfect?

I just became passionate
about the pursuit of perfection.

After being there for a while,
I felt like I could think like him.

So, I come up with this caviar
and cantaloupe melon dish.

I remember putting it in front of him.

He tasted it, smiled, and said,
"That's really good."

For a young cook, that puts
your confidence at a level that's just--

You're invincible at that point.

And then he said,
"You know what's gonna happen.

We put this dish on the menu...

this is now a Thomas Keller dish
and you'll never be able to do it again.

Are you okay with that?"

[chuckles] Very arrogantly...

I laughed, and I said...

"Plenty more ideas where that came from.
Let's put it on the menu."

Is there a way to expand,
instead of scale, time?

We've never explored time really, right?

Did I lose you?

-That's some Stephen Hawking shit.
-[all laugh]

Let's say we take one component
from all courses

that we then use to make
the final dessert.

All of the flavors
that you just experienced in the meal...

would be represented in the final course.

It'd just require an entire...
You'd have to plan the entire menu.

[Mike Bagale]
We would literally start all over.

[Grant] Mike and I have this conversation
where I go,

"Doing the same thing over and over again
feels boring to me."

And then he'll say, "Well, if you look
at the reservation sheet...

none of the guests
that are coming in tonight

have ever been to this restaurant before.

So for them it's all new."

And I go, "But, yeah, but...
what about us?"

[Mike] Every night,
we'll look at our menu.

It's like, "Oh, we've been doing this
for three months.

It's time for that to go."

And sometimes the process
just starts from that,

on a night we just look at the menu.

Absolutely crazy thought process,
but it's completely necessary.

[Grant] What is important?

Is it... a signature dish?

No, it's about having
a restaurant with philosophy,

where the creativity is the priority.

We could have created
a greatest hits menu...

but, I think, if we do that,

we fall into that trap of...
almost counter-creativity.

I don't think Wednesday night,

we're gonna put out the best meal
that we've ever put out.

But I think it's important
to recognize the fact that...

we're putting out different meals.


To me, the evolution of the experience
is almost more important.

[bees buzzing]

[Grant] Thomas Keller was certainly
pushing boundaries and avant-garde.

But I was always wanting to go
a little bit further.

And he recognized that and encouraged it.

He arranged for me to go work
at El Bulli for a week.

When I walked into El Bulli,

the first thing Ferran did was
put me in the dining room...

and fed me a meal.

There was translucent risotto
that looked like glass.

There was a latex glove
that waved at you as you left.

It felt like I was on Mars.

Ferran was like, "This is not only
meant to satisfy you here.

It's meant to stimulate you here."

And when I came back
to The French Laundry, I was just...

super excited to go down
my own path of exploration.

[machinery whirring]

I was rolling agnolotti,
and I pick up a leg of duck confit.

The gelatin from the cooking liquid
starts melting in my hand.

I realize this solid
is turning into a liquid

because of my body temperature.

In my head, I'm going,
"I need to get that really cold

so that I can manipulate it
into pasta."

The solid becomes a liquid
inside the pasta,

and now we got something
completely different.

I made it, put it on my cutting board,
and took a spoon and crushed it.

And the duck liquid
just came spreading out.

It exploded.

And what is explosive flavor?

And it just became obvious
that it had to be truffle.

And I started thinking,
"What more can come of this?"

What if this was
the nature of your cuisine...

were these interesting plays
on surprise and texture and aroma?

One of the cooks saw me create it,

and he came up to me and said,
"Thomas won't let you serve that."

It became pretty clear to me that
I needed to define how I wanted to cook.

In order for me to do that...

I had to leave The French Laundry.

I had to leave
those confines of the rules.

Trio was my first job
where I was in charge.

That's where
I really started to hit a stride,

and that's where I met Nick.

[Nick Kokonas] My wife and I
went to dinner at Trio.

This was in suburban Chicago.

And all of a sudden, there was
this, like, amazing, beautiful, elegant

and, importantly, delicious food
coming out of the kitchen.

And I said to this waiter,
"What's going on?"

He said, "We got this kid
from The French Laundry,

and he's blowing our minds."

It was just the best restaurant
in the world at the time,

and nobody knew it.

[Grant] I went out there one evening
and said, "How was everything?"

He looked at me and he goes, "If you ever
want to open a restaurant of your own...

I would like to help you."

At Trio, I came into
a preexisting restaurant

that had these limitations.

With this opportunity,
I could establish my style.

[Nick] Four days later,
at 5:30 in the morning,

I got an email from Grant that said,

"If you're serious,
I'd like to talk to you about this."

I woke my wife up and said,

"We're gonna build
a restaurant with Grant."

[man] Let's go! Break it down.
[all] Yeah!

[Grant] I was fixated
on finding a symbol

that we could make a logo out of.

There was this late-night
googling session,

and found the...
the alinea symbol...

and then looked at the definition.

It was this perfect meaning.

The beginning of a new train of thought.

The whole philosophy
of the restaurant

is going to be, "This is new...

and then it's new again.
And it's new again. And it's new again."

[man] Here, let's plug the anti-griddle
in over here, okay?

[Nick] To me, it was like,

"Hey, this will be
an interesting interlude for a year.

I will help this really amazing guy

achieve one of his goals,
which is always a great thing."

But it became evident to me that it was
more important than I thought it was.

He had genuinely believed from the time
he was, like, 12 years old

this is what he was building up to be.

[Grant] We gather the staff, and I say,

"Everybody just needs
to believe the fact...

that we're about to open
the best restaurant...

in the country.

And anything less will be a failure."

A week later, we opened.

First night, we got the most important
food critics in the country...

in the dining room.

On night one.

[Nick] We got three pages in
the New York Times

two days after we opened.

I'm getting calls from everybody
I know in the country. [chuckles]


[Grant] The most important
food critic in the world

called me and said,

"We've selected you for the number one
restaurant in the country."

It was an explosion of work
and excitement and creativity.

Everything's just moving
in the right direction.

I had this overwhelming
sense of gratification

because this dream
that was out there since I was ten

had been accomplished.

When I was at Trio, I was noticing
a little white dot on my tongue.

If I had something really acidic
or if I drank hot coffee,

it was painful.

I went to the dentist and they said,

"You're 28 years old,
you work 18 hours a day,

you're stressed,
you're career-driven.

You're biting your tongue."

During the period
where Nick and I are building Alinea,

it continued to be a problem.

I couldn't eat. I couldn't drink.
I could barely talk.

But during this whole time I'm going,
"I'm creating my dream right now."

And so, it just got pushed away...

until the point where it got so bad...

that you just couldn't ignore it anymore.

He looked like a heroin addict
or something like that.

His hair had just started to get thin,

and he just...
he looked like a drug addict.

And this is a guy
who never did a drug in his life.

And I was like,
"Dude, you're wearing yourself down."

He's like, "No, it's this tongue thing.
I can't eat well...

and all that. And I've got..."

[stammers] He took gum,
and he was putting it over it.

And I literally pulled him
into our polishing room,

like... [chuckling] "Show me your tongue,"

which, you know, sounds...
And he was like, "No!

Dude, why am I showing you my tongue?"
You know?

I was like, "Let me see your tongue."

He showed it to me and I was like,
"Jesus Christ, like...

You gotta go to a doctor.

Skip the dentist.
Go to an oral surgeon."

[Grant] I go to the oral surgeon
and got a biopsy.

Two days later, the secretary
at the office called me and said,

"Mr. Achatz, we would really
like for you to come in.

We have your results."

And I'm like, "Just tell me.

Like, we're on the phone.
Just tell me what's going on."

They wouldn't tell me.

We go in.
Nick is in the room with me.

The guy says,

"I'm sorry to say that
you have stage IV-B cancer."

And in my head I'm like, "All right.
So there's like, ten stages, right?

How serious is this?"

And he goes, "We're gonna need
to remove three-quarters of your tongue,

all of your left mandible
and both sides of your neck.

And there's a 70% chance
that you're still gonna die."

I looked him in the eye and said,

"Are there any other options?"

And he said, "In my opinion, no."

It's one thing to go,
"Oh, I wonder how I'm gonna die."

It's another thing to be told,
"You're gonna die."

I felt bad for other people.

I felt bad for my kids...

not to have their dad.

[Nick] I could see
that he was shutting down.

I was like, "Okay, let's get out of here."

And so we went across the street,
got a pitcher of margaritas,

and we just got drunk.

[Grant] We sat there,
and he's like, "What are you gonna do?"

And I go...

"I'm just gonna die."

[Nick] He definitely did not want to exist

without the ability to do what he viewed
as his core personal identity.

He wanted my approval to not have
this dismembering surgery.

He was gonna choose to die
as gracefully as he possibly could.

That's not a good place to get to.

[Nick] We realized that
it was gonna get out to the press,

and so, I said to him,
"Let's draft something."

[train bell ringing]

I drafted it.
He had no interest in even reading it.

He's like, "I'll be dead in three months.
What difference does it make?"

By putting that in the paper, though,
it's public knowledge.

And now, the University of Chicago
is trying desperately to get a hold of me.

And they get my home phone number,
and they call and they say,

"Get him in here.

We can help."

[Grant] They look me over,
they do an exam.

They confirm what everybody else said
in terms of the diagnosis, right?

They're like,
"Yes, you have stage IV cancer."

And then they go, "However...

we think we can do this without surgery.

And we think that you'll have
about a 70% survival rate."

So, it was basically the inverted
version of what everyone else is saying.

And they just went... [whistles]
Like that.

It was an experimental clinical trial.

They were thinking differently,

pulling apart the model,
putting it back together.

I said, "Where do I sign?"

And they whip out the paper
and away we go.

[Nick] In two days, we went from

accepting the fact
that he was gonna choose to die to...

he's going for chemo.

[Grant] It was 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

I would get there at 5:30 in the morning,
take the chemotherapy.

Then I would come back
to the restaurant, prep,

go back down there for my second round...

and then make my way up here for service.

Physically, I was in pretty rough shape.

They radiated me
from the tip of my nose to my collarbone.

It basically gave me a super bad sunburn.

And then that skin died.

And then it shed.

So, literally, everything
just kind of got stripped away,

including my taste buds.

[Dave] When Achatz
first went into treatment,

he didn't believe
he was gonna lose his taste.

There were days
we were tasting stuff out,

and all of a sudden he'd say,
"This needs way more salt."

We'd all look at him and he'd be like,
"This has enough salt, doesn't it?"

We'd be like, "Yes, Chef."

[Grant] I realized that I...

I couldn't taste.

All the charting and scans were showing
tumor size reduction.

But, the doctors couldn't tell me
with any certainty...

that I would ever be able to taste again.

How can you be a chef?
How can you cook...

and not be able to taste?

[Dave] He was lost.

The one thing that he did, he couldn't do.

That was it.
That was his entire life there.

[Grant] Everybody was fearful
that the restaurant would get really slow.

I felt like I had to prove
that I was still in the game.

I feel like the determination kicked in.

We need to keep showing people
that we're still innovating.

[Dave] He would sketch a dish on paper
and take a photo of it and send it to us.

He'll be like, "Burnt bread purée.
Make sure it's burnt.

Season it with this acid,
but not too acidic."

We'd go back and forth
on the scale of, like,

"If a pickle's a five and bread's a one,
how acidic do you want it?"

That, I found, was really
the best way to understand

what things should taste like.

[Grant] There was a light bulb
that went off and said...

"For the first time ever,
I think I can be a chef

without being able to taste.

Because it's up here.

It's not here."

[Dave] This is gonna kind of sound weird,

but I honestly think him being sick
taught him how to be a chef.

Before, it was always he had to do it,

and he would plate the dish
for the first week or two weeks

before anyone was allowed to plate it.

Now he's creating food
without ever touching it.

We can figure out something better.

[Grant] I realized that,
to make a world-class restaurant,

you can't do it yourself.

You have to take the voice
of all these people.

So I said, "We need to engender this.

We shouldn't box it in.
We should blow it out."

[indistinct chatter]

I remember sitting at the table
with the chefs, and I go,

"Back in 2002,
I had this idea where we inflated

a piece of cheese.

But what if this was floating?

We should try to come up
with food that floats."

And Mike just said, "I'll do that."

And everybody else just went quiet
because they knew, like,

"Wow, that's...
You're basically asking the impossible."

[Mike] In my opinion, the best medium
to make things float would be sugar.

So I started playing around with sugar.
Different sugars, different ratios,

and started to come up with something that

was semi-reasonable,
but didn't have any structure.

I could inflate sugar,

but I couldn't actually get
beautiful shapes or anything.

They're actually
pretty horrific-looking shapes.

The key to it was making the sugar stable.

Once we had just a combination of sugars,

with some stabilizer,
at the right temperature,

it started to take shape across
the kitchen and it wasn't falling apart.

When we pulled the first balloon
and sat it down...

we were like,
"Okay, this is a monumental achievement."

[Grant] I said to Mike,
"As soon as that goes on the menu,

that's an Alinea dish forever.

Are you okay with that?"

[Mike] I was like,

"This would be really cool
if I had created this for myself."

[chuckles] Like, if I...

Or maybe I shoulda held on
to this one for my own repertoire later.

But this is an Alinea dish now.

[Grant] All chefs want to be known
for using a knife.

Cutting, creating, sautéing...
doing all of that.

But maybe that's not
the most important thing.

Maybe the most important thing is
taking that idea, that little nugget...

and handing it to someone else.

And then next thing you know...

somebody's holding a balloon.

[man] ...and two Graffiti.
That's ten now.

Three deuces and a four-top by ten more...
One's an OL veg.

[Grant] I remember coming out
of the anesthesia after the surgery,

where they took the biopsy.

Dr. Blair said, "You're clean."

I was cancer-free.

A few weeks later, I wake up,
dumped a bunch of sugar in my coffee...

took a swig...

and thought to myself, "God, it's sweet!

It's really sweet."

And then I put the cup down...

kind of looked at it,
took another drink and was like...

"Wow, I can taste sugar now.

It's coming back."

A month later, I'm grabbing
three finger pinches of salt

and just throwing 'em on my tongue...

and then I could taste salt.

It started to come back in waves.

But the interesting thing was...

when everything started
colliding together.

When we're born,

we have a very limited ability
to perceive flavor.

And as you get older,
you're able to discern more.

But you're so young, you're not
able to have that flavor memory.

And you're not intelligent enough,
at that point,

to figure out how
all of those things work in synergy.

I got to experience that as a 33-year-old.

To me, it was revelatory.

To me, it was like...
my whole world just changed, as a chef.

I was on fire with...

an amount of energy
that I think I've never had before...

because I got a second chance
and I didn't want to screw it up.

[Grant] After I got better,
I was concerned that people were gonna

only know who I was because I had this...

ironic health scare.

I was labeled,
"The chef that couldn't taste."

But now we have the opportunity
to make a very solid break

and start again.

[Nick] There's a need
to feel alive in anybody.

And the way that it works
for Grant is that,

he works at something, works at something,
works at something, creates it...

He goes, "Oh, now I need to go
do something radically different."

And new is

a way of feeling like
he's propelling himself forward.

Imagine if you have
a wall covered with canvas

and we threw sauces on it.

And then they came up

and scrape the sauces off
with their spoon, right?

We wouldn't do that.

But is there a way
to think about it like that?

[Dave] There have been times
where we've literally looked at him

and he's been like,
"You know what? Scrap all those dishes.

Just get rid of them all."
And you're like,

"This is good. What are you...
Why are we getting rid of this?"

With him, there's always the hunt
for, like, "What's the cooler plate?

What's the better plate up?
What's the better ingredient?

Where's the better place to go?

What's the better thing to do?"

[Grant] What if you went like this?

Get the smoke going

and then pour the cocktail base
and it would just...

-That... that should be the new decanter.

-That should be the new decanter.
-Seriously. Right.

[Francis] We talk about creativity
and we talk about innovation.

That's at the core of what Grant does.

We wanna lionize him
and romanticize him for that.

But you can't be creative
and you can't be innovative

without being risky.

That's the thing that's also
so interesting and so dangerous.

Because now they've done so much
for ten years on.

What can you keep doing that's new,
that people will still like?

And will you destroy yourself
or destroy your reputation,

or destroy the restaurant as a business...

in the pursuit of doing something new?

How are you gonna know?
How are you gonna know if it's gonna work?

[Grant] The whole idea
with this layout is to...

make this a room that is like a chameleon.

I mean, this is what
we've all been talking about.

We're closing
the restaurant in January to renovate,

and, obviously, use that downtime

to learn and create new techniques
and a new style of serving.

[Grant] We're ripping apart a restaurant
that is working incredibly well.

It's the busiest it's ever been.

Why fix something that's not broken?

Well, because if we're wholeheartedly
gonna uphold that philosophy

that we started ten years ago...

"The beginning of
a new train of thought..."

I feel like that's our obligation.

We have to just make it a clean slate.

Now, we're asking ourselves...

"Can we eliminate what we've been doing
for the last ten years...

and start over?"

And, uh... the answer is, "Yeah."