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Chef, Philosopher, or Painter?
on February 22, 2014
At a crucial point in the film, the business partner of Grant Achatz -- the executive chef at Alinea in Chicago -- describes speaking to a doctor who is treating Mr. Achatz. The doctor says that he may not only be able to save Mr. Achatz's tongue and jaw, but that same doctor may be able to save the patient's life as well. The business partner's response? "Well, you're either a genius or you're crazy." The doctor's response? "Well, why can't I be a little bit of both?" Supposedly, the two restaurateurs at that point knew they had their medical man.
And when you first start watching this documentary, you're not really sure if you have the best movie. It does take a little time to get moving -- unlike most of the stars of this show, who get moving long before the sun comes up -- but once it does, this film just might move you. It sure did me. I don't like shedding a tear during a film, and I sadly admit that I did a couple of times while watching Mr. Achatz describe his cancer issues.
But I will tell you this: Mr. Achatz has some brass ones. I kept thinking, "Man, if I were in his shoes, I would surely just use those shoes to find me a very tall cliff." But that's not how this guy rolls. Listening to interviews with his mentors such as Thomas Keller, you will quickly realize that Mr. Achatz is a truly special guy.
(They show Mr. Keller more than once here at The French Laundry, and I actually wish they would have featured him and his world-class restaurant even more. Update on 2014Mar3: my wife and I walk by The French Laundry at least once every two or three months, as we live near Yountville, and we really like that quaint little town. Who doesn't? Yesterday, we finally ate there, as we were lucky enough to secure an 11 AM lunch reservation. Perhaps Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie cancelled last minute, since they realized that they had to be in LA for the Academy Awards that evening? At any rate, the food is fantastic, but the service is even better; they seem to go out of their way to make you feel as if you're home, and they do better than a great job of making you feel comfortable with your dining decision. But would I recommend it? Well, sure, if you have the money I suppose. Let's just say that there was a brand new yellow Lamborghini parked out front, and my guess: whoever owned it was really the only person inside who could truly afford the experience without feeling guilty. After all, you will drop just shy of a grand minimum for two people. Yes; that is a one with three zeroes. I will give the restaurant a 4.5 out of 5, if it were ratable on Amazon, of course. End update.)
There are other players here: a German family in Iowa who have had their restaurant burn down at least twice, and a Mexican family with their past money issues and current restaurant. But the real star here, in my opinion, is Mr. Achatz. But he, just like Mr. Keller, would argue that a chef is not the star; the star is the restaurant -- any one of those restaurants, as he now has at least two -- and that restaurant needs to carry on its own legacy long after the master chef is gone.
Why can't doctors be both geniuses and crazy? And why can't chefs be cooks, philosophers, and painters? I would argue that Mr. Achatz is all three, just like those three Michelin stars that his restaurant was awarded. But I'll give five stars today on a truly modern-day moving picture.