If you’ve ever eaten at Alinea or Next (and even if you haven’t), you’ve probably wondered exactly what goes through Grant Achatz’s head when he’s devising dishes. Dessert plated right on the table? Dishes served on pillows of scented air? A new film, Spinning Plates, now showing at Landmark Theaters, offers a glimpse into his thought process.
The documentary, which began filming in 2010, focuses on three very different restaurants around the country facing huge struggles. There’s Achatz, running Alinea and in the process of opening Next when he gets a cancer diagnosis. There's Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, which opened in 1852 and burned down not once, but twice in the last few years. And there's La Cocina de Gabby in Tucson, Arizona, a family-run Mexican restaurant struggling financially.
Overall, Spinning Plates is a compelling story about what goes into a restaurant and the different roles that restaurants (and food) play in people’s lives. But the Alinea portion was most fascinating, since it offered access we don’t normally have.
The film goes behind the scenes, into the kitchen at Alinea, where Achatz explains some of the different tools used to create the dishes there—there’s a machine that uses pine needles to make pine-scented air and another that gets incredibly cold and can freeze ingredients that can’t normally be frozen. In another segment, he and the other chefs attempt to figure out a way to turn a twisted fork sculpture into a serving piece, an idea inspired by a painting Achatz saw in London.
Next chef Dave Beran and owner Nick Kokonas both appear as well. Kokonas talks about the toll the cancer diagnosis took on Achatz and explains how they conceived the concept for Next, which was still a gutted space while the movie was filming. When describing the concept, Achatz references 1960s New York as a potential theme—and as he’s teased over the past week on his Twitter, a steakhouse is up next. We don’t know if that’s related, but we’re envisioning an old school steakhouse theme, and we kind of love it.