Following a dinner at Next and then a visit to the still-unopened Aviary, Chicagoist food editor Anthony Todd posted two articles to the site: first a review, then a rant.
We commented on both yesterday. The review was fairly glowing, save a couple of small critiques. The rant on the other hand told a story about how Todd felt he was being attacked by chef/owner Grant Achatz after Todd was seen taking photos in the lounge and was asked not to. Todd said he put away his camera at that point, but that Achatz came across the room and essentially berated him in the open Aviary space. However, Achatz emailed us about an hour after our post went live that Todd was actually using a flash and was asked not to because "Aviary is a dimly lit room and this was very disruptive and unprofessional."
Achatz's email, which is in full below, included a response to a comment left after Todd's post, in which a reader said they claimed to know someone who had worked with Achatz in Michigan who said the chef used to chew tobacco. That comment was in reply to another that said, somewhat ignorantly, "I don't understand why Achatz is still allowed to have restaurants. Guy gave himself tongue cancer...isn't anyone concerned that his experimental food might be too experimental?"
Mr. Todd dined at Next and then was invited to take part in a friends and family preview that we were running that night at the Aviary. We have been running previews and tests of different drinks, food, and serviceware over the past couple of weeks in preparation for our opening. To be clear, neither Mr. Todd nor anyone else at the Aviary that night was charged for food, drinks, or service. They were all our guests.
Craig Schoettler noticed that someone was taking pictures with a flash. The Aviary is a dimly lit room and this was very disruptive and unprofessional. Craig approached the PR person who dined that evening with Mr. Todd -- as he knew her -- and asked nicely that her companion stop taking pictures. Shortly thereafter another picture was taken. Craig went back and said that if he is going to shoot pictures, at least shut off the flash. I was told by our manager that as Craig came to get me more flash photography took place. Once I heard that, I told Mr. Todd ... in no uncertain terms to stop.
I don't often lose my cool in the kitchen, and never have in the dining room. Mr. Todd, however, tells only part of the story. We have at Alinea always allowed guests to take non-flash photography. This was a friends and family preview, he was repeatedly asked not to take pictures with a flash, and yet he persisted in doing so since he thought he was getting some sort of scoop. Given the opportunity, I would do the exact same thing again. Almost anyone would.
Glad he enjoyed the meal at Next.
As far as the comment about me chewing tobacco in Michigan ... it's laughable. I would love to know who this is and who EXACTLY they know, that worked with me, that confirmed I chewed tobacco. The funny thing is I have never had a cigarette in my mouth, NEVER chewed tobacco, and never took my first sip of alcohol until wines class at the Culinary Institute of America.
It frustrates me that people with no knowledge make these comments about a very serious thing. Today, with the Internet being the predominate source of information, we all need to censor ourselves, so we don't deceive the masses.
What do you think—was Achatz feeling the pressure of the night as Todd implies or did Todd disrespect the staffs' requests to stop taking photos? Leave a comment.
· Review: Next [Chicagoist]
· Foodie Rant: On Hype, Customer Service and the Forces Behind the Restaurant Business [Chicagoist]
· Chicagoist Has Two Decidedly Different Experiences at Next [~EChi~]
Grant Achatz [Photo: YouTube]