Diners at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant expect to taste the unexpected: butterscotch and bacon; juniper and quince, rabbit and the smell of burning leaves. But when that food arrives on the table punctured by and suspended on wobbling spikes and clusters of wires in place of plates and cutlery, they’re surprised.
Chef/owner Grant Achatz collaborated with designer Martin Kastner and his Crucial Detail studio to create a line of intimidating, convoluted, yet delightful serviceware. Recently these pieces became available to the general public.
The prices are high. But compared with more traditional specialty serviceware, such as Thomas Keller’s dishware, which includes a small porcelain spoon for $39, the Crucial Detail pieces seem reasonable. Plus you don’t need to buy both plates and silverware when using them, because they serve as both. They’re made of stainless steel, so they aren’t likely to scratch, chip, or break, and they can go in the dishwasher. They can be buffed to look shiny and new, after they’re not.
Although the pieces are futuristic looking, your cooking doesn’t have to be. They’d transform chicken nuggets, Swedish meatballs, or pork rinds into sculptural pieces. They’re best used, however, with adventurous food served for an audience. Best of all, they’re true conversation pieces—the most desirable ingredient at any dinner party. Some assembly is required.
Crucial Detail, $35
A small but heavy upright cylindrical base about the diameter of a quarter anchors six wire prongs. A wafer-thin perforated disc that slides up and down holds these vertical wires together. The Squid was designed to embrace a delicate batter-fried morsel while allowing air to flow around it.
For a futuristic Thanksgiving, you could suspend chunks of sous-vide cooked turkey thighs fried in a tempura batter, seasoned with crushed deep-fried sage leaves, skewered onto a smoking branch that diners could grab as they would a handle. Of course, make sure it’s no longer on fire when served.
Crucial Detail, $35
The Bow is a wire stretched across a rockinghorse-like base. To “plate” your food on the Bow, you may need to poke a hole through the item with the tip of paring knife, then thread your dish on the crosswire. The Bow was created to show off the translucence of some of Alinea’s dishes—for instance, a nearly transparent and shatteringly crispy slice of Nueske’s bacon suspended with a drizzle of butterscotch holding thin ribbons of dehydrated apple purée and a tiny thyme leaf.
Crucial Detail, $25
The Antenna gets a big crowd reaction at Alinea—usually nervous laughter followed by dead silence. Servers instruct diners to lean in and wrap their mouths around a single long, menacing-looking wire—without using their hands. It’s like a modern version of bobbing for apples.
The Antenna is meant to force diners to focus on a single bite—which they will do for fear of skewering an eye or a nostril. In the process, they’re meant to discover the progression of flavors and textures that Achatz has strategically planned by the layered placement of chunks and tiny garnishes on the skewer.
Picture this: a mouthful of ginger syrup glazed Delicata squash topped with toasted homemade marshmallow and dusted with Microplaned Marcona almond served on the quivering Antenna. Not your grandmother’s Thanksgiving marshmallow dish.