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                                                                                                                             Thanks, Donna

Only it's not really a cookbook.  I received a copy last week and am posting now about it to say that it is real and that it is extraordinary.  I wrote the introduction, which is not why it's extraordinary, and Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an essay on what it's like to dine at Alinea, and Michael Nagrant and Mark McClusky (Wired editor who wrote about Achatz here) also contributed essays, good stuff all, but that's to be expected.

Alinea is a big fat book weighing more than 6 1/2 pounds (3 kilos), exquisitely photographed, designed and packaged.  Again, to be expected, all of which it excels at, and the book will surely hold it's own against this season's big books from the most innovative chefs working today.

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What makes Alinea extraordinary—beyond the difficult task it set out to accomplish, which was to create a sense of the restaurant in book form and which it, in my not-unbiasesd opinion, achieves—is the nature of its creation.  Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas, along with designer Martin Kastner and his wife, photographer Lara Kastner, wanted to do it on their own and so they have.  Kastner, I believe a sculptor by trade, had never designed a book.  His wife had never photographed a book, food or otherwise.  Grant and Nick had never done a book either.  And they were told by numerous publishers (in a nasally dismissive tone, Kokonas suggested) that they just didn't have the skill or experience to do what they wanted to ("Gray pages?!  You can't do gray pages!"  "You can't sell a book like this at that price.")  And yet here they have excelled at every level.  And they've created a website that works in tandem with the book, eventually to be available to all.  Not least of the group's accomplishments may not be visible when you see the book—the publishing model Kokonas created, which allows the publisher 10 Speed Press, to sell it at a competitive price (Kokonas discusses it here).  How competitive a price?

Donna, mouth open at the beauty of it, leafing through my early copy asked, "How much is this?  Like a hundred and fifty?"

"Fifty," I said.  She couldn't believe it.  I showed Symon my copy and when I told him the price he said, "That, is sick."

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Kokonas puts it even more bluntly. "Thirty-one fifty at Amazon."

It's a big heavy art food documentary book.  $31.50.

Will it be criticized?  No doubt many will take pot shots at it for the difficulty of the recipes, but that would be a little silly.  This is not a home-cook book.  This is a document of the exact recipes the Alinea brigade uses.  It's very complex stuff and some of the techniques are difficult to pull off, requiring a good deal of skill and delicacy.  I am really eager to hear what critics, and the market, have to say about this ambitious book and it's innovative publishing strategy.

Kokonas ordered a first printing of 50,000 books.  Half, Kokonsas said, have been presold.

UPDATE 9/5: In related news, the new Harper Collins imprint, HarperStudio, has signed a deal with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which owns the Emeril  Lagasse brand, to publish 10 Emeril Lagasse books.  Crain's New York Business reports that MSLO will earn 50% of the royalties in exchange for a lower advance.  I liked this model when it benefited the author, who traditionally earned 15% royalties.  I find it less satisfying when that that author is a corporation.  I hope we get to know who is actually writing these things.

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41 Wonderful responses to “Alinea, the cookbook”

  • Nicholas Paldino

    Having been fortunate enough to dine at Alinea and meet Mr. Achatz, I am very much looking forward to this book. I’ve had it on pre-order from Amazon from the day that it was announced.

    I agree, this is not the typical home-chef cookbooks, but I am sure that whomever ordered it will be able to take away something from it which will make them better cooks in the end.

  • Darcie

    I have had it pre-ordered for months too. I don’t know if I even possess the skills to make anything in the book but I look forward to the challenge and inspiration. I’ve visited the website a couple of times and it’s intriguing, but I haven’t had time to try anything. I’ve been traveling a lot this summer, so for once I’m eagerly anticipating cold weather as then I might have time to absorb the cookbook and perhaps try some of the ambitious projects.

  • NYCook

    Congragulation to Chef Achatz, he has gone through a hell of a lot the last couple of years, congragulations to him on what I am sure will be an amazing book.

    Whoever said all recipes and cooking should be easy. If that were the case I would be out of a job.

  • Greely

    Michael,

    I think it’s great that Grant and his partners stepped up and decided to go outside their comfort zone and do this cookbook. I for one will be ordering a copy of this as soon as this comment is posted.

    The fact that it came out so wonderful is no surprise since it comes from the very gifted Chef Grant Achatz. It’s very similar to your going out on a limb and wanting to do a cookbook for The French Laundry when you hadn’t done a cookbook before either. That too came out wonderful as well.

    I’m very happy to see that he is also keeping the cost affordable so a lot of different people will be able to purchase this.

    “The greatest failure is the failure to try.”

  • amber

    well, from the pictures, it looks beautiful. very modern and chic. even if the recipes are out of range for most people that is quite a piece of eye candy! 🙂

  • Jeff

    Please note this correction to my previous comment:

    I was unaware that I mistakenly ordered two copies of the cookbook online. That accounts for the higher fee that I mentioned above. Chalk it up to irrational exuberence.

    My thanks to those involved with the cookbook’s production, especially Nick Kokonas, for taking time today to quickly chase down the reason for that discrepancy. I apologize for any embarassment the comment caused.

    That being said, I can’t wait to see the book. The Web site blew me away.

  • Derek

    It’s definitely not a book geared towards home cooks, but I don’t
    think it’s completely inaccessible either. I’ve done a few of the
    recipes that are posted on the Mosaic, and from experience I can say
    that skill is less of a barrier than access to special equipment and
    ingredients. A fact that’s fortunate for me, as I’ve got more kitchen
    toys than skill.

    Take the “Verjus” recipe (sample page is on the Mosaic), for
    example. Skillwise, it doesn’t involve much more than heating a few
    liquids and whisking. Equipment requirements, on the other hand, are a
    bit more daunting. You’ll need to have a juicer, hemisphere molds, an
    iSi canister and an immersion blender. If you pass the equipment
    requirements, you’ll also need to source a few ingredients that you
    probably don’t already have in your pantry: calcium citrate, sodium
    alginate, gelatin sheets, fresh lemon thyme (check your local nursery)
    and of course verjus.

    Many of the recipes are complicated, but the payoffs are big. The
    boldness of the flavors and the amazing variety of textures make for
    truly memorable food. Even if you don’t ever make anything in the
    book, the recipes are incredibly fun to read. They’re full of
    intriguing flavor combinations and textural techniques you can
    replicate in simplified forms. It’s the very fact that this book is
    not geared towards the home cook that makes it so unique and
    interesting to read.

  • Charlotte

    Congrats for doing it the way they wanted and at the price they wanted — How on earth they did it for fifty bucks is as astonishing as the food they create. And I’m so excited, this is the perfect (perfect!) Christmas present for someone I know! Yay. One down. I love finding a perfect gift.

  • veron

    I have ordered this book months back from the Alinea website, can’t wait to receive my copy which I believe will ship October 15. So excited.

  • carri

    I happily by-passed the discount on amazon and went to the source, if I could have paid more than $50, I would have, because inspiration like this shouldn’t come cheap!

  • chadzilla

    This was the first book announcement that launched was is to be the best fall cookbook season ever (this is no exaggeration). The excitement was sparked when I heard Chef Achatz on the cookbook panel for the Star Chefs 2007 ICC in New York. He sat up there with the most famous (and infamous) cookbook publishers and writers (Jeffrey Steingarten to his right). He spoke of their initial need to stick to their guns as far as full creative control. He spoke of self-publishing, then later of his deal with 10 speed. I remember the excitement of what I hoped would be a definite change in the genre of the cookbook… books that chefs wanted to own, and not books that were published because they looked good on the strategically positioned holiday season book rack at Barnes & Nobles.
    Hopefully, many other books of this type will surface. It’s all about freedom of information and expression. I’m sure there will be many self (or partially self-) published cookbooks to come… some good, some not so good. At least we will have more freedom at what to choose to spend our hard-earned kitchen paychecks on.
    If you cannot log on to Alinea-Mosaic due to lack of a password, then you can see an affiliated sample page that talks about some of the more modern ingredients in the professional kitchen. Although the site appears to be unfinished and partially blocked off, you can view a page of it at http://postmodern-pantry.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

  • Seth Haynes

    I didn’t realize they had pre-sold so many copies. I had to break my rules of not pre-ordering. Plus I made the choice to order from the website so I could get a signed copy (and feel good about where all of the money was going).
    While I was breaking the rules for one book i also pre-ordered big fat duck too.
    This blog has cost me so much money. Thank you.

  • diego

    I pre-ordered the book a while ago and I was thinking about getting the book for a fellow cook. Does buying it from amazon still get you access to mosaic? Or do you have to wait until October?

  • Amy

    Ooh you’ve peaked my interest (ok when haven’t you?) I WILL be checking out this book….

  • Kate in the NW

    kristin, I’m right there with you. The food is art, the book is art, and by fiercely independent and creative people (my favorite kind).

    As far as actually cooking any of this stuff, I wouldn’t begin to presume. I can barely handle Bouchon.

    Will I buy it anyway? HELL yes! For the same reason all you guys out there buy Playboy…
    the articles, of course!!!! 😉

  • Messy

    I love it when people put something together not knowing that they aren’t supposed to be able to do it that way. It speaks to a determination and creativity that is lacking in so many fields now.

    My mantra has always been “how hard can it be?”, and while I frequently find out just how hard something really is (I will never make a plumber), I never have regretted trying. No matter what happens, I always learn from these things.

    Hopefully the next print runs of this book are at triple the price. That is probably the correct price point, and it would be worth it at that price as well. Congratulations to everyone who worked to make this gorgeous piece of art.

  • luis

    Way Out Michael… Bravo for you and Chef Achatz. Best of luck to you guys. This is leading edge culinary stuff. My knowledge of cooking and my recipe database just grows in this fertil blogplains.
    I am now working of fresh pasta and homemade tomato sauce with chitake mushrooms for tomorrow. Two or three blogs back…. but it’s the best I can do. In college I once sat in a philosophy class curios about logic and other things. Well the teach proved to me that some folks are further along than others and the most depressing thing was that he showed me there would be no catching up…ever. You see folks moving out and pushing the envelope move and then I move and then they move…and there is no catching up!
    But with the advent of technology..folks stopped trying to catch up. They realized catching up was futile. So the term ” LEAP FROG” became the battle cry of the NON-MICROSOFT world… and you know what?…
    to date… my weird looking proffessor of phylosophy…has been totally right!. So what’s the point Michael? who needs this leading edge stuff???? I mean honestly. What would I do with foam this and that???? and when on a good day I manage a meal o’tha day…what would I want with a 100+ course meal???? I mean? what’s the point?

  • JoP in Omaha

    Thanks for the review, Michael. It’s awesome that the book turned out so well…and at a bargain price. I’ve been waiting for this, and now even more I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  • Jacki

    Alinea is a brilliantly executed fine dining experience and this gorgeous book appears to capture Chef Achatz’s vision and true genius. Congratulations, Chef Achatz. A bon sante!

  • HappyHoarfrost

    I love a happy story, a happy beautifully photographed story even more. The fact that Achatz has come out on the positive side of his personal food ironies of the past couple of years?–that alone is inspiring.

    I received Alinea’s oval bowl as a gift, and I’m telling you this: I just like to LOOK at it. Even air looks good in that thing. You could fill it up and noisily slurp Natty Bo’ out of it and elevate it to the level of “elixir.”
    My point is:
    I’m excited about this book–what it means and makes “accessible”–whether I will MAKE the dishes is kind of irrelevant.
    As usual, Kate in the NW has fingered it: seriously, what’s wrong with a girl stroking her aesthetic sensibilities with a tome like this? You fellas have been doing it for years…Do you really expect to go home with the centerfold?
    Not that I won’t try.

  • luis

    Well, It is great no doubt and has substance again no doubt. In my mind it doesn’t compete with any other cuisine. These guys are leapfrogging over all previous cuisines and creating something different. Fascinating, the more things change the more they stay the same. The wrenching competition I am used to in high tech unfolding in this traditional culinary sector of the economy. This is the reason seasoned chefs like Bourdain, Jose Andrea and many many others are so excited by this effort. This book draws a line in the ground between Traditional and Modern if you will. What’s next? to package it and mass produce it. Oh yes this is the POINT!. Make it available, put it in the supermarket.

  • Ohiogirl

    Kudos to them for doing it their way.

    And honestly, where would we be if everyone stopped at “You can’t do it that way.”

    I wish them even greater success!

  • Shelley

    Shame on you, Ruhlman. I think you’re a bad influence. I’ve spent more money on food books than on food itself the past few weeks!

    Because of your blog and its evil links, I just pre-ordered this on Amazon, along with Keller’s new book on sous vide. (Are you going to give us any insider thoughts on that one, too?)

    Keep this up, and I’ll go broke. But happily. ;]

  • S. Woody

    I did a quick check, and once again Jessica’s Biscuit has undersold Amazon.

    Jessica’s Biscuit (ecookbooks.com) is selling the book at $31.49.

    Heck, a penny saved, and all that….

  • Michael Franco

    I’m all over this, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this beautiful book. Thanks Michael.

  • Dominick Purnomo

    I am looking forward to this book with great anticipation. As a food geek (& restaurateur) I ordered it many months ago when it first became available. Forget the critics, even if I never re-create a single recipe, it will be well worth an insight into Chef Achatz and Alinea!

  • Carolyn Jung

    Bravo to Grant Achatz for creating this singularly mesmerizing cookbook, all the while fighting for his life against cancer. It’s a testament to his courage, tenaciousness, and passion in all that he does. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Grant a couple times, and he remains one of the most articulate, intelligent, and thoughtful chefs around.

  • luis

    Nothing competes with this…..cuisine. Nothing. I don’t know what it’s easier…to take on the masters or to invent something diff. In either case it takes an enormoous amount o’work and talent to do either.
    God Bless everyone….
    Ps… Pardus..you can’t do veggies and now you are trekking through India to do what??? discover more weird veggies you can’t can’t do??? Am I missing something??? fill me in!

  • Steve

    Great post, So this is on my “Big 3” list for the fall, all of which were pre-ordered months ago. The other two are:

    – A day at El Bulli
    – The Flavor Bible

    Just received The Flavor Bible on Friday, will post soon on this awesome book. Tenspeed Press is turning out some winners from the looks of things … A16, Fat, River Cottage Meat … Alinea is like an exclamation point on all that!