Why I’m an Alinea Newb

In August of 2010, I embarked on a new journey. After being raised  in Denver for my almost my entire conscious life, I moved to Chicago at the age of 24 to attend law school. For the next year, nearly all my time was spent studying and I found myself not appreciating the city as much as I anticipated I would.

Flash-forward to the summer of 2011, when my Denver friend Clint announced to me that he’d be coming into town in the fall for a conference and would love to visit Alinea while he was here. Clint had some prior experience with top-notch restaurants, but wanted to expand his horizons, per se.* I had heard of Alinea before he mentioned it, but to be frank I could tell you neither exactly what I heard nor what impression I had of the place from what I had heard. All I knew was that after a quick Google search, and an affirmation of my trust in Clint’s judgment, I was on board for spending $400+ for a dinner that November. (I mean, after all, I was just about to receive my student loan disbursement and a financial fluke concerning my summer stipend for my unpaid internship meant that I was getting an unexpected $600 in two days. What student wouldn’t make a rash, expensive decision in that context?)

I was very thrilled to check off of my bucket list “dining at the best restaurant in the US, without a doubt,” but looking back at my state of mind at the time, I was SO naive. I looked up Yelp reviews, looked at the pictures, read the reviews from the most well-respected restaurant critics, and ultimately came to the conclusion that I was going to have a VERY NICE meal that included some things I’d never seen before (such as liquid-nitrogen-treated cotton candy) and I’d go home broke.

While all those conclusions were true, I never expected that Alinea would be a life changing experience and that I’d vow to return within the next year and a half, during another season. I never expected that I’d be constantly rechecking those online reviews to keep up to date with the new things Grant Achatz was up to and I certainly never expected to buy the Alinea cookbook with the intent to actually try to make anything from it.

But all those things happened.** When I first bought the Alinea cookbook, I was thought its sole purpose was to edify my Alinea experience, contextualize it, and then it would turn into a coffee table book, AKA a conversation starter. But around then, by a chance, I saw both Julia & Julia at the insistence of my BF and discovered websites like Alinea at Home and The Alinea Project. I also noticed that at least a couple of the Alinea cookbook recipes seemed easily do-able at home. Thus, the birth of this blog.

So why have I dubbed myself Alinea Newb? …It’s mostly because I had no idea what I would be getting myself into when I accepted Clint’s invitation last summer and also because I’m not a cook in the slightest. I like to joke that I can cook cereal, ramen, and almost anything you find in the frozen-food aisle, which is mostly true. I’ve never owned a knife worth slicing an apple with and I only learned how to scramble an egg a couple years ago. While I’ve expanded my cooking abilities slightly over the past year, I haven’t progressed much beyond baked chicken and a seasoned pork chop. So I’m definitely on a sharp learning curve here. In other words, I’m a newb.

Thankfully, there are others who are in the process of cooking everything in the cookbook and they’ve devoted substantial time in documenting the experience on their own blogs. I have the benefit of learning from their experiences on almost every recipe (and more importantly, from their mistakes). I also have the benefit of the Alinea Mosaic forum, where anyone with a question about a recipe can make a post and hopefully hear back from the masterminds behind it all.

Will I succeed in finishing? I have no idea. But I wouldn’t be happy unless I at least tried.

*Clint is an Alice Waters fan. He had the privilege of dining at Chez Panisse a few years back but was slightly underwhelmed, not by the experience, but by his rather unenthusiastic dining companion that he fetched in a similar manner. I think Clint picked me for his Alinea adventure mostly because I was in Chicago, I’m a bit snobbish, and wasn’t someone who would just come along because I felt obligated. I doubt he had any idea that I had no experience with fine dining and that Alinea would change my life.

**I hope to write at a later date about my Alinea experience in more detail, but I feel that goes outside the purpose of this introduction.

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