ICE’s Culinary Management Instructors are seasoned industry professionals who are still active in the industry, working on their own projects while teaching classes at ICE. With such a wide range of experience between them, we decided to ask Julia Heyer and Vin McCann to take a closer look at some of the things we keep hearing so much about. Today, they tackle the concept of demand pricing.

Julia Heyer
Bloomberg Media’s Dominic Chu (himself no stranger to restaurants) recently featured Grant Achatz’s new place in Chicago, the quarterly changing Next. It looked at the restaurant’s unique pricing model, which differs from the restaurant industry generally in two ways: (1) a guest pre-pays one set price in full, tax, tip and all included, and (2) the cost of the meal differs at different times. This model takes the concept of good old demand pricing (as experienced in the commodities trading by Achatz’s business partner) and applies it to the restaurant biz.

Basing pricing on demand is a working model when you offer something that the consumer wants. It gets even more effective when you, as the seller, can control supply to ensure the consumer’s willingness to pay premium prices remains strong (DeBeers Diamonds, anyone?). And that is something these guys at Next are smartly doing. Yes, I am sure that changing the restaurant and menu every three months also plays to the wishes, playfulness and curiosity of the chef, but really it is the ultimately savvy way of limiting supply of the experience, constantly reinventing the restaurant and re-stoking the demand for it. Each restaurant is only here for three months — come now before it’s gone! And then, when the next iteration comes to market, people want to come back (ergo drive demand) for that new experience (yup, that new supply). Smartly combined! More…

ICE President Rick Smilow with Nick Kokonas, Grant Achatz, Amanda Hesser and ICE Director of Education Richard Simpson

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“Being creative as a chef is not mimicking what you see in Tokyo or Bangkok,” said Grant Achatz, the chef-owner of Alinea in Chicago, at ICE last night. “It’s being inspired by that. It’s reactions to influences, whether those are reading a book, walking down the street or looking up something online. Creativity is really unpredictable, and can come from anywhere.”

Achatz was in town to promote his memoir, Life, on the Line, co-authored with his business partner, Nick Kokonas (ICE alum Rachel Holtzman was on the editorial team behind the book). Both spoke at a panel moderated by food writer and Food52 founder Amanda Hesser and attended by chefs such as Peter Hoffman and George Mendes, media such as Jeffrey Steingarten and Melissa Clark, and a bevy of industry professionals and ICE students. ICE Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi made a selection of hors d’oeuvres for the evening.

Achatz, whose restaurant is seventh in the S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants (the highest ranked in the United States), won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 2008. He met Kokonas when the former trader became a regular at Trio, where Achatz first showcased his unique cooking style as executive chef, and offered to build a restaurant with him.

“You need commerce to make the art, and vice versa,” Achatz said after Kokonas pointed out that Achatz has much more of a hand in the business side of the restaurant than people think. Kokonas also said that people are surprised to hear how often the two talk about food together, as the pair explained how their collaboration works. Kokonas pointed out that Achatz could not create the food he does without a lot  of infrastructure. Even though Kokonas never interferes with what Achatz puts on the menu, the two jokingly acknowledged that anything Kokonas doesn’t like seem to disappear from the menu after a few days. More…

Dinner at Alinea (For captions, click on each photo)

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Last week, ICE President Rick Smilow returned from Chicago for the second time this year. Always having a keen eye out for culinary trends, he reported back to DICED on some of the most notable restaurants, chefs and meals he encountered. In Part I, he discussed some memorable meals and places. Part II of his report is devoted to one memorable meal at the famed Alinea.

I have had some great meals in my life, but rarely have they been on a Sunday night. Perhaps because that is the night I am most likely to cook at home. If we do go out, it’s probably to someplace familiar, not adventuresome or ambitious. On top of that, it is often the norm in the restaurant business that “the A team” has Sunday night off and is away from the kitchen. But at on Sunday, August 8, I had one of the best meals of my life at Alinea.

Located at 1723 N. Halstead in Chicago, Alinea is the creation of Chef-Patron Grant Achatz. Open since 2005, the restaurant has earned many of the culinary world’s highest honors. It won the 2010 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service and is on San Pellegrino’s list as the top dining establishment in America, having overtaken Per Se in the 2010 listings. This past spring, Chicago magazine even named Alinea, “the most significant restaurant in Chicago’s history.”

Black Truffle “Explosion” with Romaine & Parmesan

By way of cuisine and labels, Alinea is considered a “progressive American” restaurant. A leading location to experience molecular gastronomy, it is perhaps our closest incarnation to Spain’s legendary gastronomic mecca, El Bullì. Until recently, Alinea offered only two menu options, a 12- or 24- course tasting menu. The new scheme has one option, an 18-course tasting menu, priced at $185 before wine.

The accompanying slideshow (for captions, click on the photos) showcases many of the dishes our foursome was served during this memorable night. What the pictures cannot capture is how wonderful everything tasted. In this kitchen, molecular gastronomy and innovative techniques serve to enhance flavors. The pictures also do not fully capture the uniqueness of the presentation of so many dishes, and the interactive aspects of the meal. I actually expected more shock value; odd combinations or ingredients that would be transformed through the magic of science. However, our dining experience was better than that. More…

Earlier this week, ICE President Rick Smilow returned from Chicago for the second time this year. Always having a keen eye out for culinary trends, he reported back to DICED on some of the most notable restaurants, chefs and meals he encountered. In Part I of his report he talks about some of the restaurants’ classic foods and new variations he encountered. Next week, Part II will be devoted to one restaurant, Alinea.

Over the past three months, I have visited Chicago twice for long family or leisure oriented weekends. Fortunately, these trips have also involved a lot of good eating — in fact I’d say great eating. Chicago as a dining mecca is not a new story, but I’m here to report that in The Windy City: 1) innovation is alive and well, 2) restaurant hospitality and design are impressive, 3) traditional local comfort foods still satisfy and 4) pork is plentiful. Following are field reports from Alinea, Province, Blackbird, The Purple Pig, Big Star and Al’s Beef, six of the eight meals I enjoyed on these trips.

The Purple Pig (and Billy Goat Tavern)

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg from The Purple Pig

In the tony, upscale setting of North Michigan Avenue, I didn’t expect to find a restaurant like The Purple Pig. Open since late 2009, the restaurant is the creation of Jimmy Banos Jr. and Scott Harris. The Purple Pigs promise and descriptor is “Cheese, Swine and Wine.” At lunch, it delivered, with small, tapas-style plates. My favorites were the Poached Tuna with Greek Lima Beans, Spring Peas with Feta & Mint, Pigs’ Ear with Crispy Kale, Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg and the assorted cured meats and cheeses.

The Purple Pig’s Entryway

Interestingly, The Purple Pig is physically almost on top of the famous Billy Goat Tavern, the bar and greasy spoon made famous by John Belushi in his early Saturday Night Live “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” skits. As the Chicago Tribune has its headquarters across the street, both restaurants could claim to be watering holes for thirsty newspaper reporters. But I think that their meal of choice in the ‘60s, a hamburger and Seagrams & Seven at the Billy Goat, has been replaced by Rioja and Manchego at The Purple Pig. More…