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…