On November 12, Absolut transformed multiple MacArthur Park lofts into a combination classroom, laboratory, speakeasy and world-class restaurant. Of course Absolut wanted the experience to reflect well on their brand, but to their credit, they hired one of the world’s top chefs, didn’t club lucky attendees over the head with vodka bottles and created a truly memorable culinary experience.
Organizers previously hosted similar eight-hour programs in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, all involving cutting-edge Alinea chef Grant Achatz. Our particular progressive event consisted of several stages (and rooms), including a blind (and smell-free) spirit identification session, sensory submersion with Absolut Head of Sensory Research Per Hermansson, who flew over from Sweden to take us on a vodka-driven, and a vodka “speakeasy” with cocktail historian David Wondrich. However, the biggest draw was undoubtedly Achatz, who began by peeling back the curtain on his gastronomic Oz during a nearly one-hour multimedia presentation.
“A lot of what we do at the restaurant focuses on smell,” says Achatz, who charted his progression from The French Laundry. He worked for four-and-a-half years for Thomas Keller, who “felt strongly about the smell impacting the dish and enhancing the dish.” During a meal at El Bulli, Ferran Adria had him smell vanilla, which appeared with a dish. Achatz was mesmerized, returned to the States and played around with that kind of sensory combination at Trio in Evanston. After opening Alinea, he and his team graduated to “the aromatic utensil,” skewers of ingredients like vanilla bean, long cinnamon stick, bay branch, and rosemary. He refers to this method as “Flavoring by way of smell.” At Alinea, they even focus on “seasonal smells.” For example, fresh-cut grass is “one of the quintessential aromas of summer.”
Craig Schoettler, the head bartender at Achatz’s upcoming molecular bar – Aviary – grabbed the mic and demonstrated how to make a powdered gin and tonic, which he then served to “students.”
We experienced the vodka speakeasy and transitioned to another loft space that featured a 75-foot-long mirrored King’s table that accommodated the 50 writers, bartenders, chefs and attendees.