Alinea, the cookbook

March 9, 2009

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.

Fen_0153What 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.

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