Gut Check Christmas* Gift Ideas: The Alinea Cookbook

Dec 18, 2008 at 12:28 pm

As part of the Year-End Bonanza, here are some Christmas* gift ideas for the foodie in your life. These are personal favorites, and these posts in no way imply an official RFT endorsement. The makers of these products didn't pay for my "endorsement," either.

The Alinea Cookbook

Even if I restrict the target demographic to hard-core foodies, the cookbook for Grant Achatz's celebrated Chicago restaurant Alinea isn't for everyone. If you judge a cookbook by its practical value -- how many good meals can this add to my rotation? -- this one probably won't meet your standard. And if you're shopping on a budget, the $50 price tag might seem extravagant.

(Amazon has it for $31.50, but to receive it by Christmas, you have to pay for two-day shipping.)

But if price and "practicality" are of no concern, then I can imagine few more remarkable gifts for the gourmand in your life.

Yes, this is food porn of the highest order: Hundreds of glossy, full-color photographs of Achatz's unique creations fill its 400 pages. Should you summon the courage to make one of the dishes (all scaled down to serve 8, but otherwise unchanged from the restaurant's meticulous preparations), the pictures of the finished product might be as daunting as the recipe itself.

For me, the Alinea cookbook isn't a cookbook so much as an impressionistic map of Grant Achatz's imagination. Its most interesting feature -- and, for the home cook, maybe the most useful  -- is a section in which Achatz describes the general thought processes behind his dishes. For example, stopping at an A&W restaurant for a burger and root beer led him to explore the traditional ingredients in root beer and how those might be paired with beef.

If nothing else, you will be happy to learn that one of America's leading chefs happily admits to pouring A1 sauce on his home-grilled steaks. Of course, he then researches the original A1 recipe, from anchovies to tamarind.

- Ian Froeb

* - or other religious or secular gift-giving opportunity