Grant Achatz

33, Lincoln Park

Real-life role: Alinea owner and chef 
Starring in: When Harry Met Sally

Nurture or nature? Achatz spent his formative years in St. Clair, Michigan, in restaurants owned by his parents and grandparents: “Washing dishes, busing tables, prep cooking, line cooking—the whole institution, the whole language, was right there,” says the haute cuisine celeb, Culinary Institute of America grad, and father of a five-year-old son. But persistence played a part in his success, as well. In pursuit of a gig at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, Achatz, then 22, wrote to the head chef, Thomas Keller, every day. “I would just change the cover letter slightly,” he says. “After about three weeks, he called me and said: ‘Jeez, what are you doing? Are you crazy or what?’ And then he invited me to come out for a trial.”

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Go-to homemade meal? Does ramen count?

When you’re alone, who do you play air guitar to? Anything by Rage Against the Machine.

Name one embarrassing thing you hide when guests are coming over:
Pictures of me when I was young. Rumors of a mullet have been reported.

Last time you Googled yourself? Last night. I do it to keep up on what people are saying about the restaurant.

How do you show someone you’re not interested? I tell them.

In a dream world, who would you look like? Johnny Depp. Write like? Stephen King. And cook like? What can I possibly say here?

What do you do every day? I drink several cans of Diet Coke, and end the night with a glass of wine or Champagne, depending on what we have in the house. If it’s a really tough day, it’s an extra glass of Champagne.

Favorite movie hero? When I think of a movie hero, I think cartoons. Therefore, my answer is Mr. Incredible.

Last movie that made you cry? What Dreams May Come.

Favorite blog? A tie between kottke.org, megnut.com, and chicagoist.com. It’s a great way for me to get a lot of info very quickly and, for me, that efficiency is critical.

Most recommended book? None. I have no time to read anymore.

Name one thing that’s overrated: Sleep.

You pull a Ferris Bueller and call in sick on a beautiful July day. What do you do? Probably sleep most of the day and go out for a nice dinner that night. Sleep is a commodity for me.

What Chicago neighborhoods have you lived in? I’ve only lived in Lincoln Park.

How long is too long to spend looking for a parking spot? If you’ve got groceries in your car, a solid 20 minutes.

Teacher’s pet or class clown? Neither. I was the quiet guy in the corner.

What did you think you’d be when you grew up? When I was 17, if I had to make a decision, it was going to be an architect.

Describe the state of your closet: It’s a mix between messy and organized. At eye level and up, it’s organized. Waist level and down is probably a mess. I have an agreement with [the clothing store Ermenegildo] Zegna; they dress me.

What’s your power outfit? I’ve got to go with the chef coat and apron. It’s interesting what that does in the context of what I do every day. When I walk into a dining room with 80 guests, and they recognize you, it’s strange how it affects people. They want acknowledgment; they want to shake your hand, talk to you, or ask you questions.

How much is too much to pay for jeans? There is no limit.

What’s in your pockets right now? Nothing. I hate stuff in my pockets, can’t stand it. I’ll carry stuff in my hands rather than put it in my pockets.

Have you ever collected anything? A long time ago it was coins and model cars.

Last time you told a lie? Probably two days ago, at the Body Worlds 2 exhibit. My son—he’s five—asked me if the people [in the exhibition] were real, and I told him no because I didn’t want to freak him out.

Last time you Googled yourself? Last night. I do it to keep up on what people are saying about the restaurant.

Worst advice you’ve been given? My dad told me: “Don’t go into cooking. It’s too hard; you won’t make any money; just don’t do it. Go be an architect.”

What do you do when a server at a restaurant brings you a horrible dish? Generally, it never happens. At this point, if I’m out to eat and I make a reservation, they probably know who I am, so I think some extra attention and care goes into it. If I’m at a place and I’m under the radar, I’d probably send it back. I don’t care if you’re doing haute cuisine or burgers and pizza, just do it right.

Do you have any tattoos? No.

But if you did? Something small in scale, something not always visible, probably on my arm, and probably something I’d design myself.

What time is your alarm clock set for? Today it was 9:30 a.m.

And how many times do you hit the snooze button? Never. That’s a dangerous game.

Dive bar or nightclub? Nightclub.

Drinks before 5 p.m.: always, sometimes, never? Sometimes.

Fill in the blanks: I’d rather have a significant other who runs than walks.

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