Nearly two months into the coronavirus shutdown, I found myself in an entirely unfamiliar mindset: I was sick of food. At first, I had weirdly relished the culinary novelty that COVID-19 had forced onto me. I tended lovingly to loaves of homemade focaccia. I regrew my scallion roots. I took expertly composed Instagram photos of carryout meals from favorite restaurants — tangles of jjajangmyen from Jeong, whorls of hummus from Galit — eaten from plastic deli containers and clamshells atop my coffee table, where my fiancé, Jason, and I ate while watching Schitt’s Creek for the hundredth time. But something was missing.
I didn’t realize what until early May, when, on a whim, we decided to order the six-course, $50-per-person takeout meal that Alinea was offering to celebrate its 15th anniversary. When I went to pick up our order, a couple of shopping bags were brought out to my car, full of several dozen labeled plastic containers. The bags also contained six pages of detailed preparation instructions. One dish, a chilled English pea soup, called for arranging cubes of cantaloupe in the base of a bowl, then balancing pea shoots atop them “like the hands of a clock” before pouring in the bright green purée.
Alinea, hub of culinary invention, should not have been good at carryout, considering most dishes seem to require a bachelor’s in engineering to understand, let alone cook. And yet the shutdown may have prompted Grant Achatz to pull off the most impressive stunt of his career: He took the wizardry he and his team performed in their tricked-out kitchen and translated it so that a Muggle like me could reasonably replicate it while being watched by two cats and listening to All Things Considered.
I took a video of Jason and me making the restaurant’s iconic dessert (my version is shown above), flinging candy-colored sauces onto a sheet of acetate as if we were splatter-painting kindergartners. On days when staying at home felt particularly constraining, I found myself watching that video on repeat — not to admire our sloppy canvas of raspberry yogurt and modernist triangles of cake, but to hear us laughing in the background, the way we used to when we’d go out to dinner. That’s the real alchemy Achatz & Co. achieved: a recipe for bringing the joy back into our food.