Saturday, September 25, 2010

What if Alinea was opened in Omaha?

Would one of the world's most famous restaurants be famous if it were opened in Omaha? What if the French Laundry had opened its doors in Boise? When a restaurant opens in a location that is not known for having a conglomeration of foodies, can it find its potential?

Lately I've been thinking about when Alex and Aki were in southwestern Colorado at a little known lodge. I used to live in that neck of the woods so I know that its at least five hours to the nearest major airport and hence major metro area. They found fame through the internet and dedicated followers, but surely it was a tougher road to take than if they had lived in NYC or San Fran where food writers and bloggers could highlight the work they were doing. Now living in the northeast, they have widely known fame and a much anticipated book.

But they were just a couple of passionate chefs doing their thing. They weren't a restaurant trying to make its mark on the American restaurant scene (they may dispute this).

So what if Grant Achatz decided to stay in small town Michigan? His skills surely would have drawn the attention that would lead to greatness, but would it have been the same if it weren't in Chicago? For that matter, what has Alinea done to elevate Chicago's status as a foodie city? I would suspect that Alinea would be a destination restaurant, but not to the degree that it has become. Grant may have thrown in the towel and headed to a bigger market in hopes of staking his claim.

As the human psyche ponders the cost-benefit of a great meal versus a three hour drive from the airport for the meal, few would make the trip I suspect. I wouldn't visit Boise or Omaha just for a meal...well, unless Alinea opened up in one of those cities. Maybe.


docsconz said...

An interesting case study for your question is John & Karen Shields at Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia. They are doing amazing things and are a true destination restaurant.

Gfron1 said...

That is another great example. I wonder what the distance to value ratio is that separates "worth the trip" to "not worth the time." It seems that Town House is around an hour away from a couple of fairly major metros.

Carla said...

I live about an hour and a half from Chilhowie and I find it most interesting that a good number of people who are eating there are ones that travel long distances to eat there. Very few "locals" enjoy the fabulous experience right in their backyard. And it is amazing!

Of course, i keep trying to plan our vacations to go to New Mexico so I can eat at your place Rob!

Tri2Cook said...

I think part of the equation would be the chefs personal vision of "finding their potential". I'm sure the number of chefs who don't measure their success in reviews received or media accolades garnered is fairly large. I'm also sure there are a great number that measure their success by those very things. Both are equally legitimate paths. Where you can find what you're looking for greatly depends on what you're looking for.

My personal vision of success would be the cooking version of "the ruler of the universe" in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. A little restaurant in the middle of nowhere that is almost impossible to find and cooking great food that almost nobody knows about... but those who did know would consider it worth the trip every time.

I got into the game late and will never know what my potential could have been no matter where I do it. It's something I regret because I knew this was what I wanted to do many years before I actually did it. But it's a regret that I can live with and it doesn't stop me from trying to get as far as I can towards reaching my version of success.

SharleneT said...

We had a restaurant just outside of Catlett VA that served no more than five tables per evening, and the meal took a good 3 hours. The owner/chef was a former White House chef and reservations were usually made a year in advance... the whole evening was a dining experience and no one rushed the cook! Food was exquisite... continuing your research...