Chef Grant Achatz is one of the most awarded and recognized chefs in the world. Known for his innovative, emotional, and modernist style of cuisine he has been named Best Chef in the United States by the James Beard Foundation, honored by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, and has given talks and lectures on gastronomy and design at conferences and universities around the world.
Grant began working in restaurants as soon as he could walk. His parents owned a diner in Michigan and he spent his childhood years working alongside his family.
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at 21 Grant spent a short time at Charlie Trotters before finding his mentor in chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. Grant worked for a total of 5 years at the French Laundry eventually rising to chef de cuisine. He also spent a year working at La Jota vineyards during his time in California.
A short stage at elBulli in Roses, Spain was exceptionally influential and led Grant to seek out his first executive chef position at Trio in Evanston, IL. It was there that his creativity and desire to innovate flourished. Grant was named Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation and recognized in Food & Wine Magazine as one of the nation’s Best New Chefs.
In 2004 Grant began building his dream restaurant, Alinea. Partnering with restaurant neophyte Nick Kokonas they sought to redefine fine dining in America, questioning not only culinary concepts but also the guest experience, tableware design, and restaurant bookings.
Alinea has been named the Best Restaurant in the World by Elite Traveler magazine, three times been awarded the title of Best Restaurant in the United States by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Gourmet Magazine, and has appeared in hundreds of publications around the world. The venerable Michelin Guide awarded Alinea their highest rating, 3-stars, a ranking held by only 12 restaurants in the United States. Alinea has won James Beard Awards for Best Service in the United States and holds 5 Mobil Stars.
In 2008 Grant was diagnosed with Stage IVb cancer of the tongue. The recommended course of treatment by multiple experts was a complete amputation of his tongue followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Even then he faced dismal odds and was told that he likely only had 2 years to live. Instead, he sought out an innovative protocol at the University of Chicago, which after a grueling course of treatment has left him with no evidence of disease since 2009. Grant and Nick documented this story in the New York Times bestselling memoir Life, On the Line which they personally wrote. The story is also featured in the nationally released documentary movie Spinning Plates.
In 2011 Grant followed Alinea with Next restaurant and the uber-modern bar, The Aviary. Next was honored with Best New Restaurant in America by James Beard, and the following year the foundation named The Aviary as Outstanding Bar Program in America.
Grant lives in Chicago and has two sons. He devotes his free time to work, even when he enjoys traveling and seeing new parts of the world.
“I’m a little uncomfortable if I think I know what I’m doing.”
Nick Kokonas is co-owner and co-founder of Alinea, Next, and the Aviary. He manages the marketing, business development, and strategy for current and future operations.
He never expected to be involved in the restaurant industry despite his Greek last name.
Nick studied Philosophy at Colgate University and nearly attended law school at the urging of his professors. His interests remained, however, in business and entrepreneurship.
After starting a company that sold posters and inexpensive art to college students and small businesses he became interested in the Chicago exchanges and took a $5 per hour job as a runner on the floor of the Mercantile Exchange in order to gain exposure. A year later he began trading options on currencies with a small account.
Within 5 years and taking on no further investment he had a business partner and 15 employees trading options on equities and currencies, and making markets in futures contracts, forwards, and ETF’s. In 1999, his firm Third Moment Trading merged with a proprietary New York firm and the enterprise grew to over 70 employees making markets on exchanges from San Francisco to New York. He left the firm in 2002 having achieved his initial goals and seeking to diversify his experience and interests in business.
Concurrent to his trading business Nick’s love of technology and geeky childhood programming led him to invest in several internet and technology start-ups beginning in 1997. He is currently invested in and advises several vibrant tech companies.
In 2002 Nick and his wife dined at Trio for the first time and met chef Achatz. A brief conversation after an astounding meal led to a quick collaboration to build what would become Alinea only 1 year to the day later.
As an outsider to the restaurant business Nick’s approach to the business of restaurants is markedly innovative and he has been featured in Businessweek, Fast Company, the New York Times, Crain’s Chicago Business and many others, and given talks on innovation, entrepreneurship, and experience design across the country.
He lives in Chicago with his wife Dagmara and their two sons and on sunny mornings can be found on golf courses somewhere in the world.
Mike Bagale combines a unique mix of a broadly artistic mind with a calm, pragmatic, and practical approach to running a complex kitchen.
Mike’s artistic interests began in film school, attending Ryerson University in Toronto and the New York Film Academy. In 2002 his interest in cooking began when he enrolled at Florida Culinary in Palm Beach.
In 2004 he began working at the Four Seasons hotels and spent 4 years in their programs from Palm Beach, Washingston D.C., and Miami, ending up as the Chef de Cuisine of the 5 Diamond Resort at the Palm Beach property. In 2009, after a successful 2-day tryout, he joined the team at Alinea as chef de partie.
His relentless drive and work ethic moved him quickly up the ladder at Alinea. He was a constant creative collaborator in the kitchen and was promoted to sous chef quickly in 2010. It was that year that he cracked the code to ‘floating food’ with the famous Balloon course. Mike was named Executive Chef of Alinea in 2012.
When he manages to get away from the kitchen you’ll find him near a beach, in the water, diving or surfing.
Chef de Cuisine
Simon Davies has had a fondness for the kitchen from a very young age, growing up in California. His first job, at a local diner, was just to make some spending money as a high schooler. His desire to cook professionally stemmed from late nights cooking for friends at parties and the fun and sense of community that it brought. After attending culinary school and working at several restaurants in the Portland, Oregon area Simon took an internship at Alinea in 2009 and has grown with the company ever since. In his spare time he enjoys his other passions of painting and music.
General Manager | Director of Service
John Schafer grew up in the exurbs south east of Denver wrangling horses, chickens, goats, dogs, and rabbits on a small ranch. Cooking was a family affair with his parents and three sisters each taking responsibility for a different dish. While attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, John supported himself by working in the front of the house at various events and outlets. These experience sparked his curiosity as to further understand the relationship not only between the guest and the host but also the interplay of wine and food.
Upon graduation John took his passion for service to the bottom of the totem pole at Alinea and received line of fire training for a year before joining the opening team at Next. In the fall of 2012, John trained with the wine team at Alinea only to return for a second tour at Next in December as General Manager. After successfully leading Next through over two years, John took over as General Manager at Alinea in February 2015. John has the good fortune to continually draw from the experiences of the talented folks at Alinea, the Aviary, and Next. John favors beers, wines, and cocktails from non-interventional producers that utilize indigenous products.