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Photo: Close resemblance? Alinea's Hot Potato, Cold Potato, left; Capsela kit on right. Left photo by Lara Kastner, Courtesy of Alinea & Achatz LLC. Capsela by Educational Insights.

Acclaimed chef Grant Achatz, who recently put out a deluxe cookbook called Alinea (named for his Chicago restaurant), will be making a few NY appearances in the upcoming weeks, most notably a scaled Alinea dinner at the Astor Center on November 6th. At $225 a head, the price is steep, but each guest receives five courses (including ‘hot potato, cold potato;’ above left) from the restaurant, and some crazy-ass Champagne.

Guests also get a signed copy of the Alinea book, which is jam-packed with ideas, detailed photos, new cooking techniques, and some perfunctory guest essays. It even has a companion website, and a weird Alinea-at-home copycat blog is already in tow, though the book was just released last week. It has drawn some early criticism for being inaccessible, but for every recipe that starts with “Put 1 spoonful of the mixture into the Volcano vaporizer,” a dozen other recipes are rooted in traditional cooking techniques, like stirring together a vinaigrette.

Nonetheless Achatz plates food in a particular way: a vegetable may take the form of a perfect cylinder on a plate, a sauce may be turned into powder, or braised pork shoulder may be pulled apart and fried into clouds. Jeffrey Steingarten writes in Alinea: "I'd be willing to bet that Grant played with toy soldiers as a boy."

We wondered: Knowing that Achatz doesn’t necessarily play with food as much as create mini-worlds with it, we sent him a link to some action figure playsets from the 80’s to jog his memory and asked if they had perhaps motivated his particular cooking style during his formative years, back in St. Clair, Michigan. Achatz answers:

No. I was never much for playsets. It was fun clicking on that link and being reminded of things like the Millennium Falcon and Inspector Gadget. I think the opposite occurred: The fact that I didn't have many of these types of toys that produced results encouraged me to create ‘playsets’ with objects like tin cans, rubber bands, Capselas, Lincoln Logs, and good old fashion dirt. But I did create the "experience" as I went. Perhaps this practice early on helped me train my creative mind to go beyond what was easily available to me?

Aside from the typical building toys like the Capselas, it was mostly taking Matchbox cars and Star Wars toys into the yard and building a world with what I had at my disposal. I do remember building a time machine/ rocket out of an old motorcycle gas tank, a Halloween clown mask, and can of flat tire inflator and a RC remote control that I found in my uncle’s garage. I was 5. It didn't work.

Check out more of the Alinea book here.