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Since opening in 2011, Chicago's NEXT restaurant has changed its entire concept nine times. It's a formula that seems to be working -- tickets sell out almost instantly, months in advance, and the fascination with each new menu grows.
But it's a structure that continues to change and evolve with each menu, and so Potluck Video recently sat down with chef and co-owner Grant Achatz, co-owner Nick Kokonas, Executive Chef David Beran and Director of Culinary Operations Eric Rivera to discuss the process of running NEXT at this stage.
Achatz notes that in the beginning, "the idea was every three or so months we would redo the restaurant based on a geographic location in the world and a date and time." Over time that strict formula changed, which Achatz believes now gives the team even "more creative freedom."
The process of deciding on the full menu for each iteration doesn't happen when the menus are originally announced. "While we have a name for it we really don't know what we're doing until a month or two out," Kokonas notes. The whole restaurant has to start anew each time -- from the menu and recipes to documentation to training the kitchen team to decor. But when they start formulating a plan for the new menu, Beran notes that they start first with the basic concept of "how do we want it to feel and how is it going to be different to the previous [iteration]."
As the team has started the final menu for 2013 -- Bocuse d'Or -- they are already beginning to think about next year at NEXT. They still plan to announce the menus annually, but unlike last year they are not planning to reach out to their social media followers for suggestions because, as Kokonas puts it, "you get this vocal minority and what you realize is that the best menus that we always do is one that somebody within the restaurant, or all of us, have a passion for." Achatz says they are focused on a simple two part equation: "What do we want to cook and what do people want to eat?"
To hear everything from Achatz, Kokonas, Beran and Rivera, watch the full video above.