Who is Grant Achatz’s favorite traveling companion?
It depends. I typically like to take somebody from the company to try to inspire that person. For instance, I took Dave Baron, the chef at Next, to Japan for 12 days because we’re [going to feature the food of] Kyoto. So I wanted him to experience that firsthand. Obviously, it’s my girlfriend, if I happen to have one at the time. Here’s the thing with travel for me: We got invited to Japan, for example, for a food conference in Hokkaido, and the obligation is a one-hour talk on creativity and what we do. And the other 11 days were research and development. So I bring Dave, he brings his girlfriend, I bring a guest and we fulfill the obligation, and then we explore Japan and figure out what we’re going to do with that Kyoto menu.
You can read 10 cookbooks on Kyoto cuisine, but until you’re there and can actually look around at everything and feel it — really feel it, look at the cherry blossoms, feel the hospitality — and understand the culture, it won’t translate back into the experience you’re going to reproduce in the restaurant.