Behind the scenes at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, these companies supply chefs with the tools they need to master molecular gastronomy
When Gourmet named Alinea the nation's top restaurant, it declared head chef Grant Achatz "is redefining the American restaurant." He didn't earn that distinction without help from some innovative tools. The Anti-Griddle, made by PolyScience, can freeze liquids in 90 seconds, leaving the inside soft; at Alinea, it's used to create a frozen mango purée, served with a drop of toasted sesame oil. Five years ago, Philip Preston added a culinary arm to the Niles, Illinois-based company his father started in 1963; PolyScience previously made only scientific instruments. Now, 10 percent of PolyScience's more than $20 million in revenue comes from sales to restaurants.
Easy to clean, durable, and heat resistant -- it's no wonder stainless steel workstations are a must for most restaurant kitchens. The workstations made by Quebec-based SML Stainless Steel Group are built to take a beating, and every night they are scrubbed down with fine-grit sandpaper. Founded in 1966, the 250-employee company is now led by CEO Michel Pelletier and has production facilities in Quebec City and Las Vegas.
Don't let the absence of flames fool you. This stove, made by Chicago-based CookTek, heats pans using magnetic fields. The method, called induction heating, is more efficient than gas, because the pans heat up, but the stove's surface doesn't. Robert Wolters ran his parents' kitchen-gadget company before starting CookTek in 1994. The company's technology is also used to heat metal disks embedded in Domino's Pizza delivery bags to keep pies warm.
Their clientele and cuisine may differ, but there is one thing upscale restaurants and fast-food joints have in common: their blenders. Alinea relies on Vita-Mix blenders to create its signature cold potato soup; Wendy's and McDonald's use them to make Frosty Shakes and McFlurrys. W.G. "Papa" Barnard founded Cleveland-based Vita-Mix in 1921. His great-granddaughter Jodi Berg now runs the $100 million company, which has about 230 employees.
Last updated: May 1, 2009
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.