On Oscar night, the entire food world was abuzz. Not because of anything that happened during the Academy Awards ceremony, but because of one of the (million and one) commercials that showed during the proceedings: namely, the Tom Colicchio Diet Coke spot that appeared to show the Top Chef judge and incredibly successful chef/owner of Craft in New York City just one step removed from shitting directly on chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago.
Now, all questions of whether or not Colicchio is a total sellout aside (because he is, and there's no argument there), the commercial itself was fairly specifically targeted: There's Colicchio walking into a restaurant, passing by tables where the food is built into towers, where it is presented on Hammacher Schlemmer-style chrome photo clips, where it is strung on wires and suspended within what appears to be the tines of a modern art whisk. Colicchio then says something along the lines of, "Dude, this food bites my wang. Give a brother a Diet Coke and spare me the freeze-dried mango garnish." At which point the bartender, grinning knowingly, pours ol' baldy a frosty Diet Coke. Smile, logo and fade out.
The trouble? Most of the food and all the plating-slash-engineered-serving-vessels were straight out of the Alinea playbook, and Alinea's resident chef/genius, Achatz, was just on Top Chef a few weeks ago.
So what gives? My comrade-in-arms, Hailey Eber, was one of the first to question the weird commercial in the Village Voice food blog, Fork in the Road, on Monday morning. And after that, it was off to the races, with just about every gastronaut in the country weighing in with a mixture of shock and confusion.
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Since then, it seems things have settled down a little. No New York/Chicago foodie gang wars have broken out. Colicchio himself has said that he basically showed up on the set, said his lines and went home, and that he had nothing but respect for Achatz and what he does at Alinea. As he told the Chicago Tribune, "If anything, [the ad] is aimed at people who try to imitate the kind of sophisticated food that Grant does."
Which is all well and good, except for the fact that everything shown in the ad (with the exception of one really over-the-top, Alfred-Portale-at-Gotham-style food tower) was quite specifically the sort of thing done at Alinea.
As for Achatz himself, it's been reported that he got quite a laugh out of the ad and can't wait to do his own commercial -- for Pepsi. My guess? It'll involve him stepping into a Craft-like restaurant, looking over a table filled with plain white plates set with bunches of unadorned carrots or single pieces of bacon being stared at by pale-faced and wilting diners, then immediately stepping up and stabbing a short, bald guy in a chef's coat with the chrome nozzle of a nitrogen gun. Then stop, turn to the camera, smile and crack a Pepsi, which, when poured, actually turns into some kind of Pepsi-like foie gras foam with flecks of sous-vide quail egg and a lace of creamed Styrofoam.
You know, something classy.