Next: Bobby Flay Gives Chicago a Unique Glimpse of the Chef’s Formative Years

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Since late April, Next Restaurant, run by the Alinea Group, has celebrated Bobby Flay’s first restaurant and channeled the ‘90s spirit that made Mesa Grill a hit in New York City. The restaurant opened in 1991 when Flay was 25.

Alinea Chef Grant Achatz has touted Flay as one of his influences. Mesa Grill was where Achatz first dined during a maiden trip to Manhattan. A Las Vegas location would open in 2004 inside the Caesars Palace casino; it closed in 2020. Achatz hails Flay as one of the first chefs, along with Brendan Walsh, the chef at New York’s Arizona 206, to bring Southwestern cuisine to the masses.

“Looking back now, nearly 30 years later, it is easy to see the similarities of approach our food at The Alinea Group has with that out-of-the-box, risk-taking, new style that chef Flay (helped) introduce to the American culinary scene,” Achatz writes to Eater.

Achatz adds: “Pre-Internet and culinary globalization, most Americans had never been exposed to the ingredients and techniques featured in his dishes, as French was still the dominating cuisine in American fine dining. The deeply flavored layering of chilies, blue corn, tamales, empanadas, mole — and even margaritas — were still not common.”

Flay dined at Next earlier in May and enjoyed the trip down memory lane. 2024 is the year of the tribute for Next, which honored Julia Child in January. Chicago’s own Charlie Trotter will be featured from September through the end of the year. Next will embrace the Mesa Grill motif until September 1. The common thread for the trio is TV and food.

While Child may have pioneered the role of TV chef, Flay’s presence shows an evolution with the birth of Food Network. He’s brought Next a different sort of attention — Flay’s fans flying into Chicago from across the country for another taste of Mesa Grill. Achatz mentions Flay’s role in “educating and influencing so many home cooks at a critical time in American eating.”

The Alinea Group’s co-founder Nick Kokonas tells Eater that Flay was flattered and graciously gave them his blessing. They considered titling their effort “Next: Mesa Grill” but weren’t sure if most Americans make the connection to the celebrity chef without Flay’s name in the title.

“We emailed him and had a conversation about Mesa Grill and the fact that it was hugely impactful for the industry, but a bit lost to history because of all of the TV work he has done,” Kokonas writes. “He said he was honored that we wanted to focus on his cuisine and he’d let us do the menu without any strings attached — and he’s been very generous with his time, opinions, and historical documentation of the Mesa Grill recipes and ideas.”

Achatz says Flay encouraged the staff at Next to “take some liberties” with their menu: “It was important to both of us that we show some of TAG’s fingerprints within the foundation of his food,” Achatz says. “We were very careful to make sure the flavor profiles and backbone of all the dishes represented on the menu had all the touchstones of the originals.”

The menu provides opportunities for fans to enjoy nostalgia while giving younger diners a chance to see what made chefs like Flay household names.

“I would say that all food and travel-related TV programs raise awareness, education, and create passion within the viewers for food and beverage,” Achatz writes. “This creates and continually builds the group of people that make traveling to dine out a hobby, thereby making our restaurants busier.”

“Getting people curious, educated, comfortable and excited to experience restaurants through TV is a fantastic commercial for all hospitality regardless of the specific theme of the show.”

Next: Bobby Flay, now through November 1, Reservations via Tock

Next Restaurant

953 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607 312 226 0858 Visit Website

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