by Julia Thiel
Developed for Next, the system is now used in just four restaurants in the country—Alinea, New York's NoMad, Next, and now Elizabeth. Nick Kokonas, Grant Achatz's business partner, told me in early August that he offered it to Regan because it seemed like a good fit. "She's very talented, and she's putting together something very unique," he said. "If you have an innovative system that you're trying to roll out to the public, you want to be associated with other innovative people and businesses."
Kokonas acknowledges that the system wasn't perfect at the beginning, but says that was because of the high demand for seats at Next: they had a system that could handle tens of thousands of page views an hour, and they were getting tens of thousands per second (the problem has since been fixed). The advantage, he says, is that it offers diners more transparency—when they purchase tickets online they can see what seats are available—and lets restaurants plan better, because they know exactly how many people will be showing up.
That's important to Regan, who hates wasting food. She's been doing underground dinners out of her apartment for the last couple years, and says she had it down to an exact science. One weekend this spring she had three dinners in a row with 12 people at each one and 25 courses apiece. She knew exactly what she needed to buy, and on Sunday evening all that was left in her refrigerator were a couple carrot tops, three pieces of Swiss chard, and a Ziploc baggie of arugula, she says. "I freak out when there's leftovers in the refrigerator. It's an OCD thing of mine. I have to figure out how to eat this thing that is leftover because I don't want to waste it."
Many of the descriptions that will be printed on Regan's menus sound simple, but the preparations are a bit more complicated. "Pumpkin and apple," for example, involves encapsulated pumpkin soup, pie crust sauce, apple jelly shards, and wakame seaweed pickled in apple cider vinegar. Other dishes on the opening menus will include pig tails cooked in dark beer and served with a cocoa nib-infused balsamic gastrique, tenderized cocoa nibs, beets, pickled beet stems, and charred beet leaves; seared matsutake mushrooms with cinnamon custard, juniper powder, pine gel, and a compote of mushroom scraps; deer tenderloin with celery root and amaranth porridge, yellow nasturtium flowers, mustard sorbet, marigold pudding, and a dandelion-petal sugar tuille; and frozen chestnut mousse with pine and thyme fluid gels, shaved and sauteed boletus mushrooms, acorn puree, acorn meringue, and pine cotton candy. For a look at some of the dishes she'll be making, check out the video below, which Key Ingredient videographer Michael Gebert shot for the story.