There’s no telling how far the star of Simon Davies will rise as he heads into his 30s. After all, it took less than a decade to go from an unpaid internship at Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.) to being named executive chef of what is consistently ranked as one of the greatest culinary destinations anywhere. “I never would have thought I would become the executive chef,” Davies says. “When I was 19, I didn’t think I was going to make it six weeks.”
But chef-owner Grant Achatz saw something in Davies from the start. “It’s incredibly rare for a 19-year-old to possess the vision, dedication, maturity and skill to make an impression in the Alinea environment,” Achatz says. “He did.”
Davies got his start as a dishwasher at a diner in his hometown of Redding, Calif. Friends at late-night parties turned to him for sustenance, and crafting those pantry-raiding concoctions made Davies realize how much he loved cooking. He enrolled in culinary school soon after. Once he landed at Alinea, he never considered going anywhere else. “I think in order to really ‘get’ a restaurant, you have to spend some time there,” Davies says. “I’m still discovering new things every day.”
Already, he and Achatz have turned over half of Alinea’s menu. Among the new dishes is one partially inspired by the palo santo sticks Davies’ mother burned in his childhood home. Davies infuses ice cream with the smoke and pairs it with Mexican hot chocolate milk punch. “But that is not enough for Alinea,” he adds. “We have to make it a full story.” Here the tale includes handcrafted raku plates with elements of the ice cream burned into them.
Davies, a former painter, appreciates the poetry of it all. “I put everything I’ve got into what I’m doing, and I took a similar approach coming here,” he says. “I knew it was one of the best restaurants in the world, and there was nowhere else I wanted to be.”