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Alinea’s coronavirus-inspired hors d’oeuvre sparks backlash

Alinea, Chicago’s high temple of molecular gastronomy, ignited a social media kerfuffle with one of chef/owner Grant Achatz’s newest creations: a coronavirus-inspired canape.

The hors d’oeuvre in question begins a meal at the restaurant’s rooftop pop-up location—Alinea in Residence, or AIR—which opened July 1 and runs through Aug. 15. The morsel is styled after the now iconic image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. 

One happy diner praised the bite on Twitter: “Thank you for making art that we love to experience and eat (at a safe distance),” according to restaurant news site Eater Chicago. But some interpreted the canape as a kind of joke.

“Unbelievable,” wrote Dave Baker when he shared the image on Instagram, according to Block Club Chicago. “This isn’t ‘cute.’ This is shameful. How unbelievably disrespectful to anyone who’s life has been lost. I don’t care how you spin it, this is unacceptable.” Baker is a former sous chef at an Alinea sister restaurant.

Charges were bandied about of racism, classism, arrogance and just plain tone-deafness, given the pandemic’s heavy toll on minorities and the restaurant’s wealthy, mostly white clientele. A meal there costs $285 to $315, sans beverages.

Eater said Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas, defended the canape in a comment: “Art is often meant to provoke discomfort, conversation, and awareness. This is no different. Everyone on here saying we are somehow oblivious need to think just a single level upwards.” 

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