Gourmet magazine anointed his Chicago eatery Alinea "the best restaurant in America" and Michelin awarded it with three stars, but perhaps the greatest moment in Grant Achatz's life occurred when he received the news that he is free of the tongue cancer that threatened every facet of his life. During his anxiety-raising treatment and recovery, the man the New York Times praised for his "mischievous, science-project cooking" continued to explore his passion, improvising and relying on those around him, including co-owner (and co-author) Nick Kokonas. Foodies who enjoyed the restaurant or the eponymous 2008 book will be struck and impressed by this memoir about a remarkable man and his miraculous recovery.
In this curious memoir, chef Achatz and his business partner, Kokonas tell of their Chicago restaurant, Alinea, as well as his cancer diagnosis and recovery. Achatz grew up in Michigan in and around restaurants, the only child of a troubled marriage who spent an otherwise contented adolescence around kitchens. He eventually attended the Culinary Institute of America and studied with Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller with whom he began developing both his palate and culinary vision. He returned to Chicago, where he met Kokonas, who became his business partner in 2005, when they opened Alinea. As Alinea evolves from drawing board to reality, the narrative alternates between the two men's voices. They discuss finding the right team of chefs and dealing with Achatz's diagnosis with stage IV tongue cancer (Achatz had his tongue removed). The various narratives—childhood, professional development, Alinea, Kokonas, illness—have individual strengths, but the whole feels oddly disjointed and in places, such as the section on the restaurant's genesis and development, turn into more of a business how-to. Nevertheless, the authors duly convey their passion as well as a solid business philosophy. (Mar.)
"Grant Achatz is aggressively pushing inventive cuisine forward, forcing the rest of the country's toque-heads to keep pace."
Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Achatz is like a ringmaster running a highly sophisticated and technically accomplished cirque de cuisine."
Grant Achatz is redefining the American restaurant once again for an entirely new generation.
Food & Wine
"Grant Achatz at Alinea comes up with creations that aren't just cutting-edge---they're also absolutely delicious."
Grant Achatz is one of America's great chefs.
Alinea is a thrill ride of a dining experience, one that leaves you exhilarated, spent and eager for more.
Grant Achatz's brilliance and maturing sensibility are on display in this elegant two-story haven--and the experience is every bit as dramatic as at the theatre neighbors."
Writing with the panache of professionals, Achatz, chef and owner of Chicago's Alinea, and his business partner, Kokonas, relate the story of Achatz's life and work in a memoir that lives up to its expansive subtitle. Winner of the 2008 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award, Achatz has been at the forefront of molecular gastronomy. Though the authors rely heavily on terms perhaps unfamiliar to readers outside the restaurant world (e.g., lardoon, brunoise, torchon, commis), descriptions of Achatz's creations are mouthwatering. Most of the book covers the years of his rising stardom and keeps readers' interest with details of each restaurant in which he worked. Just after opening Alinea, Achatz was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the tongue. He discusses his harrowing battle in sometimes graphic detail and brings readers to the happy ending of his remission and continued culinary success. VERDICT Achatz and Kokonas share an engaging, well-written, and informative description of what it's like to work in commercial kitchens along with the stirring story of Achatz's fight for his life. Recommended for a range of memoir readers. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/10.]—Elizabeth Rogers, CEF Lib. Syst., Plattsburgh, NY
One of America's most decorated chefs relates the triumphal story of his culinary genesis and epic battle with tongue cancer.
The unlikely comma in the title of this 36-year-old's memoir, seemingly choking off the subject before it's developed, wonderfully captures the pivotal pause cancer forced the young chef to take during his meteoric rise in the restaurant world. Witnessed and told in part by business partner Kokonas, Achatz's story begs comparison more with sports greats like Andre Agassi and Lance Armstrong, who famously surmounted gross physical challenges to reach the pinnacle of their careers, than with other culinary lions. While his untimely diagnosis with carcinoma of the tongue at age 33 may have compelled Achatz to share his story of life "on the line" with a mainstream audience, the bulk of the memoir focuses on the chef's extraordinary culinary journey. From cracking eggs at age seven in his grandmother's café, to opening Alinea in Chicago at 31, which was subsequently named the best restaurant in the country byGourmetin 2006, Achatz writes that the great challenge of his younger life was matching the culinary achievement of those around him. "All of my life I was surrounded by success"—including his parents, who owned their own restaurant before they were 30, exposure to the uncompromising demands of Charlie Trotter and mentoring by the inimitable Thomas Keller. "The whole time I wanted to be as good as all of them," he writes. "I knew the only way to come close to that was to do something different; otherwise, I would always be in their shadows." With an unrelenting work ethic and crackerjack imagination that has yielded gastronomic gems like foie gras lozenges enrobed in bittersweet chocolate or lavender-flavored popsicles, not to mention a revolutionary approach to food preparation and presentation, Achatz has demonstrated success at achieving "different." But what makes this memoir ring true for those beyond the world of the professional kitchen is the author's understated rise to the challenge of his life-altering trauma.
Revelatory and inspiring.
"[Life, on the Line] may be the best, most inspiring chef memoir ever written."
"[Life, on the Line] is full of energy and without pretense."
"The next great food memoir."
"This must-read for the culinary crowd is the literary equivalent of caviar and Krug. Foodies will marvel at Achatz's thought process on his molecular creations, while Kokonas provides a detailed glimpse of the artistic vision and creation of modern fine dining."
From the Publisher
"[Life, on the Line] may be the best, most inspiring chef memoir ever written." — American Way
"[Life, on the Line] is full of energy and without pretense." — Chicago Tribune
"The next great food memoir." — Details
"This must-read for the culinary crowd is the literary equivalent of caviar and Krug. Foodies will marvel at Achatz's thought process on his molecular creations, while Kokonas provides a detailed glimpse of the artistic vision and creation of modern fine dining." — Booklist
"Writing with the panache of professionals, Achatz, chef and owner of Chicago's Alinea, and his business partner, Kokonas, relate the story of Achatz's life and work in a memoir that lives up to its expansive subtitle. ...Achatz and Kokonas share an engaging, well-written, and informative description of what it's like to work in commercial kitchens along with the stirring story of Achatz's fight for his life." — Library Journal