Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

4.3 40
by Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas
     
 

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"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue) shares how his drive to cook immaculate food won him international renown-and fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

In 2007, chef Grant Achatz seemingly had it made. He had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002, received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star

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Overview

"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue) shares how his drive to cook immaculate food won him international renown-and fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

In 2007, chef Grant Achatz seemingly had it made. He had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002, received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award in 2003, and in 2005 he and Nick Kokonas opened the conceptually radical restaurant Alinea, which was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine. Then, positioned firmly in the world's culinary spotlight, Achatz was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma-tongue cancer.

The prognosis was grim, and doctors agreed the only course of action was to remove the cancerous tissue, which included his entire tongue. Desperate to preserve his quality of life, Grant undertook an alternative treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. But the choice came at a cost. Skin peeled from the inside of Grant's mouth and throat, he rapidly lost weight, and most alarmingly, he lost his sense of taste. Tapping into the discipline, passion, and focus of being a chef, Grant rarely missed a day of work. He trained his chefs to mimic his palate and learned how to cook with his other senses. As Kokonas was able to attest: The food was never better. Five months later, Grant was declared cancer-free, and just a few months following, he received the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef in America Award.

Life, on the Line tells the story of a culinary trailblazer's love affair with cooking, but it is also a book about survival, about nurturing creativity, and about profound friendship. Already much- anticipated by followers of progressive cuisine, Grant and Nick's gripping narrative is filled with stories from the world's most renowned kitchens-The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, el Bulli- and sure to expand the audience that made Alinea the number-one selling restaurant cookbook in America last year.

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Details
"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."
Gourmet
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."
Vogue
Grant Achatz is one of America's great chefs.
Chicago Tribune
Alinea is a thrill ride of a dining experience, one that leaves you exhilarated, spent and eager for more.
Chicago magazine
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."
Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

-American Way
"[Life, on the Line] may be the best, most inspiring chef memoir ever written."
-Chicago Tribune
"[Life, on the Line] is full of energy and without pretense."
-Details
"The next great food memoir."
-Booklist
"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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592406012
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
03/03/2011
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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

Meet the Author

Grant Achatz is the multiple award-winning chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago. He has written for Gourmet, The New York Times Diner's Journal, and is a columnist for The Atlantic's Food Channel.

Nick Kokonas partnered with Grant Achatz in 2005 to develop Alinea, where he remains actively engaged in its strategy, marketing, and business planning.

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Life, on the Line 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing story. I've been a fan of Chef Achatz for years and knew bits and pieces of the story but this was an insightful and truly inspirational story. I couldn't put it down.
Buckmeister More than 1 year ago
My wife is a foodie who's favorite TV Channel is the Food Channel. I kid her about that all the time, but I shouldn't because she's a great cook. Anyway, she read this book first and said I MUST read it too. I was a bit reticent about doing that, but did. It is truly an incredible story about a young man who, despite suffering from, of all things, tongue cancer, strives to be a great, innovative chef. Probably the most inspiring story I have ever read. And then....see my headline!
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This is an outstanding book; cooking at this level is another world, fascinating to read about. Highly recommended.
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joeUT More than 1 year ago
well written and a very touching book.
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scintron5 More than 1 year ago
Chef Achatz is amazing. His story is incredible. His drive, his passion, and strive to be the best is what drives me to be the best chef I possibly can be. His story of survival is amazing. I love how the story is being told through both Grant's accounts and Nick Kokonas's accounts. I feel that I'm hearing the story, not from two business partners, but from two brothers. I laughed and cried reading this book. It was truly inspiring.
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FoodandHistory More than 1 year ago
What an absolute treasure. Achatz is as wonderful a writer as he is a chef. As much as I enjoy the usual I-cook-food-in-beautiful-places chef memoirs, it was really a terrific pleasure to read a well-written, non-fluff, real world memoir from one of the world's greatest chefs. Thanks, Chef.
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