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

( 40 )

Overview

"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue), Grant Achatz, shares how his drive to cook immaculate food fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

By 2007 chef Grant Achatz had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine, he had received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, and he and Nick Kokonas had opened the conceptually radical restaurant Alinea, which was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine. Then, ...

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Overview

"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue), Grant Achatz, shares how his drive to cook immaculate food fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

By 2007 chef Grant Achatz had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine, he had received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, and he and Nick Kokonas had 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 grim, Grant undertook an alternative treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation that ravaged his body and left him without a sense of taste. Tapping into his profound discipline and passion, 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 went on to achieve some of the highest honors in the culinary world. Life, on the Line is not only a chef's memoir, it is also a book about survival, about nurturing creativity, and about profound friendship.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

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.

-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

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592406975
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 167,711
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Grant Achatz is the owner of Alinea, Next and The Aviary in Chicago. He lives in Chicago.
Nick Kokonas partnered with Grant Achatz to develop Alinea, Next and The Aviary. He lives with his wife and two sons in Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 40 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2011

    Highly highly recommended

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2015

    Read the Book...then spent $800 for dinner for 2 at Alinea.

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2011

    Great read, tears, action, and interesting also.

    This is an outstanding book; cooking at this level is another world, fascinating to read about. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted November 1, 2011

    great book

    well written and a very touching book.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    amazing story!

    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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  • Posted July 6, 2011

    Simply Astounding

    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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  • Posted June 7, 2011

    Excellent!

    After dining at Alinea, I was blown away by the talent and excellence of Grant Achatz. This book is a wonderful look into the life of one of the best culinary minds of our generation. Fantastic read!

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  • Posted May 29, 2011

    Life, On The Line

    An absolutely phenomenal book. I struggled to put it down and was so sad when I finished it. I desperately hope that Grant will write another book when the time is right again. I can't wait to eat at both Alenia and Next!

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  • Posted April 27, 2011

    Truly Inspiring - Highly recommend

    After hearing an interview with Chef Achatz on NPR I knew I needed to read this book, yes it was a need. This is due in part that I have been through radiation therapy after having a mass removed from my left cheek. The passion that Chef Achatz has for cooking and bringing his vision to life every day is truly inspiring, even during the time when he had lost his sense of taste and the pain was great he was on the line. This is far more that a story of a cancer survivor it is also a documentation of a person that knows what they want to do and are willing to make great sacrifices to achieve his goal. Chef Achatz demonstrates that when you have the clarity of vision nothing can truly stand in your way.

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