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 that 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.
©2011 Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (P)2011 Tantor
"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)
I love food and this story was compelling even though not written by writers. For those who aren't foodies, not sure if it would be worth the trip.
I would take out most of the Nick Kokonas parts and delve more into Chef Achatz motivations and experiences. There is a lot of story there and I felt like the reader didnt get as much as they could have. Nick's story is pretty standard and other than being quite a self promoter, it was unremarkable and relatively uninteresting. The interesting parts of Mr. Kokonas' story could be covered in half a chapter or as a footnote.
Chapters 7-9 are absolutely brilliant. You see Chef Achatz growing and have his "aha" moment. It gives some insight into Chef Keller's way of running a kitchen and you see what Grant learned from him.
Considering what Chef Achatz has been through I expected the book to be just his story, a true autobiography. I bought it without reading the reviews or jackat based purely on his reputation and skill. Truth be told the book is about 60% Chef Achatz autobiography and 40% Mr. Kokonas vanity project.
This narrator did a fantastic job of describing Grant and his trials and tribulations from working his way up at the French laundry to Alina and what he encountered along the way.
As a chef I found the book inspiring enough to want to pick up his cookbook as well as Thomas Keller's. It's also a gentle reminder to us all, not to take anything for granted including our sense of taste.
Some of his creative ideas and food presentations descriptions have given me pause for thought. If you haven't looked up his YouTube video that videos you might do so just to wet your taste buds.
A great story about beating the odds, not accepting no for an answer and delving forth with courage when you think you're all tapped out.
I knew the story of the innovative chef in Chicago who developed serious tongue cancer and found a doctor with a new procedure that spared the mutilating surgery typically done. I imagine that most folks were interested in how he dealt with the cancer and his work, and the new surgical technique but that spared his tongue and therefore his career, but this only occurred in the last 1/4 of the book.
I found the specific information about the food interesting - can't imagine how he came up with ideas like these EVERY day. I did not find the business negotiations very interesting - about opening new restaurants, dealing with landlords and agents, etc.
I don't think the commentary by Nick Kokonas was necessary or added anything to the book. In addition, the narrator voiced both parts exactly the same way. It was an odd and subtle way of speaking that was believable for Achatz, but not for Nick. I would forget to whom I was listening frequently because they both sounded the same.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves the ins of the kitchen. It is comes across as an honest look at inside the life of a cook (chef).
I have always been fascinated by chef's and the look into their world and this is what Grant Achatz gives you.
No but he is a great narrator.
Many of the French preparation terms would have compelled me to stop reading so I could look up the pronunciation and definition so I preferred the audio edition.
When he realized that he was given an amazing second chance and started spending more time on "life."
This was a first, but I'd like to hear more.
I was touched that he wanted to treat his dad to a dinner at TFL and when he and his mother sat crying on the sofa toward the end of his radiation therapy.
My husband is presently undergoing the same treatment for the same type of cancer to his tongue. This book gave us a lot of hope that all the things that seem so difficult right now will improve. I was overwhelmed by the chef's courage throughout the book, but wish there had been more follow-up on his present prognosis and what his follow-up treatment has been like.
The more you love books... the more books you love!
I love how reading transports me to other worlds. In this book I experienced the focused drive it takes to be a world class chef, and then experienced the horror and ordeal of cancer treatment. I was rooting for Grant the whole way and am so glad he survived.
Grant and Nick are clearly both highly intelligent men with a great story to tell. Unfortunately, the writing in this book lets them down. It feels like reading the first draft of a better book.
The narrator does not help. He often misses the tone of scenes, mispronounces some culinary terms, and seems to be portraying Grant as a child when affecting his voice in dialogue.
All that being said, there is enough insight into the process of opening a great restaurant to make the book worthwhile. What it lacks in self-reflection and thought, it makes up for in detail.
This book caught and held my attention from beginning to end. The writing style was fresh and yet personable. Grant Achatz had a fascinating life journey to share that was full of dreams and made them happen through perseverance and an amazing support group of extraordinary friends and doctors willing to try cutting edge treatments to send his cancer into remission. Johnny Heller does an awesome job, as always ,narrating this enlightening book on what it takes to be the best at your game.
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