Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Story of a Great Chef: Grant Achatz

As regular readers of this blog know, I like to read about restaurants, chefs, and the “foodie” (although I don’t particularly like this term, it is a kind of convenient shorthand) world. (See, for example, my 2/4/10 list of books on these topics, and my 6/10/11 list of “memorable meals in fiction.”) I have just finished reading a fascinating contribution to this genre: “Life, On the Line” (Gotham, 2011), by Chef Grant Achatz and his business partner, Nick Kokonas. Achatz is only in his thirties but has become one of the very best-known chefs in the United States and the world, because of the intensely creative food he produces in his award-winning Chicago restaurant, Alinea. The story of his becoming a chef and of his restaurant is intertwined with the story of his life. A very difficult and frightening occurrence in his life a few years ago was his diagnosis of, and treatment for, Stage IV tongue cancer. This is a terrible illness for anyone, but even more so for a chef, who needs his sense of taste for his livelihood and passion. He underwent an extremely painful and ravaging experimental treatment that, miraculously, cured his cancer and eventually allowed his taste to come back. Throughout, he continued to run the restaurant, create new dishes, and supervise his dedicated group of chefs. Now he and Kokonas have opened a new restaurant in Chicago as well, called Next, a sign of hope for a new beginning. This book catches the reader up in the compelling story it offers, and is informative, enjoyable, sad, and inspiring. I had the privilege and good fortune to dine at Alinea earlier this year, thanks to my friends E., J., and G.; it was an amazing, even thrilling experience. This book is a must-read for anyone at all interested in the world of restaurants.

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