Friday, May 25, 2012

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

Goodreads Description:
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.

My Review:
Since my mom's death from cancer a few years ago, I don't like reading books where someone has cancer. It upsets me. But, I love food memoirs and Achatz is one of the best chef's in America if not the world. And I know he survived. However, I was surprised at how little of the book features his struggle with cancer- just the last part. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that this book is mostly about food and Achatz's love of creating extraordinary dishes. After reading it, I think that he would define himself as a chef more than as a cancer survivor. That cancer made him appreciate the life he's living now- and a big part of that life for him is food.

This book was a 2011 Goodreads Choice runner up in the Best Food & Cooking category. I just looked and there are a few books that I honestly can't comprehend why they placed higher than this. Is it merely because people have heard of them? Well, if you love food or food memoirs, this one should be moved higher up your "to be read" list. It was wonderful and probably the best food book I've read that was published in 2011.

Overall rating: 4 stars
Genre rating: 4 1/2 stars (imagine 4 1/2 stoves)

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