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Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat Hardcover – March 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From 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. 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.)
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From 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. The book takes readers into the passionate environment of a revolutionary kitchen, and through the eyes of the authors we are introduced to the future of gastronomy. Achatz�s battle had its time in the �weeds��his troubles with food writers, family relationships, and stage IV tongue cancer�but with perseverance and fortitude, he became one of the most controversial and respected chefs, ultimately opening what some critics call the best restaurant in North America, Chicago�s Alinea. Kokonas was first introduced to the prodigy at Trio, where Achatz started his executive-chef career. After dining on hundreds of dexterous courses, Kokonas decided to stop gambling on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and create a restaurant with the then 29-year-old, and what began as a business venture became an indispensable friendship. --Brian Lesson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (March 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592406017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592406012
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

GRANT ACHATZ was named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002, received the James Beard Rising Star Chef award in 2003, and won the Beard Best Chef/Great Lakes award in 2007. Before opening Alinea in 2005, Achatz was sous chef at the French Laundry and the executive chef of Trio in Chicago. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Customer Reviews

His story is very well written and makes a very enjoyable read.
Gavin Scott
At its core, the book is the autobiography of Grant Achatz, chef/co-owner of Alinea, widely considered to be one of best restaurants in the United States.
Michael Lima
I would recommend this to anyone who loves food or cooking, or reading about food or cooking!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Cory Giles on March 3, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
By the age of 32 Grant Achatz, chef/owner of Alinea, had achieved his dream of having the best restaurant in American and, along the way, had completely redefined not only the dining experience but how we think about food and eating. In this book, Chef Achatz, along with Nick Kokonas (his business partner in Alinea and a first-time restaurateur), describes the path he took to reach his goal. If the story ended there, it would be an amazing story of hard work and sacrifice coupled with sheer genius and the audacity to succeed at all costs. The story takes a totally different turn when Chef Achatz is diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the tongue and is faced with the heart-rending choice of risking his sense of taste, and with it his livelihood and identity as a chef, in an attempt to save his life.

Though it sounds cliche, this book transcends genre and audience. For those interested in cooking and the life of a chef, it ranks alongside the works of Michael Ruhlman and Anthony Bourdain as the best in the genre. As a business book, it is a tremendous inspiration for the budding entrepreneur (or for a successful businessperson who is in the midst of doubt) and shows the power of making an audacious goal then driving forward to reach it. Above all it is the story of the extraordinary life of an extraordinary person as he strives to grow, succeed, live, and love. Chef Achatz has shown that he holds himself (and his staff) to the highest standards, and this book does not disappoint in any way. In short, the best book I've read in a very long time. Very highly recommended.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By vbgal2 on March 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Behind the allure of Alinea, an intangible experience for many normal Americans, lies the story of Grant Achatz.

His story is moving, witty, driven, and honest (with a hint of that chef ego that we all know is there). It doesn't pretend to be something it isn't, and opens up a world of food that would otherwise go unilluminated to the general public.

I am thankful for the experience of reading this book. It was a great read.

Oh, and I'm thankful that someone slipped a phonetically-correct definition of Achatz into the book. That did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. After mainly reading about Chef Achatz online, I was grateful for that small formality.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lea on April 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is terrific. In it, Grant Achatz talks about the roots of his desire to be a chef, and it follows him from his childhood, through his education at the Culinary Institute of America, and his stints in several high profile restaurants before opening his own in Chicago.

His business partner and friend, Nick Kokonas, shares the narration. Initially I was put off by this style, but I found myself reading one side of the story, then wondering what the other's thoughts were. (This isn't meant to imply that there was conflict between the two men -- they seem to have a wonderful working relationship, which is reflected in their writing about each other.)

I was surprised by how little of the book is actually devoted to Achatz's diagnosis of and treatment for cancer. It opens and closes the book, but the majority of the story is focused on the development of Achatz's career. Fine by me -- in and of itself, it's a hell of a story. He's a determined and inspiring guy. (And Kokonas's support, and the faith he had in Achatz, is inspiring as well.)

When the story does turn to Achatz's illness, there is an incredible intensity to the story. Some of the most difficult passages to read were Kokonas's telling of being at a golf tournament while waiting to hear the results of Achatz's biopsy.

"My third nine-hole match concluded that day at nearly 7:00 P.M. I played remarkably well, considering that I didn't think about golf for a second. The caddie would hand me a club, I would look at the target and hit the ball. I genuinely didn't care. It was a state of golf I had been trying to achieve my whole life: complete dispassion."

I cried my eyes out in parts of this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By professionalcook on March 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book in two days, i couldnt put it down. I am a cook myself and love to hear stories from the greats on the roads they traveled.This should be a mandatory read for all culinary students. Inspiring, heart wrenching, and overall great to read.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Sorry, I don't need a caviar egg balanced from the head of a pin. Nor a reduction of stuffed truffle served from a swinging trapeze. Or essence of broccoli reduction dropped from the end of a laboratory pipette. Nor do I need a four and a half hour dinner with 32 courses weighing in at $195. You've got to be kidding me.

For those who love haute cuisine, though, who don't mind their dinner be prepped in something that looks more like a chemist lab than a kitchen, you will likely love restaurants like Alinea.

Regardless of the type of food, A LIFE ON THE LINE is, for the most part, a compelling read. Co-author Grant Achatz has a burning vision of what he wants to do in food, in cooking and in creating a complete dining experience. He works tirelessly to bring this vision to life. Management guru Tom Peters has said that anybody who created anything great was a megalomaniac on a mission. That fits Achatz. The guy burns his candle at both ends as he translates his culinary vision into one of the world's top restaurants.

So, even if you are not "into" this type of food or dining, the story is compelling for the message that you must work hard and relentlessly to achieve something great. Added to the professional challenges is the health crisis that confronted Achatz. He learns that he has cancer of the tongue and must reassess his life's priorities.

Here is where the phrase, "Life on the Line" offers a telling pun. On the one hand, most of the book describes Achatz's life as a line cook and chef. Once he learns of his diagnosis and the grim prognosis, his life literally is on the line as he gives himself over to the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
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