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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Story of Success and Determination
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...
Published on March 3, 2011 by Cory Giles

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
As the memoir of a struggle against a particularly painful and difficult cancer, the book has merit (although the writing is mediocre, in my view). As the story of "Redefining the Way We Eat" as it's subtitled, the book is a failure. There is really very little about the author's (authors's) attitude toward what he cooks and eats and almost nothing about technique. I...
Published 18 months ago by Barbilani


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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Story of Success and Determination, March 3, 2011
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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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Read, March 6, 2011
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This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Hardcover)
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic!, March 7, 2011
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This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Hardcover)
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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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Molecular Gastronomy? I Just want a Meal, April 3, 2011
This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (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.

Interspersed with Achatz's narrative is the first-person perspective of his friend and restaurant business partner, Nick Kokonas.

The field of chef memoirs is getting crowded. You have the Bad Bay of Cooking Anthony Bourdaine. Gabrielle Hamilton's superb "Blood, Bones and Butter" is a gem. LIFE ON THE LINE is a compelling story, even if you are not a chef, a cook or a "foodie." It stands as an absorbing narrative for anyone who has a passion and wants to pursue it with single-minded devotion.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring story, April 6, 2011
By 
Lea (Dallas, TX United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (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. I really liked both Grant and NIck, as well as their friends and colleagues, and I was truly anxious to see how it all turned out. Unlike fiction, real life is sloppy, and things often end up where you wouldn't expect, or even where you hope they won't -- marriages end, people die, businesses close . . . We know from the first chapter that Grant Achatz survives his ordeal, and Achatz and Kokonas end things on a positive note, but there's always a little part of you that wonders if they'll make it in the end. Hopefully their partnership and friendship will continue for many years to come.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves food or cooking, or reading about food or cooking! This is also a wonderful story about sticking to your ideals and dreams, even if everyone around you thinks you're crazy, even if the odds are stacked against you.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, March 23, 2011
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This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Hardcover)
I love memoirs of any kind and this book is great! I love to cook and have always been curious about how great chefs think, and this book is very well written. Kudos to Grant Atchez for sharing his life, the good and the difficult!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Chef Book, March 26, 2011
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This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Hardcover)
If you're a fan of books about chefs, this is a great one. Fascinating story of the author's journey from his parents' restaurant to the CIA to the French Laundry before creating what must be the most revolutionary dining experience in the world. Michael Ruhlman's books about his year at the CIA, Michael Symon, and Thomas Keller turned me into a chef book junkie, and the details in this book about what went into creating Alinea were fascinating. Achatz' journey through cancer just made it all the more interesting (and inspirational).

My favorite section of the whole book detailed a friend's visit to Alinea and his description of the diners' reactions to the food. Hilarious, and made me feel like I was sitting right there in the restaurant. Very well done.

This would probably be an interesting book for any reader, but it's a must-read for chef-junkies like myself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, March 23, 2011
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This review is from: Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Hardcover)
As a seven night a week restaurant goer but not especially a fan of molecular cooking I was very curious about the Chef and the way he thinks. The book answers all of that in a beautifully written manner. The juxtaposed telling of the story by Achatz's business partner was brilliantly handeled. I loved the book and have given it to several of my favorite chefs who will likely feel the same way. It seems brutally honest and as a result completely believeable.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, February 16, 2013
As the memoir of a struggle against a particularly painful and difficult cancer, the book has merit (although the writing is mediocre, in my view). As the story of "Redefining the Way We Eat" as it's subtitled, the book is a failure. There is really very little about the author's (authors's) attitude toward what he cooks and eats and almost nothing about technique. I learned more from the book about what went on in Keller's The French Laundry restaurant than in the kitchen at Alinea, except for architectural drawings and design plans. Most disappointingly, Grant Achatz is not a man most of us would want to be around. Yes, renowned chefs have big egos, we pretty much know that. But many are not mirthless, dull and unkind to others, as Achatz revealed himself to be. Working in a restaurant kitchen isn't a barrel of laughs anywhere, but I bet being side-by-side with Achatz is a special hell.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A feast for foodies and anyone who enjoys great story telling, March 12, 2011
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Grant Achatz, one of the country's most admired chefs and driving force behind Alinea, one of the country's best new restaurants, develops a cancerous tumor that invades his tongue and kills all sense of taste, so that food becomes no more than "cardboard," salt "just sand" in his mouth.

Extreme foodie can't taste food. That is irony that is almost sublime in its unexpected and nearly unbelievable incongruity. That's Beethoven without hearing, Monet without eyesight.

"Life on the Line" delivers two stories. The first is like foie gras, long and difficult in the preparation but then delectable in its texture and taste. The second is like organ meat, bloody and basic, definitely not appetizing at first but then in the end, also very satisfying.

The first follows Achatz from his introduction to cooking at age five standing on an overturned milk crate in his mom's kitchen stirring a packet of cherry Jell-O into hot water to his rise - two decades later after stops at Charlie Trotters, the French Laundry and Trio - to acclaim as one of the nation's top chefs, undisputed leader in what's become know as molecular gastronomy and the inspiration behind Alinea, the Chicago restaurant "Gourmet" Magazine in 2006 put at the top of heap of the fifty best restaurants in the country. That's after being open a little more than a year.

The second story is gruesome. Excruciating in its detail, it follows Achatz through treatment and to what almost amounts to salvation after being diagnosed with stage IVb Squamish cell carcinoma of the tongue.

At the time of the diagnosis in 2007, the tumor had taken up more than 50 percent of the visible part of his tongue. The only recognized treatment was horrific: to remove the tongue, part of the jaw and neck. To a chef, that sounded more like butchery than surgery. Not only would he lose all taste, it would likely leave him unable to speak normally. Even then, the long-term prospects were bleak.

Rather than follow the recommended course, Achatz insisted on an alternative, radical and experimental regimen of chemotherapy and radiation that, if successful, offered the chance he would taste food again.

But if successful he might live, his sense of taste might return and he might be able to cook and thereby create.

The memoir is collaboration between Achatz and his business partner and friend Nick Kokonas. The authors are preoccupied with operating the nation's best, most acclaimed restaurant and creating great cuisine. It's pretty clear they don't aspire to write great literature.

The memoir is occasionally clunky and sometimes reads as if dictated while in the middle of doing something else more important. The book's mid-section, dealing with the opening of Alinea, is a patchwork of newsletter reprints sent periodically to the restaurant's investors reassuring them about budget and timeline. Achatz and Kokonas trade off as narrators in the last half of the book, and it's often confusing, disjointed or at the very least distracting trying to figure out who's doing the talking.

Those criticisms, consider them mild, are in the end quibbles. "Life on the Line" tells two enthralling stories. First, the education and rise of a chef who has changed the culinary world and left a lasting legacy of invention and creativity. Then there's the story of the heroic and extremely courageous battle to fight cancer and to survive.

An alinea is the familiar copyediting mark that looks like a reverse letter "P" and signals next or next paragraph. It's a great name for a restaurant that lifted gastronomy to the next level. The book is a feast for people who like to read about food and also for anyone who loves great story telling.
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Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat
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