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Life, On The Line

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rather than posting a recipe or lesson this week, I thought I'd pass on a book recommendation for anyone looking for a good read.  This week I finally finished up Life, On The Line, which covers the life of chef and restaurateur, Grant Achatz [ACK-ETZ] and his business partner Nick Kokonas.

If you haven't heard of Achatz before, this clip gives you an idea of his cooking philosophy and the visual presentation that he's known for.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1994 and working briefly at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, he made the trek to California and officially started his career at Thomas Keller's French Laundry.  Four years later he worked his way up to sous-chef and then decided to move back to Chicago where he landed a job as executive chef of Trio.  After really making a name for himself and Trio, Achatz finally branched off and completely designed a place of his own:  Alinea.  [Side note:  A quick glance at Alinea's site gives you some more examples of the complex and artistic dishes that he's known for].

By combining the fact that Achatz had some pretty strong role models in his early career along with the fact that he's pure genius, it comes as no surprise that he's racked up quite the list of awards.  A small selection of his numerous awards include:

  • Best New Chef, Food & Wine Magazine, 2002
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, James Beard Foundation, 2003
  • Best Restaurant in America, Gourmet Magazine, 2006
  • The Best Restaurant in North America and the 6th Best Restaurant in the World, S. Pellegrino, 2011
  • Multiple other James Beard Foundation awards
  • Multiple 3 Michelin Stars ratings
To put this into perspective, just after turning 30, Grant Achatz had the best restaurant in the United States, and then widened his award to include all of North America just years later.  Madness, eh?  

As if my awe of his dedication to the culinary field isn't obvious enough...I did forget to mention one small detail.

In 2007, at the peak of his young career, he was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma (tongue cancer).  Not only is it life-changing enough to find out that you have cancer and are in the final stage (there is no stage V), but to know that this form of cancer would most likely take away your ability to eat and taste must have been absolutely devastating.  I can't even imagine...

As you may have guessed (since he wrote a book about it), Achatz not only managed to beat the cancer using new treatment methods, but has gone on to open a couple other award-winning Chicago-based restaurants:  Next and The Aviary.  Both have completely different concepts that have gained just as much success as Alinea.

Along with his discipline to his craft no matter the circumstances, what I admire most about Achatz is the fact that his culinary creations along with the extremely well thought out dining experience at his restaurants are purely original.  In an age where it seems like every type of food or every style of restaurant has already been done, he proves that there's a completely new dimension to explore.  He has his own style that is 100% distinguishable from any other past or present chef.

Whether you're in the culinary field and looking for some inspiration, or are just looking for a motivational read, I strongly recommend Life, On The Line.

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  1. Such a great book! I read it a few years ago and loved it -- he's such a great talent and his story is really inspiring. I may have to dig it up again and reread :)