For a chef, taste is the most basic of senses. Not only is it basic, it is also the most important. How do you think would a chef react if, by some twist of fate, he faces the threat of losing that one sense? It is something that Grant Achatz, celebrated chef of Alinea, faced when he was diagnosed with stage-four tongue cancer. In his book, “Life, On the Line”, we get a glimpse of a man who went through such a terrifying experience.
When it comes to avant garde cuisine in Chicago, Alinea is the name above the rest. Recognized by Gourmet Magazine as the best restaurant in America in 2006, it is the place where all the senses are engaged when dining. The man behind this impressive achievement is a chef that is so passionate about his profession – Grant Achatz. So focused, so serious is this man that his greatest fear is not dying, but losing his sense of taste.
So it is easy to imagine how difficult his life became when he was diagnosed with a malignant cancer of the tongue. The prospects were grim: aside from losing his ability to taste food, there is also the chance that he would only live for two years. The solution was not even reassuring for a man of his profession. The doctors recommended that they surgically remove his tongue and replace it with another part of his body.
Now, Achatz was more of a fighter, especially when it is what he loves to do that is placed in danger. Knowing that he had nothing to lose, he decided to undergo treatment at the University of Chicago, where an intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment helped him fight back and get his tongue saved. Not only did he succeed, but his lost sensation of taste gradually returned to him. It was like jumping back up after being knocked down pretty badly.
It is a story worth reading. But a word of advice to prospective readers: this is not a cookbook. This is not even about a book about his fight against cancer. What Achatz’s book is all about is his expression of love, of his passion, for cooking. You won’t get that many cooking ideas from his book, but at least you will more or less understand what goes on inside the kitchen. After all, that is the place where true culinary works of art are made.
The only thing that may leave others scratching their heads is the inclusion of Nick Kokonas, Achatz’s partner in the restaurant. While it is nice to know how Alinea came about, some of the details about the operation may leave the readers bored. To be frank, Kokonas’ piece is better off included in a business magazine or textbook, where it would be better appreciated. Leaving his part of the story to the casual reader may not be a good idea. They did buy the book because Achatz is there, in the first place.
Still, that should not discourage prospective buyers of the book. It is something worth their time, and it is the kind that would be nice for casual reading.
Alinea is located at 1723 North Halsted, Chicago Illinois 60614 (312) 867-0110