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


Pros: Wasn't a manifesto on molecular gastronomy, and captures Achatz's passion

Cons: Could have been a bit more consise on various topics/stories

Simply put, Life on the Line reveals the groundbreaking journey of Chef Grant Achatz in the world of molecular gastronomy.  The book is not a manifesto for the movement.  Rather, it focuses on the Chef himself, following his enthusiasm and excitement for cooking and flavor.  Despite his humble beginnings in his grandparents’ restaurant, or perhaps because of them, Chef Grant Achatz has changed the American dining experience.  And Life on the Line lays out precisely how he became a face of molecular gastronomy in the nation, and throughout the world.    


Achatz is known for his innovative work with the essence of flavor.  Pursuing new ways of tasting, Achatz focuses on such techniques as single bites, scientifically enhanced textures, and presenting flavors in unexpected and untraditional ways.  Although he trained under Thomas Keller, to merely think of Achatz as a Keller protégé would be to ignore his own body of work and unique style.  The fact is, Achatz is so distinct a chef from his mentors that his food stands alone in comparison.  His creations are so original that, often, his cuisine and techniques are at the center of heated debates between food purists and food adventurers. 


But all of this information is only a fraction of story of Life on the Line.  True, we get to see some of debate on the new age food, but the book does a great job of focusing on the biography of Achatz—leaving the deep pontifications and philosophies for other books.   In other words, the book is about a guy who loves cooking. 


You also get to see the functional part of a chef's life and restaurant life.  For example, you are taken behind the scenes of restaurant planning.  You will read about everything from simply coming up with a name, to the monotonous task of simply driving around town keeping an eye out for possible spaces to lease.  Then enter the politics of it all, such as weighing the risks of opening up near an old guard chef.  Though seemingly minor, these mundane aspects of creating a new business, as well as other similar topics in a chef's life, are given their true weight--not glamorous, and not sugar coated. 


For all his fame and notoriety, this book was rather refreshing in its approach to telling us who Grant Achatz is.  Again, you might expect deep thoughts and pontifications on the meaning of food and theories on flavor.  However, Achatz doesn’t take himself too seriously in this book and avoids being out of reach with American diners.  Sure, his foods would not be found in a small town diner.  However, seeing his enthusiasm for what he’s doing might make those small town customers give Achatz a chance at tickling their taste buds. 


Likewise, readers should give Life on the Line a chance and discover the beginnings of an American Chef Innovator. 


Pros: Speaks to young cooks entering the field and seasoned professionals looking for good juju. Legitimate story of a fighter that works for many, not just

Cons: Sometimes the tangents lose the original thread; some ‘touches’ on interesting topics don’t get their deserving nod.

Reviewed by Jim Berman



No French gastronomic lineage. No knee-high adventures in Provence. Rather, Marine City, Michigan is the origin for, arguably, one of America’s loudest voices in the most profound food movement since haute cuisine itself. Grant Achatz’s recollection in Life, On the Line explains humble beginnings, life in and around the kitchen, an often tumultuous relationship with dad and his earliest kitchen exploits. Alinea is synonymous with molecular gastronomy. Grant Achatz is the workhorse and culinary firepower behind the restaurant. That restaurant is a culmination of a young life bursting to realize a vision that exists nowhere else. Achatz’s beginnings are much more grassroots than his eventual rise to James Beard award recipient would harken.


Credit where credit is due, Achatz was a good kid. Little deviance and debauchery, other than driving his GTO too damn fast, work ethic and angelically-inspired character were kindled early in this midwesterner’s upbringing. But the kitchen and, more importantly, the kitchen drive is where it is at for Achatz’s tale. We learn in Life, On the Line that the almost valueless word, passion, that gets tossed around the kitchen like an apron at the end of the shift, actually does apply to one man’s mission. Read the book to get it all.


The culinary frontier that Achatz very nearly pioneered in the United States comes to life with vivid color and bold strokes of, well, his genius. Big words, but true. Much of what you know about Achatz can be found orbiting around the likes of Trotter (there’s something in Life, On the Line about him, too) and Ferran Adria. Life, On the Line is not a cook book. The memoir delves into Achatz’s roots and wings, brush with early mortality and the rise of America’s foray into molecular gastronomy. Achatz colors Life, On the Line with clever anecdotes, such as his early experience in Charlie Trotter’s kitchen, a gastronomic adventure through France and tales of expectations behind the doors of the Culinary Institute of America.


Life, On the Line is a welcomed injection of what craftsmanship means to an arduous industry. It is inspiring to read about adversity and overcoming a striking blow that would fall most giants. And, yes, it is a passionate tale of making a dream come true.

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

"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue), Grant Achatz, shares how his drive to cook immaculate food fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer. By 2007 chef Grant Achatz had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine, he had received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award, and he and Nick Kokonas had 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 grim, Grant undertook an alternative treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation that ravaged his body and left him without a sense of taste. Tapping into his profound discipline and passion, 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 went on to achieve some of the highest honors in the culinary world. Life, on the Line is not only a chef's memoir, it is also a book about survival, about nurturing creativity, and about profound friendship.

AuthorNick Kokonas
List Price$18.00
Number Of Items1
Number Of Pages432
Product GroupBook
Product Type NameABIS_BOOK
Publication Date2012-03-06
TitleLife, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat
Release Date2012-03-06
Weight1 pounds
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC › Culinary Schools, Cookbooks & Cookware › Cookbooks › Restaurant & Chef Authored › Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat