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.