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.