"life, on the line" is the story of Chef and co-founder of Alinea, a restaurant that is ranked in the top 10 of the world. From his humble beginnings cracking eggs with his grandmother in the family owned diner at the age of 5 to his journey to becoming named Best New Chef, Rising Star Chef of America and Best Restaurant in America, this was an interesting read. You follow Achatz through his strained childhood with an alcoholic father who came in and out of his life to his time at the Culinary Institute of America to his working for his mentor, Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, (another top restaurant), to his meeting with his friend and business partner Nick and the founding of Alinea. It's a story of a very driven, very creative young man. The reader is taken into a journey of his philosophy of food, that of food not only involving the sensory of taste but of evoking emotion as well, of food as art, food as entertainment. The storytelling was interesting and I never found it dry, not even when there was lots of pages of descriptions of the restaurant coming together. In fact it was a story hard to put down. Once Achatz meets his business partner, the story starts to go back and forth between the two of them and brings both of their perspectives into view.
But this isn't just another story of another world class chef and the building of a world renown restaurant. What was really unique about this story and what really brings a whole other meaning to the title of the book, is that right when Achatz realizes his culinary dreams he starts to get sick. He is diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma or tongue cancer. Doctors don't give him much hope and the treatment of the day would radically alter his appearance, his speech, his life, his career and his quality of life as they would remove his tongue, cut his jaw and into his neck. Without this "treatment" he basically has a few painful months to live. As he deals with the most horrendous news a chef and a person could receive by falling back onto the safety net of his work, his friend and business partner deals with the news by searching the internet constantly for alternative treatments. He found one that involved very aggressive chemo with a different drug and then a schedule of twice a day radiation that takes the patient as low as they can go and then removal of the lymph nodes of the neck. Achatz decides to try for the alternative treatment but pays the price of losing his sense of taste. But he kept at his life's work and has gone on to open yet another innovative restaurant and win the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef in America Award.
I like autobiographies because I like to see what makes people tick. I wouldn't call myself a foodie but I do love watching the food network. And I do like to eat. Too much apparently, but that is for another post, or not. I've always wondered what makes these chefs so driven, so willing to work so hard at their craft with what sounds like not much pay, and why sometimes they are so egotistical. When I saw the book at the library I was drawn right to it. It's not just a story of a very creative person or of food or the ego or the drive. It's a story of surviving cancer and of friendship. I really, really enjoyed the whole of this chef's story. I do feel that I should warn there is some foul language scattered here and there. There are several f-bombs dropped. There is a couple instances of the Lord's name being taken in vain, which to me is the worst swear. On the whole the swearing is much less than what I thought would appear in a book written by a chef considering the amount of swearing there is on some of the shows on the food network. I was totally prepared to put the book down as I have done before when the swearing is pervasive, and though I would MUCH prefer that there be no swearing whatsoever, I know that is probably unrealistic in this day and age in a book of this sort.