Book Review – Life, On the Line

25 March 2011
Book Review – Life, On the Line

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat By Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas
Gotham Books, £16.98
ISBN-13: 978-1592406012

Having first read about Grant Achatz [executive chef of the three-Michelin-starred Alinea restaurant in Chicago] in Michael Rhulman's The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection, I ordered the Alinea cookbook as soon as it was available. After devouring that, I wondered when Achatz would write his memoirs (which seems the big chef thing to do now).

So when Life, on the Line came out I wasted no time in getting stuck in. The section on his time at Charlie Trotter's eponymous restaurant in Chicago is interesting, in particular that someone with his obvious talent didn't feel at home in that kitchen. But, step forward to the French Laundry, and you see where Achatz's drive for perfection comes from. You get a real feel for the way the kitchen was run at Thomas Keller's restaurant (prior to the openings of Per Se and Bouchon) as Achatz was first there around the time of the launch of the French Laundry cookbook.

Life, on the Line gives you a glimpse of where the imaginative food Achatz now produces comes from, particularly in the chapter on El Bulli, where he worked next to René Redzepi for a three-day stage. This period changed the way Achatz saw food.

When Achatz returned from El Bulli he had a different outlook on food. He became executive chef of Trio restaurant in Chicago and clearly enjoyed the freedom he was given as a first time head chef doing food the owners, let alone the public, had never seen before.

This is where co-author Nick Kokonas is introduced to the fold and the book takes a new turn, written in two different styles so you can tell who is speaking at which time. The chapters on the building of Alinea are incredibly insightful.

The story would not be complete without touching on Achatz's battle with cancer - and him winning the fight. It is written with great honesty and shows the more sensitive and valuable side to him that you don't always equate with top chefs. To read about one of these great chefs and the way he has been affected by things around him is very refreshing.

Anyone that likes a good read should get this book - and you don't need to be a chef to appreciate the writing, the passion and the pain that this book showcases.

By Alex Standen, head chef, the Ship Hotel, Weybridge

If you like this, you'll love these

Alinea by Grant Achatz

â- Charlie Trotter's Cookbook by Charlie Trotter

â- The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

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