Chicago chef Grant Achatz has, in a very short time, become one of the most lauded chefs in the United States. Making his name at Trio in Evanston and then opening his own restaurant, Alinea, the French Laundry veteran has become the American spokesperson for modern cuisine (aka molecular gastronomy) and an advocate of the dining room as theater, the plate as stage.
Achatz's autobiography, Life on the Line, written jointly with his business partner Nick Kokonas, traces his rise to legendary status in a career in which it seemed nothing could go wrong, then turns to his highly publicized battle with cancer of the tongue and the treatments which left this chef without the one sensation he valued above all others: taste.
It's a fascinating story, and a more jarringly real one than most cooking memoirs: the standard cooking memoir turned nearly tragic. Achatz isn't an emotional guy and his take on his own cancer is refreshingly handled without outsized sentimentality. If anything, Achatz' writing seems a bit too emotionally detached when dealing with his relationship with his children and his first marriage. Overall though, he strikes the right balance and comes up with a memoir worth reading.
My biggest complaint about Life on the Line is that about half way through, co-author Nick Kokonas joins as a co-narrator. From that point, the narration switches without warning between Achatz and Kokonas, and while having the second perspective can occasionally be enlightening, more often it's redundant and a bit confusing to boot. While they usually tip you off in the first sentence as to who the narrator is, I found myself losing track in the narration ping pong that plays out between different sections. The muddled narrator-switching, though, is a small blemish on a worthwhile read.