Tabitha's Reviews > Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz
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's review
Feb 28, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: autobiography-biography-memoir, first-reads, business-job-help, author-or-publisher-provided
Read from February 21 to 28, 2011

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Life, on the Line through the GoodReads First Reads program.
While this book was written by both Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas it was obvious throughout that it was basically Achatz's story and he would dominate the voice of the book. This really made sense as the eventual restaurant was his dream and considering his forward (sometimes forceful) personality.
The pace of the book is very fast, almost as if Achatz is telling you this story as he's rushing to get ready for a service night. It's an exciting feeling of urgency that propels you through a tough, but still kind of lucky-starred series of events and goals.
The first two-thirds of the the book are a really interesting and inspiring account of what can happen when someone is driven to follow their goals at all costs. It's a discussion of how sometimes choices are difficult, and sometimes other aspects of your life may suffer, but depending on what you want for yourself maybe its worth it in the end. Achatz breifly touched on some remorse over lost time with various family members, but it was refreshing that he didn't spend tons of time bemoaning his past choices. Instead he wrote about how he was trying to achieve a new sense of balance while upping his goals more than ever.
The last third of the book was tough to read. By then he'd shown enough of himself and shared so much of his inner workings that it was really heart-breaking to read about his fight with cancer, even though you know its coming throughout the whole book. Achatz is so honest and straightforward its impossible to not care when the diagnosis come through and everything he's described building to you is in danger. His passion comes through so vividly that it leaves the reader feeling like something they've been a part of is also at risk. You feel in tune with his frustration with the doctors who gave him basically no options, and can't help but celebrate when he meets with the positive, innovative team that will treat him.
With all that though, I was really surprised at first that so little of the book revolved around his illness and recovery. Once I thought about it though, it makes sense. His illness was a roadblock, but getting past it and achieving all of his goals as quickly as possible was what made him who he is, not wallowing and obsessing over the details repeatedly.
It was really entertaining to read Nick Kokonas's view on the happenings leading up to Alinea. Considering their vastly different personalities it was fun to see their conflicting accounts of some events. Notably Achatz's panic over a mediocre review of their opening, vs Kokonas's view that it wasn't Armageddon-worthy. The two balance each other's personalities nicely; it's no wonder they've been so successful together.
I'm interested to read more about them and I'm fascinated by all the inventive cooking described in the book. The only downside is that it leaves me with a little jealousy that it's unlikely I'll be able to afford the food. A goal to reach for maybe?

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