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

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  4,590 ratings  ·  492 reviews
"One of America's great chefs" (Vogue) shares how his drive to cook immaculate food won him international renown-and fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

In 2007, chef Grant Achatz seemingly had it made. He had been named one of the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine in 2002, received the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award in
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 3rd 2011 by Gotham (first published January 26th 2011)
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4.08  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,590 ratings  ·  492 reviews

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Paula Kalin
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Paula by: Best Eggs
Excellent book if you are a foodie and into the best chefs in the world. I'm a big fan of TV shows Top Chef and Top Chefs Masters which bring the best chefs in the US into competition. The shows are very entertaining.
May 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Quite the opposite of a meal at Alinea, there's nothing unexpected here. Unfortunately, this autobiography is a largely uninteresting series of anecdotes connected loosely in a chronology, lacking the introspection and insight I expected based on pre-release media and pr, which focused on Achatz' considerable professional achievements and remarkable recovery from oral cancer. Achatz has a very compelling personal narrative, but what could be a really engaging and insightful memoir never rises ab ...more
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
I have always enjoyed good writing about food, cooking and chefs and picked this up from the library hoping for something similar. Instead, I found a borderline-egomaniacal memoir lacking in real insight about Grant Achatz. It neither defended his high-concept food or elucidated his philosophy. He revealed almost nothing about himself except that he was very hardworking, ambitious, and creative. It was very much a "first this happened, and then that happened and I wanted to be the best!" kind of ...more
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My husband and I are going to Chicago next week. Alas, getting a reservation for Grant Achatz's new restaurant, Next, is about as likely as getting a ride on the space shuttle. So I'll have to be content with reading this book.

Fortunately, I really liked it. Achatz is not a professional writer, and can come across as detached- but maybe that's just his personality. However, he does manage to tie his love of food in through writing about his whole childhood and into his professional career. I lov
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the back end of a restaurant ; readers of Knives at Dawn; Chicagoans
Four eggs, five seconds, hinged open one at a time, no shells. “I flipped both sets over, waited forty-five seconds, and flipped them back. Then I turned them onto the awaiting plates. They were absolutely perfect.” It's an iconic moment from Grant Achatz's student days at the Culinary Institute of America training. Even then, he had that assertive self-assurance and the goods to back it up. Perfectionism and fierce compulsiveness drove his quest for recognition.

Achatz is extraordinarily articul
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, bio-memoir
I really loved this book. I agree with my fellow friend-reviewers that the sudden insertions of narrative from the business partner were sort of odd after reading the first two-thirds of the book in Achatz's voice, but the oddness didn't detract from the enjoyment. In any case, by that point I was invested enough in Achatz's story, and liked him enough, to appreciate seeing him through other eyes (as also pointed out by a fellow friend-reviewer).

It's hard to describe why I loved the book so muc
This is a peculiar book. One part culinary coming of age, one part how to set up a world-class restaurant, complete with detailed investor reports, one part cancer survival story. Five stars for parts one and three, three stars for part two. Honestly, does anyone beyond an investor or interior designer need that much detail about the sourcing and pricing of chairs? This memoir is also confiding and distancing. Once Grant becomes a success, he steps back from his readers by turning a good chunk o ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Foodies
It's getting to a point in our culture where everyone writes a memoir. Whether they are famous or not, regardless of their job, regardless of having anything to say... However, the concept of this memoir is interesting. Grant Achatz is a chef who ends up getting tongue cancer and losing his sense of taste. Poetic, right? However, this doesn't even come up until about of the way through the book. The whole first 75% is about his restaurant and being trained as a chef. Almost nothing is mentioned ...more
Jun 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
As someone who is a cancer survivor - and a bit of a foodie - I was disappointed on both counts by this book.

The book has two "voices", Greg Achatz and Nick Kokonos, who was both a friend and major investor when Achatz began the work of opening his groundbreaking restaurant, Alinea. Both authors "speak" in this book and their written voices are differentiated by different typefaces, providing a different view of the events surrounding Achatz's restaurant career as well as his bout of cancer.

Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is the story of Grant Achatz who grew-up cooking in his families’ restaurants, but always knew he was destined to be a great chef. He finishes culinary school, works for some of the world’s best chefs, and finally gets the opportunity to open his own restaurant. Shortly after opening Alinea, Achatz discovers that he has oral cancer and is faced with the possibility of never tasting again.
I really wanted to like this book. My husband is a chef and I work in oncology, so I thought it was a b
Sep 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I heard about Achatz from my ex-caterer husband. My current husband, who used to be a caterer, I mean. He's still a foodie, and tends to come up with the oddest trivia- in this case, he was all excited about Achatz's cold griddle, which freezes foods the way a hot griddle cooks them. Then my stepmom, who is something of a connoisseur of memoirs by people who are facing some terrible medical issue, read and loved this book. So I sought it out.

Achatz is an interesting character- intense, driven, a
Cecily Kyle
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
LOVED! I would love this book to get made as a movie.
I have a fascination with the culinary world, and if I had a better palette, (in the sense of not being so picky) I totally would have loved to become a chef. I love the tv shows, and the movies I have watched but something about this story and these people and how Grant was able to beat cancer was a beautiful story.
Great Read!
Linda Reminger
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this memoir about one of the worlds gifted chefs.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Achatz and the money-man

This is not so much a book review as random thoughts from a person who would be interested in eating at Alinea.

Besides reading the New Yorker article on him and his horrific tongue cancer, I hadn't really paid too much attention to Grant Achatz. From a cursory glance, his style of cuisine - most easily described as molecular gastronomy - reminded me a lot of that of New York chef Wylie Dufresne. When I sampled the latter's food, I found to it to be more intellectually sti
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, yes-chef
In his memoir "Kitchen Confidential," Anthony Bourdain witnesses a chef shagging a just-married, obliging bride on top of a 55-gallon drum outside of her wedding reception while her unsuspecting groom dances on the other side of a Dutch door. Mario Batali once took to the stage of a crowd of 400+ in his trademark orange Crocs, and called certain members of the audience "weasel f--wads" paying no mind that the crowd also included the king and queen of Spain. Masa Takayama charges $350 for a tasti ...more
Douglas Lord
Nov 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
A review in 10 points:

1. Achatz built his internationally renowned Chicago-based restaurant, Alinea, from scratch.

1a. You can't afford to eat there. Me neither.

1b. It's like #1 on Gourmet's to-eat list.

1c. The food is so hoity-toity that it comes with instructions.

1d. A meal at this restaurant costs something like $900.

2. Achatz caught cancer of the tongue and endured badass experimental therapy so he wouldn't have to have his tongue amputated and replaced with arm muscle.

3. This book isn't abou
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
I heard the author interviewed on NPR when this book was released. The poignant and thought provoking questions of Terry Gross made for an interesting story about a man who nearly lost his passion. Sadly none of the interview translated into the book. I kept reading hoping I would soon get to experience this man's struggle and eventual triumph. But the "facing death" aspect of the book was unrelatable and grandiose. I finished the book thinking "Wow, this guy is a pretentious asshole."

The only r
May 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book made me tired. Enter a rant that probably isn't really about modern cuisine at all:

Forget about global warming, the economy, and animal stories of bravery and redemption for a minute. I'm tired of reading books from twenty-to-thirty somethings speaking as if they have anything real to share. These people! Young, elitist, enabled and doe-eyed! Young, elitist, enabled and doe-eyed!

These people seem to polarize all art into two camps: (1) content, and (2) form. Being spirtually-devoid, th
Apr 20, 2011 rated it liked it
i enjoyed reading Life, on the line. it was well written for a first book, especially for one written by a chef. the story of grant's development in restaurants and culinary school to the time he started alinea was a page turner. when the business partner aspect came into the story, it slowed a bit. (although i did appreciate the outsider point of view during the diagnosis and treatment portion of the story). in the end, it confirmed that cancer sucks and now I know that tongue cancer might be i ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
My review for AP:
¶ "Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat" (Gotham Books, $27.50), by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas: Grant Achatz had already won acclaim as one of the nation's top chefs when he was diagnosed, at age 33, with advanced cancer of the tongue. The recommended treatment was devastating: A surgeon would remove his tongue, lymph nodes and a portion of his jaw. There would be chemotherapy and radiation, and still his chance o
Dec 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
The core story in this gripping memoir makes you ask yourself: If I had to give up the thing that makes my life pleasurable, enjoyable, worth living, would I do it, even to save my life?

Grant Achatz, is by all accounts, an amazing chef. Creative, daring, hardworking. Cooking is his first and only career, and he has been cooking since he was five years old at his parent's diner. His discipline is well documented in Life, on the Line but there are also stories in which the chef recognizes the luck
Miko Lee
Apr 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Subtitle: a chefs story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat

I really enjoyed this book. As a story, as a non cook foodie, as a creative person and as an autobiography lover.

What a fascinating tale about the innovative chef Grant Achatz renowned for Alinea restaurant. His story from growing up in a dinner in Detroit to culinary school to working at the French Laundry to Trio to co-owning his own Alinea.

The only distracting part was half way thru the book the voice o
Several times while reading this I had to check the cover to make sure I wasn't reading Lance Armstrong's autobiography again. The arrogant similarities between these two men are that pronounced. Granted, they both have very disparate careers, but the general tone and end result mirror each other. That is not to say that, in this case, Achatz earned his kudos, but, despite that, what makes him deserve so much more special cancer treatment than the rest of us? Perhaps I got this wrong, but I thou ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Chef Achatz (Ak-ets) is a great chef. There is no doubt about that.
And Nick Kokonas, his Alinea co-owner, is a good friend.
This memoir combines both of their sides of the Alinea story. I understand the reviews of others who say that there was no heart, and I agree with that too. I also think that Achatz held back from exposing too much of his personal life i.e. Angela, the mother of his children, disappears after the divorce, his father turns up only once in his career and so on. However, I th
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I learned about this book, like so many others, while listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I must have been doing a bank deposit for a former employer, because I came in partway through the interview. When I heard the name "Achatz" I turned it up. There was a diner in my hometown called "Achatz' Diner". Couldn't be the same people, could it? Well, close. They're related.

Grant Achatz is a multi-award-winning chef. His restaurant, Alinea, changed the way people think about food. It seemed noth
Sherri Machlin
Jan 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Imagine. The restaurant which you built from scratch from the ground up was just rated the number one restaurant in the country by Gourmet magazine. You are among the most innovative chefs in the US, if not the world. You have two young sons who look up to you. You are 33 years old.

And then - you are diagnosed with tongue cancer.


This biography about an incredibly ambitious chef who had the privilege to train at some of the most elite restaurants in the country (Charlie Trotter's, Fr
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Biography #13 of my Library Biorgraphy challenge.

Quite frankly I never heard of Grant Achatz prior to reading this book, nor do I have any knowledge on professional cooking nor have I ever dined at a high end restuarant. So, this book was really interesting to me.

The majority of this book is written by Achatz. About half way through the book Nick Kokonas begins adding his commentary. Much of the book is how cooking transformed Achatz and how his confidence allowed him to succeed. I appreciated K
Mar 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat" by Grant Achatz begins with a young boy who starts cooking in his family's restaurants when he was 5, continues with the young man who starts his dream restaurant in his 20s, wins numerous awards and is diagnosed with Stage IV cancer of the tongue at the age of 29. This is the story of achieving the peak of his dreams then diving into the depths of despair and coming out on the other side. It is ...more
Shannon Wee
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of Chef Achatz before I picked up this book, neither am I a foodist or patron of world-class restaurants, but the book kept me reading and I was done with it within 3 days of starting. I wouldn't bet on it winning any literary prizes, but it does tell a gripping story of a young man with big ambitions and a clear vision for his life and himself. It was interesting to understand the overall picture of his (quarter) life story—where he started, how he got to places, the struggles ...more
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Grant Achatz is the multiple award-winning chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago. He has written for Gourmet and The New York Times Diner’s Journal and is a columnist for The Atlantic’s Food Channel. He lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and two sons, Kaden and Keller.

For more information, please see