Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: Life, on the Line is choppy but intense

Posted by on Thu, Apr 7, 2011 at 9:30 AM

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When you sit down to write about yourself, it's difficult to step away and figure just how much the reader needs to know to follow your story.

And in the compelling Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death and Redefining the Way We Eat, chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas struggle with that very issue. The result is a book that swings wildly from poignant looks inside one of the country's most influential restaurants, Alinea, to a superfluous assessment of a golf game. 


Life, on the Line shines brightest when Achatz is in the kitchen. By nature of his age and recent rise to success, he stands smack in the middle of our current celebrity food culture. He's young enough to have worked in the kitchens of culinary luminaries Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller, and on the line alongside recent Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais. The book also addresses the growing influence of food blogs and online forums, as well as the potential for antagonistic relationships with critics who haven't yet warmed to the concept of molecular gastronomy. 

An old adage goes, If you have a story, tell it -- and if you don't, write

it. Achatz's journey has been an incredible one. At a time when his

restaurant was among the top in the world, he was diagnosed with tongue

cancer. He was as likely to lose his tongue as his life. He was the

chef who couldn't taste.

Even with choppy prose -- the text sometimes switches awkwardly between Achatz and Kokonas (signified by a change in font) -- it's an honest look at the price of success in the kitchen. And that honesty gives the story its weight.  

The book's strength and weakness is that it feels like an extension of the two men's personalities. The reader is drawn in by their unwillingness to compromise and their desire to transform passion into reality. The same drive that defines their partnership seems to have carried this project. Your mind may wander, but the process of building out Alinea and the unflinching look at Achatz's life are enough to pull you back in.

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