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Life, on the Line summary

Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas

A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

4 (10 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

'Life, on the Line' by Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas is a memoir that chronicles Achatz's rise to becoming one of America's most influential chefs, his battle with tongue cancer, and his team's perseverance in overcoming life's most challenging obstacles in the world of haute cuisine.

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    Life, on the Line
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    Grant grew up working at his family’s restaurant before moving on to culinary school.

    At just five years of age, Grant Achatz was already cooking. Well, perhaps stirring a bowl of cherry Jell-O isn’t exactly “cooking,” but food was a big part of Grant’s life for about as long as he can remember.

    In fact, Grant grew up in a family that owned a series of successful small-town restaurants.

    The first one was the Achatz Cafe, a tiny place in Marine City, Michigan, where, from an early age, Grant was given various jobs.

    His responsibilities increased as he got older. He started out peeling vegetables and washing dishes; at the age of ten, he was already happily cooking eggs for regular customers.

    In March of 1983, the family upgraded to the Achatz Family Restaurant. A much bigger place, with a capacity of 165, it was an even bigger success. Grant worked there as well, and by the time he was fourteen years old he’d moved up to the position of line cook and was given the responsibility of the opening shift and preparing the restaurant for the day ahead.

    So, when Grant left Michigan to attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City, he was more experienced than most students.

    Grant took CIA’s eighteen-month associate degree program, part of which required students to perform an internship at an accredited restaurant. Grant sent out a bunch of letters to different restaurants, but the only response he got landed him at Cygnus, a restaurant at the Amway Hotel in Cedar Rapids, Michigan.

    Luckily, Cygnus had a friendly head chef named Jeff Kerr who was willing to show Grant some fundamental techniques, such as how to break down various animals: game birds, fish, and entire pig. On one occasion he even taught him how to make prosciutto.

    After three months of preparing soups and salads and taking care of mise en place (the putting together of ingredients for a line cook’s workstation), Grant was already showing great promise.

    Chef Kerr took notice and introduced Grant to something that would change his life forever.

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    What is Life, on the Line about?

    Life, on the Line (2011) tells the remarkable story of Grant Achatz, a fiercely determined chef whose drive to become the best found him redefining American cuisine before he was even 30 years old. His dreams came true when he opened his own restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago, but just as the awards and accolades came pouring in, a bigger challenge presented itself: he was diagnosed with advanced mouth cancer and faced the possibility of either dying or losing his tongue.

    Life, on the Line Review

    Life, on the Line (2011) is a captivating memoir that takes readers on a culinary journey through the highs and lows of award-winning chef Grant Achatz. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With unprecedented access to the world of fine dining, the book offers a behind-the-scenes look into the intense and creative process of creating exceptional dishes.
    • It explores the tenacity and resilience of Achatz as he battles against cancer while striving to maintain his position as a leading chef.
    • The book's suspenseful narrative and vivid descriptions of mouth-watering dishes make it an engrossing read that is far from boring.

    Best quote from Life, on the Line

    I want people to be excited, happy, curious, surprised, intrigued, and even bewildered during a meal.

    —Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas
    example alt text

    Who should read Life, on the Line?

    • Aspiring restaurateurs
    • Anyone looking for inspiration in the face of adversity
    • Foodies who want a behind-the-scenes look at the best restaurants

    About the Author

    Grant Achatz has won multiple awards for his cooking, including being named the best American chef and owning the best American restaurant. He owns three Chicago restaurants: Alinea, Next and The Aviary.

    Nick Kokonas is Grant Achatz’s business partner since 2005. He’s active in the marketing and planning of Achatz’s restaurants.

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    Life, on the Line FAQs 

    What is the main message of Life, on the Line?

    The main message of Life, on the Line is the pursuit of perfection in the culinary world and the sacrifices required to achieve it.

    How long does it take to read Life, on the Line?

    The reading time for Life, on the Line varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in about 15 minutes.

    Is Life, on the Line a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Life, on the Line is worth reading for its captivating storytelling and profound insights into the culinary world. It offers a unique and inspiring perspective.

    Who is the author of Life, on the Line?

    Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas are the authors of Life, on the Line.

    What to read after Life, on the Line?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Life, on the Line, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
    • Zero Sugar / One Month by Becky Gillaspy
    • Think Remarkable by Guy Kawasaki & Madisun Nuismer
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