We got our hands on a preview copy of Grant Achatz's upcoming biography (written with his business partner Nick Kokonas) Life, on the Line (preorder on Amazon).
The book follows the Chicago chef from cracking eggs at his grandmother's diner in Marine City, Michigan through his training at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry, the opening of Alinea, Achatz's diagnosis and subsequent battle with tongue cancer, and finally ending with the announcement of his as-yet-unopened restaurant, Next. Below, collected snippets to tide you over until the book comes out on March 3.
· Grant Achatz was a total gearhead growing up; he built a 1970 Pontiac GTO with his father for his sixteenth birthday; he also received his dad's Corvette upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.
· Achatz didn't have the best time working under Charlie Trotter; in fact, when he quit, Trotter told him that since he had worked there for less than a year, Achatz shouldn't bother using him as a reference, or even put it on his resume.
· The book holds several great Thomas Keller/French Laundry anecdotes, including the fact that when Achatz first heard of the restaurant in 1995, you could order five courses for $49 (you can now get nine for $250). There's also this: "Whenever Chef Keller was happy and things were cruising along, he would click the heels of his wooden clogs together."
· Right before the reopening of his first major Chicago gig as the chef of Trio, Achatz compiled a list of the top five restaurants in the city with his staff. The fifth spot was left blank, "because [Trio's] not open yet."
· Confronted with a skeptical waitstaff right before opening, Grant Achatz put the Black Truffle Explosion on the menu as a way to "get them back on [his] side." The dish became one of the most famous to come out of his time at the restaurant.
· When Esquire critic John Mariani came to Alinea for the first time, Achatz at first denied him a reservation, knowing his dislike for "molecular gastronomy." When Mariani actually ate there, he made notes on the wine-list and took the custom-made binder it was in with him when he left.
· Part of Achatz's speech to his staff at Alinea, after discovering he had cancer, delivered via speakerphone: "At some point I'm not going to be able to be there, but I want to know — I need to know — that it will be there for me when I get back, okay?"
· Kokonas predicted that if Achatz survived his treatment, Oprah would come a-callin', and lo and behold, she did. "The cancer thing, if you live through it, is perfect fodder for Oprah." Laughs were had all around at the irony of the situation, but mostly Achatz wished he could've gone on the show healthy to talk about his food.