Grant Achatz Nominated for James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Award

Grant Achatz: Alinea Restaurant (Chicago)

Alinea Restaurant, opened in Chicago three years ago and is known for Achatz’s inventive techniques and fanciful presentations. When Gourmet Magazine named Alinea the top restaurant in its 2006 List of America’s Best Restaurants, the influential food critic Ruth Reichl praised Achatz and his food, putting him in the forefront as America’s next great chef.

But a year ago Achatz’s tongue had swollen so severely that he was not speaking clearly and he lost much of his taste. A cancerous tumor on his tongue was diagnosed. The removal of two-thirds of the tongue is the standard treatment.

However, instead of accepting a fate that would have ended his career, he chose a less drastic if unproven combination treatment including radiation and chemotherapy. During his treatment, he barely stopped working at Alinea and was writing his cookbook on his laptop in the hospital.

With Achatz’s health now much improved, he is planning to publish the cookbook in September and to open a second restaurant in Chicago.

In an article here last August, I reported this sad note that was written by Phil Vettell in The Chicago Tribune, at the time when Achatz’s diagnosis had just became known to the public:

“Grant Achatz, the young superstar chef whose restaurant, Alinea, is ranked among the very best in the world, announced that he has been diagnosed with an advanced stage of squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. In layman’s terms, that’s a malignant cancer that has spread. It is life-threatening. The treatment, which Achatz says will be aggressive, won’t be pleasant.

I remain, and will remain, actively and optimistically engaged in operations at Alinea to the largest extent possible,” Achatz said in an email that’s still reverberating in the fine-dining world.

For anyone, this diagnosis would be terrible news. For an energetic, hands-on chef who’s never out of his kitchen, an illness affecting his mouth — and by extension, his sense of taste — followed by treatment whose side effects are often debilitating, gives this news a particularly awful poignancy.

In the fine-dining world, we carelessly use tragedy to describe a fallen souffle or a slump in business. Today, we received a heart-wrenching reminder of what that word really means.

Our thoughts, hopes and prayers go out to Achatz and his extended Alinea family.”

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