Grant Achatz Wins 2008 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Award

Written with Great Respect and Admiration for Grant Achatz

Grant Achatz: Alinea Restaurant (Chicago)

Grant Achatz Wins The 2008 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Award

Chicago’s Acclaimed Alinea Restaurant

Chicago’s Grant Achatz Wins The James Beard Foundations’ Best Chef Award

Chicago’s Grant Achatz, 34, won The James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in America award on Sunday night, capping an intense year during which he courageously battled oral cancer and saved both his tongue and his career. Achatz had previously won James Beard Foundation awards for Rising Star Chef in 2002 and 2003, and for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region last year. The award winners were announced Sunday evening at the annual awards ceremony, which took place at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

Achatz, whose reputation as a molecular gastronomist, is the Chef/Co-Owner of Chicago’s Alinea Restaurant, arguably one of the best restaurants in the United States. Alinea 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.

The James Beard Foundation Awards are acknowledged to be “The Oscars” of the food world, and they honor those who are felt to be following in the footsteps of James Beard, who was considered to be the dean of American cooking when he died in 1985. The James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, James Beard was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today, The Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by administering a number of diverse programs, which include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships to culinary schools and publications. The Foundation also maintains the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs.

Achatz Battles Cancer: The Will to Survive

A year ago, Achatz’s tongue suddenly had become so severely swollen that he was not able to speak clearly, and he lost much of his sense of taste. Stage 4 squamous cell cancer on his tongue was diagnosed. Doctors wanted to operate immediately, to cut out three-quarters of his tongue in order to save his life. “That’s not gonna’ happen,” Achatz muttered, too stunned to say anymore.

At first, Achatz considered seeking treatment in secret, but he realized that the news would inevitably get out to the restaurant world and, from there, to the gourmet crowd and then to the critics. Recognizing that there was no way to really keep it private, soon afterward Achatz told his co-workers at Alinea, some of whom immediately went into the alley behind the restaurant and just cried. Public accounts of Achatz’s battle against cancer have seldom touched upon the fact that he is a truly kind and emotionally generous man.

However, instead of accepting a fate that would have ended his career, he consulted with cancer specialists at The University of Chicago Medical Center and embarked upon an aggressive, if unproven, cancer treatment. Instead of the standard therapy that begins with the surgical removal of the tumor, which is then followed by radiation and chemotherapy, they would reverse the order. Aggressive chemotherapy, using promising new drugs, would be followed by radiation to shrink and kill the tumor. If surgery did become necessary later, it would be less radical.

They warned Achatz that it would be very difficult for him. His tongue would burn from the radiation, and he would probably lose his taste for a year. His face would turn into a hot red rash, he would have to wear a burn mask and would temporarily lose his hair. Just to be safe they would have to remove his lymph nodes.

But instead of surgically removing most of his tongue, the University of Chicago oncologist offered another choice, saying that there was a 70 percent chance he would be cured. “Where do I sign?” Achatz asked.

During the following months of treatment, Achatz’s face burned, he couldn’t swallow, his mouth became a raging mass of pain and he spent nights throwing up pieces of burnt skin. It was emotional torture for Achatz to stay away from his restaurant. Though he often drove straight to work after treatment, there were days he simply couldn’t let staff members or customers see how sick he was.

Even the doctors marveled at Achatz’s stoicism and resilience. He remained an outpatient, even during the worst of days. He refused a feeding tube, forcing himself to swallow, no matter what, because his doctors said that would speed up his recovery. This past mid-December, Achatz returned to the hospital for a final checkup. He still couldn’t taste, and his immune system was spent. He needed physical therapy, speech therapy, swallowing therapy and it would probably be a year before he would feel normal again.

But the scans were clear. The cancer was gone.

Achatz Speaks of Survival in His Award Acceptance Remarks

Achatz told the large crowd representing members of the food world’s elite who had gathered for the awards that he credits the lessons learned when he was 22 years old and working at the renowned French Laundry Restaurant in Yountville (CA) with teaching him not just how to cook, but also how to survive. Those lessons were going to “make me a good cook and ultimately a great chef. What I didn’t know was that it was actually going to save my life,” he said. “That drive, that tenacity, that dedication that I took in at that restaurant…it became a part of who I am 12 years later and helped me get through a pretty ridiculous battle.”

During his acceptance comments, Achatz thanked the many chefs in the audience for their offers to help during his battle with cancer. “I didn’t let any of them come to the restaurant and cook as they suggested. I couldn’t do that to the cooks,” he said with a laugh.

During his treatment, Achatz not only barely stopped working at Alinea, but he also continued 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 tenderly sad note that had been written by Phil Vettell in The Chicago Tribune, at the time when Achatz’s diagnosis had just became known to the general 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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World Aids Day: Leadership Must Keep the Promise

World AIDS Day 2007

Yesterday was World AIDS Day, which is observed each year on December 1st. It is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 3.1 million (between 2.8 and 3.6 million) lives in 2005, of which more than half a million (570,000) were children. The concept of a World AIDS Day originated at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention. Since then, it has been taken up by governments, international organizations and charities around the world.

While in recent years much attention has been focused on global AIDS, it is essential that we not overlook the fact that the disease remains a significant public threat in the United States, where it has become a nearly forgotten epidemic. Consider this: every 13 minutes, an American is newly infected with HIV, and 10% of them are children and adolescents under 24 years old. More than 500,000 Americans have died from the illness in the past quarter century; moreover, in the 30 minutes it takes many people to commute to work, AIDS steals the life of another American.

Philadelphia: The Pet Shop Boys

The Survivors: The Pet Shop Boys

From the Lyrics:

Many words may make it sound contrived
But somehow we’re alive

The survivors – Our heads bowed
The survivors – At memorials for other faces in the crowd

Teachers and artists
And Saturday girls
In suits or sequins
Or twinsets-and-pearls

If life is worth living,
It’s got to be run
As a means of giving,
Not as a race to be won
Many roads will run through many lives
But somehow we’ll arrive.

Stop AIDS: unaids posi+ive

World Aids Day 2007

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Randy Pausch Visits Oprah: A Lecture on Living

Update: Please read my eulogy of Professor Randy Pausch, which includes additional photographs, videos and an extensive photo-gallery here.

Randy Pausch Visits Oprah Winfrey: A Lecture on Living

Randy Pausch didn’t want his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University to be about dying, but he is, sadly, dying of pancreatic cancer.   He knows it’s a painful way to go.  When he gave his final lecture last month, he wanted to demonstrate that his focus remains, as always, on living, or on living in the process of dying.  Today, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and this is what he had to say:

Randy Pausch Visits Oprah Winfrey: No Self-Pity

When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him.”

Randy Pausch Visits Oprah Winfrey: No Self-Pity

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Articles from Wednesday, October 03, 2007

It hasn’t a year for “models” on “Dancing with the Stars.” Plus, Albert Reed turned his Quickstep routine into a bizarre “skipping and prancing” shtick. So, the show dropped Reed on Tuesday night. The model’s dancing downfall seemed to come as a shock to both the judges and the audience.

Photographs, photo-gallery and videos included.

[tags: Albert Reed, Dancing with the Stars, photographs, YouTube]

Randy Pausch didn’t want his last lecture to be about dying. But he is, sadly, dying of pancreatic cancer. He knows it’s a painful way to go. When he gave his final lecture last month, he wanted to demonstrate that his focus remains, as always, on living, or on living in the process of dying.

A Photograph and remarkably unforgettable videos are included.

[tags: Randy Pausch, final lecture, the process of dying, death, living, photograph, video]

“Photo of the Day: Quebec Cirque Eloize.” This is an absolutely gorgeous black and white photograph of Quebec Cirque Eloize performers, presented for your enjoyment in stunning high-resolution.

[tags: Photo of the Day, Photograph of the Day, Quebec Cirque Eloize, photograph, art, Quebec, Canada]

Politicians like to get a warm welcome when they go on TV talk shows, but the one House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got Tuesday on “The View” was downright hot and sexy! !

With Barbara Walters leading the charge, Whoopi and Barbara started flirting with the speaker’s husband, and things very quickly went downhill from there!

A Photograph and the video are included.

[tags: celebrities, television, The View, Nancy Pelosi, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, sexy, YouTube]

See the Rest of My Articles at Blue Dot

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Posted in African-American, Art, Blog, blogger, blogging, Blogs, Blue Dot, Canada, celebrities, Child Psychology, Children, Cultural, cultural issues, Culture, Education, Entertainment, family, Gay, GLBT, Health, health issues, Higher Education, Humor, image, Legislation, Media, medical issues, Mental Health Issues, multimedia, Music, music video, national news, New York City, News, NYC, Personalties, photograph, Photography, politics, Psychology, public policy, relationships, Science, sex, sexy, Social, Social Ideas, Social Life, Society, songs, Technology, television, U. S. news, United States, Video, Weblogs, WordPress Video, World, world news, YouTube. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Comments Off on Articles from Wednesday, October 03, 2007

At Death’s Door: Randy Pausch Gives His Final Lecture on The Process of Dying

At Death’s Door: Living in the Process of Dying

Randy Pausch didn’t want his last lecture to be about dying. But he is, sadly, dying of pancreatic cancer, and he knows that it’s a painful way to die. Nevertheless, when he walked up to the podium last month to address more than 450 colleagues, students, and friends at Carnegie Mellon University, he intended to demonstrate that his focus remains, as it always has been, on living. So he did a couple of one-handed push-ups, sprinkled his remarks with jokes, donned props including a Mad Hatter hat, and generally showed that one way to cheat death is to laugh in its face.

Mr. Pausch is a 46-year-old professor of computer science and the co-founder of Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. He agreed to give the talk in part so that his three young children, ages 5, 2, and 1, could one day hear his message, on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. Sure, he could have just delivered the advice in front of a video camera at home, and he thought about taking that route, but he felt that an audience would lend his message greater weight. “A couple of hundred people in a room, looking and listening and laughing and applauding, hopefully at the appropriate times, that gives a lot of validation to my kids that a lot of people believe in this, and a lot of people who knew me believe that I did my best to try to live this way,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Professor Pausch said that it was the most difficult talk he ever wrote, and he’s known to be a creative speaker. The lecture, or drama, is told in three acts. Act I: Mr. Pausch’s childhood dreams, and how he managed to achieve a number of big ones, like designing rides for Disney World and taking a trip in zero gravity. Act II: How to enable the dreams of others, a section peppered with self-deprecating stories of how his mentors steered him from arrogance to becoming a mentor himself. Act III: How to achieve your dreams and help others, in which he entreats parents everywhere to loosen up and let their children paint their bedrooms, as Mr. Pausch was allowed to do as a kid (he painted quadratic equations).

Randy Pausch’s Final Lecture: Living in the Process of Dying

A Professor’s Lifetime Lessons: One Man’s Dignity and Courage

Interested readers will find a more detailed article in The Wall Street Journal, which can be accessed here.

Another wonderful article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which readers can access here.

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