I just finished reading Life, On the Line, by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. Inspiring true story about an amazing young chef, Grant Achatz, owner of Alinea in Chicago, who was diagnosed with tongue cancer while at the height of his culinary career.
For those of you who know me well, you know that food – the preparation, consumption and whole experience surrounding it – means a lot to me. I wanted to read Chef Achatz’s book because I’m fascinated by restaurants and how chefs come up with their ideas for different dishes. (Let’s face it, they’re not creating new ingredients, just new ways to work with them.) Life, On the Line provided so much more than a discussion of food. My takeaways from the book:
Leadership is about setting an example, not preaching about what to do. Chef Achatz started his career with Thomas Keller, a world class chef who is known for French Laundry in Napa and Per Se in New York City. Throughout the book, Chef Keller stands out as an inspiring example of a leader – someone who isn’t afraid to sweep a floor even though he owns a multimillion dollar restaurant, someone who encourages his team to achieve more than they expect from themselves and someone who is profoundly humble about his success, instead crediting his team for his successes.
Food is so much more than food. The dishes that Chef Achatz describes as part of his 16 course tasting menu are almost incomprehensible. Recognizing the limitations of “regular” plates, he commissions plates and bowls to complement his food. One dish he describes is a simple shrimp dish that is served inside a larger bowl. The larger bowl has flowers in it and when presented to the diner, hot water is poured on the flowers so the aroma of the flowers mingles with the taste of the shrimp.
Anything less than perfect is not good enough. This mantra was one that Chef Achatz and his team believed sincerely and it is one that I believe my staff and I try to achieve. We are not always perfect, but we should strive for it each day.
It is my responsibility as a general dentist to find oral cancer. Chef Achatz complained for three years prior to his diagnosis to his dentist about a spot on his tongue. Instead of the horrifying treatment he had to endure, I believe an early diagnosis would have improved the quality of his treatment dramatically.
I encourage you to read this story about Chef Achatz, his struggles for perfection, his mind-blowing food and his battle with oral cancer.