I was thrilled to attend the book release party last night for Grant Achatz — notably the most admired chef in the country. His Chicago restaurant Alinea is widely recognized as the best restaurant in North America — and it’s been ranked 7th in the world.
I’ve not even had the opportunity yet to experience this Michelin three-star restaurant. So for now, I’m happy with my signed copy of Life, On The Line, the highly anticipated memoir Achatz wrote with his business partner Nick Kokonas. You can see Achatz signing my book here…
According to the Chicago Tribune, the book is already being adapted into a feature film with Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role. I can see that. Or maybe Ethan Hawke. Achatz definitely had a rock star quality last night. I must say, it was quite a special event. You can read more about it and see additional photos and video at Grub Street Chicago and Eater Chicago.
The part I can’t stop thinking about is the video that Nick Kokonas put together that offered the big surprise of the night. It included the photo below of 16-year-old Achatz sporting an orange mullet in front of the cherry red 1970 Pontiac GTO that he had built from scratch with his dad. The process of meticulously building this car seems to have been a major influence on Achatz’s drive (no pun intended) and there are several mentions of this beloved GTO in his new memoir.
Then comes the shocker: Kokonas had tracked down the old car and was secretly having it rebuilt by a custom shop. The story is chronicled in the video that was played at the event — and you can see for yourself here: Book Release from Alinea Restaurant on Vimeo.
Next we knew it, Kokonas announces that the car is outside and then the party goes out on the sidewalk to see Achatz reunited with his GTO. It was all quite moving.
It was also moving to have Achatz thank the doctors at the University of Chicago who saved his life. They were there too, along with his parents, girlfriend, close friends and about 100 fans like me who were lucky enough to get tickets. All of the proceeds benefited the University of Chicago.
Of course, the food was quite fabulous as well. Champagne was flowing and the hors d’oeuvres were provided by the talented Curtis Duffy, a close friend of Achatz who was once the chef de cuisine at Alinea. Chef Duffy is now at the aclaimed Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago and his crew put together an incredible menu, which included quail eggs served on a branch. All of the dishes had at least 12 ingredients (many of them assembled with tweezers), so I couldn’t keep track of the full descriptions.
There were vanilla bean lollipops…
and roasted beets dipped in strawberry powder.
photo courtesy of The Peninsula Hotel on flickr
I can’t wait to dive into Life, On The Line. I started to page through it last night after getting home from the event — unable to sleep after all of the excitement. It’s such an intriguing story. I may end up finishing the book this weekend. At least I know it’s a happy ending, and I’m excited to see what’s next for Achatz — which is the name of his new restaurant that’s opening later this month in Chicago. (In fact, he signed my book “What’s Next??”).
I highly recommend checking out Achatz and Kokonas’ new book. And I love the subhead: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat.
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