Grant Achatz in the New Yorker

posted by Jason Kottke May 05, 2008

The New Yorker profiles chef Grant Achatz this week. The piece focuses on his restaurant, Alinea, and the battle with tongue cancer that threatened his life, and worse to Achatz, his career and passion. The loss of his sense of taste had a bright side:

Because his ability to taste has come back over time, Achatz feels that he is understanding the sense in a new way — the way you would if you could see only in black-and-white and, one by one, colors were restored to you. He says, "When I first tasted a vanilla milkshake" — after the end of his treatment — "it tasted very sweet to me, because there's no salt, no acid. It just tasted sweet. Now, introduce bitter, so now I'm understanding the relationship between sweet and bitter — how they work together and how they balance. And now, as salt comes back, I understand the relationship among the three components."

In the Diner's Journal, Pete Wells contrasts Achatz with another chef that the New Yorker recently profiled, Momofuku's David Chang.

In March, The New Yorker published a profile of a chef who was about to open a restaurant. The chef complained about his health, worried about the future and cursed as if he had slammed his thumb in a car door.

On Monday, the magazine will publish a profile of another chef. Last year a doctor told this chef that he had advanced oral cancer and that unless he had his tongue cut out, he would be dead within a few months. According to The New Yorker, the chef reacted as if he'd just been handed a particularly challenging logic problem.

The point of the contrast is not to marginalize Chang's problems or his reaction to them but to demonstrate what a different approach Achatz takes to kitchen work than the typical (stereotypical?) Anthony Bourdainity of the restaurant kitchen.

The NYer article includes an online companion, a slideshow of photos of the latest menu items at Alinea and chef Achatz, looking very Seth Bullock.