Between the Wars: Grant Achatz Diagnosed w/ Cancer
I was struck dumb. A cold, lifeless feeling ran through me and I could feel my shoulders slump. I had just read the fifth line of Pete Wells' Diner's Journal piece about Grant Achatz. Given my mothers' recent diagnosis as terminal, this hit me like a ton.
July 23, 2007, 3:55 pm
A Chef’s Toughest Challenge
By Pete Wells
A few minutes ago, Grant Achatz, the chef of Alinea in Chicago, released this statement through his publicist:
“I wanted to personally report that I have been very recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. I have consulted several prominent physicians and will likely begin aggressive treatment within the next few weeks. I remain, and will remain, actively and optimistically engaged in operations at Alinea to the largest extent possible. Alinea will continue to perform at the level people have come to expect from us — I insist on that. I have received amazing support from friends, family, and everyone who has thus far been told of the disease, and I look forward to a full, cancer-free, recovery.”
Mr. Achatz, 33, is one of the most acclaimed young chefs in the country. He is a leader in the avant-garde movement in cooking, which can take many forms but in his hands means a style of cuisine that is more playful than confrontational, more gentle than abrasive, more witty than cerebral.
While he uses his share of technology in the kitchen, a visitor to his dining room is more likely to notice unexpectedly low-tech innovations like a linen pillow filled with scented air. (A waiter sets a plate down on the pillow, which gradually expels the air. When it works, the technique can add an aroma to the diner’s experience of the dish - an aroma of an ingredient that might not be present in the dish itself.)
Frank Bruni reported on Alinea the week it opened in a piece in The Times about the avant garde movement. I wrote a profile of Mr. Achatz several years ago in Food & Wine magazine.
I traded instant messages with Mr. Achatz a few minutes ago. He said that his dentist had noticed a “dot” on his tongue back in 2004 but a biopsy came back negative. Then around a month ago, his tongue began to hurt pretty seriously, and he went back for a biopsy. This time it was positive.
His energy level is high, he said, but because eating is painful he has lost about 12 pounds in the past two weeks. While he weighs his treatment options, he said he was “trying to work as much as possible,” and has already started planning his fall menu. He said his staff had responded to the news “amazingly, as I expected them to.”
Mr. Achatz sometimes gives the impression that he is either working or thinking about work all the time. Now his staff is getting accustomed to receiving some of those thoughts on e-mail and instant messages tapped out in the waiting room of his doctors’ offices
Photo of Grant Achatz: Peter Thompson for The New York Times