The chef memoir offers food lovers a feast of insight about the world’s finest restaurants as well as the people behind them. Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Bill Buford’s Heat (about celebrity chef Mario Batali) were pioneers of the genre, but the latest entries are equally delicious: Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (Random House, $26) and Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Choosing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (Gotham, $28). These memoirs tell how chefs Hamilton and Achatz fell in love with food and created two of America’s finest restaurants.
Chef Hamilton, who runs New York’s Prune restaurant and has an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Michigan, is as skilled in creating absorbing prose as she is wondrous food. Hamilton’s love of ?cooking was fueled by her French mother and her travel experiences. When she has a family of her own, she discovers that running a busy restaurant is great preparation for the stresses of raising kids: “A choking patron, a grease fire, a badly cut employee — once you have been through that, figuring out how you will get your injured child to the emergency room … should come a little easier to you.”
Chef Achatz has won every major culinary award, from being named America’s Outstanding Chef by the James Beard Foundation to having his Alinea restaurant in Chicago named the foundation’s winner for America’s Best Service. But for Achatz, creating a world-class eatery was nothing compared with surviving the cancer that temporarily destroyed his ability to taste. Achatz’s gripping and difficult-to-forget memoir describes his climbing to the summit of American cuisine, his being felled by disease, his dramatic fight to live and his ultimate recovery. It may be the best, most inspiring chef memoir ever written.