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Mar 3, 2011 01:48 PM

Grant Achatz on NPR's Fresh Air

I'm listening to superstar molecular gastronomy chef Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea on NPR's Fresh Air right now:
He's describing what he went through while being treated for tongue cancer and losing his sense of taste--it's an amazing story.

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    1. I missed the first 10 minutes or so so maybe this was addressed but Grant speaks with a slight impediment. Was this due to the tongue cancer or was this something he had all along?

      1. I caught about half of this interview last night and I thought it was stunning. At least in the part I heard, Grant Achatz was very candid . I was awestuck by his description of what he has endured and how resilient he must be.

        I plan to listen to the rest of the interview by podcast, and thought I should mention that Fresh Air has a free podcast of their interiews, in case you are not familiar with that.

        I don't know if he addressed it elsewhere in the parts of the interview, but the first thing that came to mind for me was the coincidence of a pioneer of molecular gastronomy being stricken with tongue cancer. I know I certainly have not often heard of tongue cancer occurring - maybe it is more common than I realize, but this certainly made me wonder whether there is a relationship between the usage of chemicals and /or chemical processes in food preparation and this occurrence of a relatively unusual form of cancer.(IF it is). Maybe this also has been discussed elsewhere?

        Still and all it was a riveting discussion.

        3 Replies
        1. re: LJNew

          Oral cancers, including tongue cancer, are not particularly rare. The fact that he is a chef may actually have helped him catch it early enough for effective treatment. Oral cancers are associated with smoking (or chewing tobacco) and heavy drinking, and there's a synergistic effect for people who both smoke and drink heavily. It's becoming more common among people under 50, and the increase among younger people seems to be related to HPV infections (the same virus associated with cervical cancer).

          I'm not saying any of these apply to Achatz, only that they are the most common risk factors for oral cancers. I certainly hope that he isn't using carcinogenic chemicals in food production!

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Thanks for the info however the Chicago mag article that was posted below contradicts you - specifically stating that it is in fact a relatively rare form of cancer.

            Even worse he was misdiagnosed for 2 and half years by doctors, dentists, etc.

            He also actually did not "catch it early for effective treatment" - he was Stage Four when they finally figured it out. . He was just incredibly lucky that there was a clinincal trial of a new medication that happened to work for him really well.

          2. re: LJNew

            The book (just out, Life, on the Line) is also quite candid -- about his relationship with his father, working at Trotter's, his relationship with Thomas Keller, etc. I'm about 200 pages in and haven't even gotten to the opening of Alinea.

            See also an in-depth feature on his cancer from Chicago magazine:

            Also the New Yorker:

            And Chicago Tribune gets a look inside the kitchen, his creative process, his ambition:

            A gut-wrenching except of his book is online in this PDF:

          3. Thank you for sharing this Nettie. How inspiring; an very interesting read. I loved listening to Grant talk about textures and smells, even unedible inspirations, he plays with.