A typical 23-course meal at Chicago’s Alinea restaurant might include olive oil lollipops, sweet potatoes skewered by smoking cinnamon sticks, strips of bacon hanging from a stainless steel bow, and pheasant tempura-fried with apple cider, impaled on a flaming oak leaf.
But in 2007, when diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer, Chef Achatz lost his ability to taste.
“It was very strange to not be able to discern any flavor at all,” he says. “It’s funny because, clearly, you know you have to eat to live. But even knowing that, for me, there was no reason to eat. I had no interest in eating whatsoever. I would put something in my mouth — say a vanilla milkshake — and it tasted like nothing.”
His cancer is currently in remission and he eventually regained his sense of taste. Of the whole experience, he says it was educational. “I don’t recommend it, but I think it made me a better chef because now I really understand how flavor works.”
Read more about Chef Achatz and an excerpt from his memoir Life, on the Line and listen back to the Fresh Air interview here.