Earlier this month, Gotham Books acquired rights to chef Grant Achatz’s memoir, Life, On the Line. Based on the proposal—which made its way around the web a few weeks ago—and Achatz’s cookbook, Alinea, the memoir won’t be a typical chef’s narrative. Rather, the memoir, co-written with Achatz’s business partner, Nick Kokonas, is part autobio, part art book (integrating Achatz’s medical charts and scans with photos of Alinea’s kitchen and food), and part business story. PW talks to Rachel Holtzman, who will edit Life, On the Line. Holtzman has been an editor at Gotham for five months, after previously editing at Putnam. Life, On the Line is tentatively slated for publication in winter 2011.
PW: How did you get involved with this book?
RH: I’m from Chicago and had seen bits about Grant in the Tribune and Chicago magazine. When he announced in 2007 that he was cancer free, he got on my radar. Then, last spring, there was a great piece about him, and I thought, “He needs to write a book.” His story is incredible. I reached out to him and Nick [Kokonas], and they ran with it. After about a year, it finally came to fruition.
PW: It sounds like you played a significant role in getting the proposal out there.
RH: Well, I’m hesitant to give myself that much credit. I’d like to think my constant nagging maybe acted as a catalyst. Maybe I planted the seed. But I approached it in a pretty conventional way. I saw it as a chef’s memoir, and Grant and Nick then added in all these different components and made it sing.
PW: Was there interest from other houses?
RH: Yes, there were quite a few publishers that saw it, probably aided by the fact that the proposal was posted on the Times’ site. It piqued a lot of people’s curiosity. We won it at auction.
PW: Will the book be like the proposal, combining text with significant illustrations?
RH: It’s hard to say at this point what aesthetically the book is going to look like. It will be an interesting package that speaks to the different facets of the content. It’s a survival memoir, a chef memoir and a business book, explaining how they grew Alinea to be the greatest restaurant in the country. And through it you have this amazing relationship unfolding between Nick and Grant, told in an un-self-aware way.
PW: Have you edited other food-related books in the past?
RH: I had been privy to other food-related books, but this is really the first chef memoir that I’m working on. Having worked on business books and memoir, it’s amazing for me to see how Grant was able to weave together all of those components. As an avid reader of chef memoirs and kitchen books, it’s such a guilty pleasure to get all of the inside scoop firsthand.
PW: What’s the feeling in house at Gotham about the book?
RH: Our excitement for this book is extraordinary. This is something that really encapsulates what we like to do. It’s exciting and different, and the proposal is just a taste of what’s coming in the book. It’s going to be a treat to work on.