Posts Tagged ‘Roger Ebert’

Chicago Chef’s Courageous Fight Makes Me Fear Cancer Less

My grandfather, John Henry Peoples, died of colon cancer at the age of 72.  His son, my father, died of brain cancer at the age of 55, in 1987.

I’ve already been to a dermatologist twice.  In 1999, I had a biopsy for something that ended up being nothing more than an “age spot” that disappeared with a cream treatment.  Last year, I found out that the spot on my scalp was “actinic keratosis”, a common pre-cancerous growth caused by the sun’s UV rays.  It was froze off.

However, in 2002, I had a scarier experience when my doctor discovered a mass in my scrotum.  An ultrasound concluded that it was testicular calcification, which affects about 2.4% of American men, mostly white.  While there is no treatment for it, there’s not enough evidence to conclude that it might lead to testicular cancer.

As I approach my 50th birthday this October, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t think about getting cancer.

With my family history and my own scares, I wouldn’t be shocked to develop cancer one day.  If that diagnosis ever comes, I now have Grant Achatz to look to for inspiration and courage.

Grant_Achatz

Many of you probably haven’t heard the name.

I didn’t know who Grant Achatz was until I saw an article in the April 2011 “Men’s Health” magazine about how to make the ultimate burger.  Since I don’t eat beef, I likely read the article because he was attractive and that stopped me long enough from flipping through the magazine to read the feature.

However, I didn’t even read this magazine article until a couple of years later.  (Yes, a stack of magazines sat in my closet that long before I got around to them.)

And, this spring, I finally read his 2011 book, “life, on the line:  A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat”.   While I loved Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On” that I read earlier this year, Grant’s book is hands down the best autobiographical book I’ve ever read!

Life+On+the+Line

From the title of the book, you probably gather that he almost died.

The book doesn’t waste anytime going there with Grant describing how he was peeling out his inner throat in the book’s first written page in the preface.  You were drawn in and were rooting so hard for this young man to beat the odds.

I promise I’ll get to the point of my blog and how Grant’s book touched and inspired me, but I want you to see what this young, amazing man accomplished in a short period of time.

I loved reading about his early life of being raised in his family’s restaurant business in Michigan and jello being the first food he learned to make.  He then became a line cook as a teenager, went on to the Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1993, and did his six-month externship at a hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Grant would be welcomed back there after his externship and then he thought he was ready to experience Chicago where he worked for renowned chef Charlie Trotter for a couple of months.

With the high pressure environment and degradation from Trotter to his chefs, it didn’t end the way Grant thought it would.  When he left Trotter’s restaurant, Trotter told Grant that since he didn’t last a year, that Grant couldn’t use the famed chef as a reference and that he “simply would not exist” to Trotter.

Younger Grant

He went back home dismayed and planned a trip to Europe with his girlfriend at the time, Cindy.  They saw London and Paris, where they ate at “3 Michelin stars” restaurants and Grant was disappointed.  They traveled on to Rome, Venice, and Florence.

It was at a winery that featured a little bistro-like eatery where Grant said he had the “best meal of my life” and it was there that he realized the one thing that every restaurant needed:  passion.

Grant came back from Europe with passion and he landed a four-year stint at chef Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry” in California’s Napa Valley.

Grant and Thomas Keller

While there, Grant worked his way up from an entry-level position to sous-chef, the second-in-command and direct assistant to Chef Keller.

He took a position as the Executive Chef at Trio, located outside of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois.  In his three years there, Grant took the restaurant from a four-star Mobil Travel Guide to a five-star rating.

But, he wanted more and in May 2005, he opened his own restaurant, Alinea, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.  The 64-seat restaurant quickly earned rave reviews for featuring a small tasting menu with about 18 or so courses.

Alinea Chicago

The food that Grant and his team created were nothing short of gastronomical art.

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I could just sit and stare at Grant’s incredible creations for hours.  Actually, I did with Grant’s hardcover coffee table book, Alinea, which features more than a hundred of his recipes and photographs.

One of Alinea’s first major achievements was being named “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet Magazine. 

This would be followed by the AAA Five Diamond Award (2007-2014), the Jean Banchet Award for Best Celebrity Chef and Best Fine Dining (2007), the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef (2008), the “3 Michelin stars” in 2011 and 2013, and countless other awards.

Grant Nick

Grant’s dreams of opening his own restaurant were made possible by Nick Kokonas, a regular customer with his wife, Dagmara, at Trio, the restaurant that brought Grant to the Chicago area.  Nick was so impressed with Grant that he defied his friends’ advice of investing in a restaurant since so many fail.

Grant and Nick’s business partnership with Alinea also developed into a strong friendship and that friendship would end up saving Grant’s life.

Before moving to Chicago in 2001, Grant had a health scare while he was living in California.  Doctors thought it might have meningitis, but it wasn’t.

In early 2004, Grant noticed a small white bump on his tongue that wouldn’t go away and the accompanying pain became more intense over the next few months.  He finally had a biopsy done and it came back negative.

One day, after not seeing his business partner for days, Nick came into the restaurant and Grant looked very sick and he told Nick of the pain that his tongue was causing him.  When Grant showed Nick his tongue, Nick instantly knew there was a problem and demanded that he go see an oral surgeon.

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On July 13, 2007, Grant was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue.  The man who was making a career of creating the most exquisite dishes was faced with two dire realities:  an invasive, destructive, and painful surgery that would take away 75% of his tongue or death.

I shed many tears reading Grant and Nick’s accounts of the fear and the sadness they both felt after the diagnosis and Grant facing the fact that he was dying.  My heart was breaking for this young man (only 33-years-old) and his two small sons, Kaden and Keller.

After meeting with specialists in New York City and Chicago, including the surgeon that operated on famed movie critic, Roger Ebert, for thyroid and salivary cancer, the news wasn’t good for Grant.

Ebert-Before-and-After

Ebert knew the hell that Grant faced with battling cancer and having part of his jaw removed.  Ebert’s surgeon, Dr. Harold Pelzer, recommended that Grant have surgery.  However, Dr. Pelzer did mention another surgeon, Dr. Everett Vokes, at the University of Chicago, that had a less conventional approach to surgery.

Everett Vokes

Dr. Vokes was working on clinical trials that avoided surgery as the first option.  Instead, chemotherapy would be administered first, along with a medication that would interfere with the cancer growing and spreading throughout the body.  That would be followed by radiation, which was intense, devastating and painful.

The non-conventional approach worked and in December 2007, Grant’s cancer was in remission.

cancer

Cancer has touched all of our lives.

Whether you’re living with it or you’re a survivor, whether you know someone who is living with it or is a survivor, or if you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, “life, on the line:  A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat” is the most honest, encouraging, thoughtful, and touching book I’ve ever read.

If I ever develop cancer, I hope I have the courage of Grant Achatz, a friend like Nick Kokonas, and a visionary like Dr. Everett Vokes.

I hope that Grant lives a long and healthy life and that he keeps making gastronomical art in his kitchens.  And, since I only live three hours from Chicago, I hope one day to visit Alinea to view the work of this culinary genius in person.

Anthony

Random Friday Thoughts — April 5, 2013

My friends, another Friday is upon us and I’m very pleased to announce that I have nothing planned this weekend and I’m so thrilled about it.

Between work and upcoming events, both public appearances and personal commitments, I have a lot going on for the rest of April and May and I’m already overwhelmed!  But, this is one thing that I really look forward to each week, sharing my random thoughts with you.  What do you think of this blog feature???

FINALLY, IT’S WARMER!!!

Although we’ll have to deal with some scattered showers Saturday, it’s going to be very warm with highs in the Quad Cities around 70°!   This will be the warmest weekend since December 1-2, 2012, four months ago, when we reached 61° and 59°.

With that being said, I think we’re going to grill out Saturday night.  Maybe we’ll be lucky and get to sit outside on the patio.

As many of you know, I love Moscato and flavored vodkas, but here’s something that I think I’m going to have to check out and it would be perfect for the BBQ.  If you’ve already tried it, let me know how it is.

This is what I’ve read about it:  “This is our take on the traditional margarita. Beer drinkers were already mixing Bud Light Lime into margaritas to create ‘beer ritas’; Lime-a-Rita just adds a new level of convenience by providing a beverage with the perfect balance of flavors.”

strawberrita

PERFECT WEATHER COMING UP — FOR DUCKS AND FISH

After a dry day Sunday, a very wet period is expected from Sunday night through next Thursday with rain chances each day.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more than 2″ of rain in that time period.  I know our fish pond could use the water since we just went through a 12-day period with no measurable rain or snow.

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SPEAKING OF FLAVORED VODKAS!

Wanda Sykes

STRESSED OVER “MARCH MADNESS”

Every spring, I wager $5 and fill out my brackets for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, better known as “March Madness”.  In the past, I’ve never been a contender down the stretch!  However, this year, “March Madness” is insane for me.

Final Four Picks

If you’re a basketball fan, you can see that I have Louisville and Michigan in the final with Louisville winning.

If my calculations are correct and both of those teams make it to the finals, then I’ll likely win the “pool” at work and if those two teams make it to the final and Louisville wins, I think I may have won a 50″ LED television from a local newspaper’s bracket contest!   So, what started out as fun and a $5 investment could turn out rather profitable for me.  You know what I’ll be doing Saturday night when the two games are being played!  The finals are Monday night, April 8th, on CBS4, in the Quad Cities.

Go Louisville and Michigan!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Give Peeps a Chance

Hellfire   Palm Tree LightsYoko Ono Tweet

HIS HEROES MAY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN COWBOYS, BUT…

It’s no surprise to my friends that I idolize Reba McEntire, Madonna, Lady Gaga, former President Jimmy Carter, and former U.S. Secretary of State, First Lady, and Senator (and future President?) Hillary Clinton, but I’m now feeling the love for an unlikely ally.

Willie Nelson

When you hear the name Willie Nelson, you probably think country singer, outlaw, hippie, marijuana smoker, troubles with the IRS, and other things.  But, what about LGBT and marriage equality supporter?  Yes and yes!

Willie says, “For same-sex couples, taxes are different, benefits are different, survivor benefits are different.  It’s crazy … I never had a problem with any of it. I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference. People are people where I came from.”

And, the “Red Headed Stranger” goes on to say with his wicked sense of humor, “I never thought of marriage as something only for men and women. But I’d never marry a guy I didn’t like!”   And, with a mix of humor and seriousness, “[gay people] should be just as miserable as the rest of us,” before stating that he finds the public uproar over same-sex marriage “ridiculous…in this day and age.”

Willie Nelson Marriage Equality

Willie recently posted this picture when the Supreme Court of the United States was debating California’s ban on same-sex marriage, “Proposition 8”, and the “Defense of Marriage Act”, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman.

And, here’s something else you may not know about Willie.  He’s a strong advocate for better treatment of horses and he supported the passage of the “American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act”.  He told “Men’s Journal” magazine in July 2011, “I’m an outside person.  I like to camp out and ride the horses.  I have 71 of them there [on his Luck, Texas ranch] — beautiful paint horses — that I rescued from places that were selling them to be slaughtered.”

Willie Nelson Horses

Willie Nelson turns 80-years-old later this month.  To the man who has had a total of 82 country hits (60 of which were solo hits) with 44 of them reaching the country Top Ten and 23 topping the charts (14 #1 solo hits), I salute you and I appreciate you being a strong ally in supporting equality for all.

Happy Birthday, Willie and thank you!

“If You’ve Got The Money Honey I’ve Got The Time”

“Always on My Mind”

TELEVISION SOUND BITES

In television news, a “sound bite” is a short comment, from a longer interview, that stresses a point that the speaker is trying to make in a news story.  So, here are some of my sound bites about things that I watch:

TWD S3 Finale

* A record 12.4 million people watched the season three finale of “The Walking Dead”.

* The one-hour (two back-to-back 30-minute episodes) season finale of “The New Normal” was funny, cute, and sentimental.  However, the ratings are less than stellar and I don’t think it’ll be renewed  for a second season unless creator Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story” and “Glee) has a lot of pull in Hollywood and at NBC.

* The viewership of the first two weeks of this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament was up 31% this year over last year — the highest ratings in 19 years!

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* I’m ready for this season of “The Following” to end.  I know the season finale April 29th will be incredible, but the show is really starting to drag and it’s starting to irritate and bore me.  My correspondence with my good friend, Kelly, in Baltimore, Maryland, sums it up.

Kelly:  “Bates Motel is what I wanted The Following to be. (Following and I have broken up.)”

Me:  “‘The Following” and I sticking together for the kids until the season finale and then I’m done. I can’t believe how ridiculous it has become. I mean, give the FBI a break. I know you have to draw it out to 15 episodes, but really. Last week was nothing but filler.”

* While we dropped cable because we never watched television, I want to see “Bates Motel” on A&E, which Kelly highly recommends.  Last night, I watched “Hannibal” on NBC and it was incredible, gory, suspenseful, and psychologically stimulating.  If you missed it, NBC usually has most of its show online for viewing.

Here’s the “Viewer Discretion Advised” trailer:

My Wednesday’s blog link about the new “Hannibal” series:  https://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/come-into-my-house-but-not-for-dinner/

* And, finally, “Dexter” season 7 arrives on DVD May 14th.  The countdown is on:  39 days!

SO LONG, ROGER!  TWO THUMBS UP!

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, the legendary movie critic and television co-host, who popularized a movie rating of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” died Thursday in Chicago.

Since 2002, the 70-year-old Ebert struggled with cancer of the thyroid, salivary glands, and the chin, which affected his ability to speak, eat, and drink, he never gave up and was a fighter.

Two years ago, he published his book, “Life Itself:  A Memoir”.

FACEBOOK FLASHBACK PICTURES

With the record warmth in March 2012, things looked a lot different last year compared to now.  The grass was green, lilacs were in bloom, my friend, Lynn, had a flowering bush budding with Easter eggs, and my garden was already tilled!

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MY FUTURE HIT PICK

Chris Wallace, a musician from Chicago and the former lead singer for the band White Tie Affair, released his first solo song, “Remember When (Push Rewind)” last summer and it was a pick hit of mine and one of the absolute best songs of 2012!  It did get moderate airplay, but was pretty much ignored at pop radio in the big scheme of things.  While it reached #25 on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart, it never cracked the Billboard Hot 100.

The follow-up coming out later this month is “Keep Me Crazy”.

PEEPS’ ’80S FRIDAY FLASHBACK

Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been making music together since 1985 as Erasure.  Although they only scored three top 20 pop hits in America, #12 “Chains of Love” (1988), #14 “A Little Respect” (1988), and #20  “Always” (1994), it was “Oh L’Amour” that blew me away when I start going out clubbing and dee-jaying.  It hit #3 on the dance chart in 1986.

I guess I’ll wrap this up now because I could go on and on.  I do have many random thoughts!  Just ask Ray! 🙂

Have a great weekend!

Anthony