'Cooking Is Who I Am'

"We're not saying there should never be surgery," Vokes said of tongue cancer. "All we're saying is, it isn't the first option. So, let's try something else — chemotherapy and radiation — carefully treat the patient at the end of that, we take a biopsy and, hopefully, the tumor will then not be apparent, and we will not need to do surgery."

While Achatz realized that the worst might still happen, and he might lose his tongue, he promised himself that he would never give up doing what he loved.

"I've been cooking for a long time. It's a part of who I am," said Achatz. "I think if I completely lost all sense of taste, I would still be able to achieve what I want to. But never once in this process have I said I'm going to die, or I'm going to lose my tongue. Never. It was never an option."

The chemotherapy seems to be working — his tumor has shrunk in size and his cancer is in remission.

Achatz continues to cook and create. With 80 guests a night, who are served 12 or 24 courses, each, at Alinea, Achatz's kitchen turns out 7,000 meticulously flavored and fanciful creations a week — and he's there for all of them.

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