A Top Chef Beats the Cancer Odds

American restaurateur Grant Achatz was named the top US chef at the James Beard Foundation Awards, following a year-long battle with oral cancer.

American restaurateur Grant Achatz on Sunday, June 8 was named the top US chef at the James Beard Foundation Awards, which are known as the Oscars of the culinary world. This capped a tumultuous year for Achatz, during which a battle with oral cancer threatened to end his career. The James Beard Foundation awards, which began in 1990, span 52 categories that include chefs, books, journalism, design/graphics and broadcast media. At age 34, Achatz beat four other chefs to win this year's outstanding chef prize.

Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. Most oral cancers begin in the tongue and in the floor of the mouth. Anyone can get oral cancer, but the risk is higher if you are male, over age 40, use tobacco or alcohol, or have a history of head or neck cancer. Frequent sun exposure is also a risk for lip cancer.

Symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • White or red patches in your mouth
  • A mouth sore that won't heal
  • Bleeding in your mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Problems or pain with swallowing
  • A lump in your neck
  • An earache

Achatz, a leader in molecular gastronomy, runs one of the most respected restaurants in the United States, Alinea, which opened in Chicago in 2005. The award was bittersweet for Achatz, whose tongue had swollen so badly about a year ago that he was not speaking clearly and had lost much of his sense of taste. He then learned the symptoms were due to a tumor on his tongue, for which the standard treatment is the removal of two-thirds of the tongue. In turn, Achatz chose a less severe combination treatment that included radiation and chemotherapy and announced in December 2007 that he was cancer-free.

During his treatment, Achatz barely stopped working at Alinea and wrote a cookbook that is due out in September. He is also planning to open a second restaurant in Chicago.

Other Celebrities Afflicted with Oral Cancer:

Actress Judy Holliday, died at age 43

Actor Humphrey Bogart, died at age 57

Singer Rod Stewart, age 63

Singer Sammy Davis, Jr., died at age 64