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A Bittersweet Life: A Chef Loses His Sense of Taste, But Not His Passion for Cooking

If you could no longer taste food, could you still cook? And if you were dying of brain cancer, would you spend the last years of your life working in a kitchen? David Guerrero can -- and does.

The young Houston chef has just opened his very own restaurant, in fact, and plans on opening another very soon -- even though Guerrero may be gone in three years. Because as you'll read in this week's cover story, "A Bittersweet Life," absolutely nothing gets in Guerrero's way when it comes to the legacy he's determined to leave behind.

Not layoffs, not the loss of his health insurance, not the diagnosis of brain cancer at age 28, not even a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body and robbed him of his ability to speak English, play the piano, dance salsa and taste food.

At his new restaurant, Alma Cebiche + Bar, Guerrero is already drawing rave reviews for his carefully composed ceviches and other, more exotic Peruvian fare such as a wok-fired pescado saltado Nikkei over rice.

That pescado saltado is one of the dishes that reflects the Chinese and Japanese heritage in Peruvian cooking -- aspects of the cuisine that Guerrero is eager to show off to a city that's still learning about various South American cuisines. And that's all that Guerrero wants out of life these days: for people to come and enjoy his food, and maybe to broaden their horizons in the process.

"I can't taste," Guerrero says, "but at least I can cook and create and have people writing about that and have somebody believe in me enough to open a restaurant with me."

"I definitely don't want any pity," he says, emphatically.

It's tough to pity someone with as much grit and determination as Guerrero, though. And it's tough to pity someone with the same human flaws as the rest of us, someone who's accepted his cancer diagnosis gracefully but who still rages and fights and makes the same bad decisions that we all do under intense pressure. But in place of pity comes a fierce admiration for a man who's making the most of a life cut too short.

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"I still have a bad temper and a lot of frustration," Guerrero admits. "But I understand that I am so blessed. I have a reason to be here, you know?"

Read more in this week's cover story, "A Bittersweet Life."

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