Bill Buford—author of the highly acclaimed best-selling Among the Thugs—had long thought of himself as a reasonably comfortable cook when in 2002 he finally decided to answer a question that had nagged him every time he prepared a meal: What kind of cook could he be if he worked in a professional kitchen? When the opportunity arose to train in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, Buford grabbed it. Heat is the chronicle—sharp, funny, wonderfully exuberant—of his time spent as Batali’s “slave” and of his far-flung apprenticeships with culinary masters in Italy.
In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes the frenetic experience of working in Babbo’s kitchen: the trials and errors (and more errors), humiliations and hopes, disappointments and triumphs as he worked his way up the ladder from slave to cook. He talks about his relationships with his kitchen colleagues and with the larger-than-life, hard-living Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters.
Buford takes us to the restaurant in a remote Appennine village where Batali first apprenticed in Italy and where Buford learns the intricacies of handmade pasta . . . the hill town in Chianti where he is tutored in the art of butchery by Italy’s most famous butcher, a man who insists that his meat is an expression of the Italian soul . . . to London, where he is instructed in the preparation of game by Marco Pierre White, one of England’s most celebrated (or perhaps notorious) chefs. And throughout, we follow the thread of Buford’s fascinating reflections on food as a bearer of culture, on the history and development of a few special dishes (Is the shape of tortellini really based on a woman’s navel? And just what is a short rib?), and on the what and why of the foods we eat today.
Heat is a marvelous hybrid: a richly evocative memoir of Buford’s kitchen adventure, the story of Batali’s amazing rise to culinary (and extra-culinary) fame, a dazzling behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a famous restaurant, and an illuminating exploration of why food matters.
It is a book to delight in—and to savor.
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Bill Buford's funny and engaging book Heat offers readers a rare glimpse behind the scenes in Mario Batali's kitchen. Who better to review the book for Amazon.com, than Anthony Bourdain, the man who first introduced readers to the wide array of lusty and colorful characters in the restaurant business? We asked Anthony Bourdain to read Heat and give us his take. We loved it. So did he. Check out his review below. --Daphne Durham Guest Reviewer: Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is host of the Discovery Channel's No Reservations, executive chef at Les Halles in Manhattan, and author of the bestselling and groundbreaking Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, A Cook's Tour, Bone in the Throat, and many others. His latest book, The Nasty Bits will be released on May 16, 2006.
Heat is a remarkable work on a number of fronts--and for a number of reasons. First, watching the author, an untrained, inexperienced and middle-aged desk jockey slowly transform into not just a useful line cook--but an extraordinarily knowledgable one is pure pleasure. That he chooses to do so primarily in the notoriously difficult, cramped kitchens of New York's three star Babbo provides further sado-masochistic fun. Buford not only accurately and hilariously describes the painfully acquired techniques of the professional cook (and his own humiations), but chronicles as well the mental changes--the "kitchen awareness" and peculiar world view necessary to the kitchen dweller. By end of book, he's even talking like a line cook.
Secondly, the book is a long overdue portrait of the real Mario Batali and of the real Marco Pierre White--two complicated and brilliant chefs whose coverage in the press--while appropriately fawning--has never described them in their fully debauched, delightful glory. Buford has--for the first time--managed to explain White's peculiar--almost freakish brilliance--while humanizing a man known for terrorizing cooks, customers (and Batali). As for Mario--he is finally revealed for the Falstaffian, larger than life, mercurial, frighteningly intelligent chef/enterpreneur he really is. No small accomplishment. Other cooks, chefs, butchers, artisans and restaurant lifers are described with similar insight.
Thirdly, Heat reveals a dead-on understanding--rare among non-chef writers--of the pleasures of "making" food; the real human cost, the real requirements and the real adrenelin-rush-inducing pleasures of cranking out hundreds of high quality meals. One is left with a truly unique appreciation of not only what is truly good about food--but as importantly, who cooks--and why. I can't think of another book which takes such an unsparing, uncompromising and ultimately thrilling look at the quest for culinary excellence. Heat brims with fascinating observations on cooking, incredible characters, useful discourse and argument-ending arcania. I read my copy and immediately started reading it again. It's going right in between Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London and Zola's The Belly of Paris on my bookshelf. --Anthony Bourdain
Bill Buford is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he was the fiction editor for eight years. He was the founding editor of Granta magazine and was also the publisher of Granta Books. His previous book, Among the Thugs, is a nonfiction account of crowd violence and British soccer hooliganism. He lives in New York City with his wife, Jessica Green, and their two sons.
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