Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

December 27, 2013 - Comment

A highly acclaimed writer and editor, Bill Buford left his job at The New Yorker for a most unlikely destination: the kitchen at Babbo, the revolutionary Italian restaurant created and ruled by superstar chef Mario Batali. Finally realizing a long-held desire to learn first-hand the experience of restaurant cooking, Buford soon finds himself drowning in

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A highly acclaimed writer and editor, Bill Buford left his job at The New Yorker for a most unlikely destination: the kitchen at Babbo, the revolutionary Italian restaurant created and ruled by superstar chef Mario Batali. Finally realizing a long-held desire to learn first-hand the experience of restaurant cooking, Buford soon finds himself drowning in improperly cubed carrots and scalding pasta water on his quest to learn the tricks of the trade. His love of Italian food then propels him on journeys further afield: to Italy, to discover the secrets of pasta-making and, finally, how to properly slaughter a pig. Throughout, Buford stunningly details the complex aspects of Italian cooking and its long history, creating an engrossing and visceral narrative stuffed with insight and humor.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

Comments

M. T. Campos "LocalPeanut" says:

A Delightful Grease-Fire of a Book I don’t go to restaurants. I don’t watch FOOD Channel. I don’t even order take-out. I’m just a pizza and burger guy with an occasional side trip to Taco Bell for my veggies. So why was I reading this book?My lunch partner was reading this weirdly yellow hardback and slowly choking on his burrito as he chuckled through Page 230 where the author had become a walking grease fire. Now, I can understand the humor behind being lit up like a Christmas tree in my kitchen (I’d done that after turning on the burners without removing my Hungryman TV dinner carton on top of it.) But a whole book of such mishaps?Ah, my friend urged this book on me and predicted I’d be converted! He would be able to persuade me to go to an eatery that didn’t have paper boats of onion rings or plastic packets of mayo. I would want to eat ramps (huh?) and autumn squash! I would want to eat fennel pollen!!And he was right! I was plastered to this book for the next week and a half…

J. V. Lewis says:

BLOOD. GOSSIP. PAIN. HUMILIATION. ADVENTURE. GLUTTONY. BACHANALIA. This is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. The fact that it is about kitchens and food and chefs, etc. hardly matters: it is, first and last, a swashbuckling adventure in which our hero, the author, driven by curiosity and some unreasonable lust for kitchen skills, faces the heat in the kitchens of a couple of the most outsized, megalomaniacal chefs in the world and in a butcher shop in Italy. There is gossip of rare incision, gory details that beggar fiction, scenarios beyond the imagination of theater, all falling over each other pell-mell because Bill Buford’s lust for skills and experience is like a locomotive and his writing is brilliant.His humility is the subject, really. It makes the story possible, makes the humor irresistable, puts him in situations that most of us are too proud to ever experience, and gives his prose the most winning lightness and warmth. By the end of the book, which I lamented like I was losing a pal, it became clear…

Westley says:

Mostly entertaining but not satiating Bill Buford decided in his early forties to ditch his job as a successful New Yorker editor to enter the world of food. What started with a simple assignment to write a magazine story on Mario Batali, the reknowned Food Network chef, ended up taking him to Italy and becoming a cook. “Heat” details this journey, including the back stories of numerous chefs and foodies with whom Buford ending up working, such as Batali.The book is entertaining for the most part; hearing about the difficulties of being a line cook in a three-star New York restaurant is certainly interesting. Buford started at the bottom by prepping, including spending hours dicing carrots only to have them thrown out because they were done incorrectly. The book certainly conveys the message that great food requires precision and working in these kinds of restaurants is brutal. Of course, we’ve seen this same idea before in numerous other “insider” books.What sets “Heat” slightly apart is the…

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