- File Size: 1353 KB
- Print Length: 384 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400034477
- Publisher: Vintage (May 30, 2006)
- Publication Date: May 30, 2006
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000GCFVUQ
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,682 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
the editor-in-chief for Granta magazine for sixteen years and was also the publisher of Granta Books. He lives in New York City with his wife, Jessica Green.
From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Heat is very well written. Buford was the editor of a literary magazine and the fiction editor at the New Yorker. The pages seemed to fly by and I found it engaging throughout. You will probably enjoy this read if you are interested in Italy and the Italian approach to food and/or liked Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” There are some crazy characters in kitchens and Buford does a great job describing them.
Mario Batali’s larger-than-life personality and his rise in the food world feature prominently throughout. This book originated as a New Yorker profile on Mario Batali. Buford took the opportunity of writing the article and befriending Mario to work for over a year (without pay) in the kitchen of Babbo. He then spent months in Italy learning how to make pasta and how to butcher.
This was written several years before Batali’s disgrace associated with the #metoo movement, and it’s easy to see how his heavy drinking, his general approach, his sometimes arrogant attitude and the culture in many male-dominated professional kitchens would lead to an abusive workplace. Buford gives great insights into the hierarchy of Babbo’s kitchen, the posturing, the literal bumping, and the infighting.
One of the staff mentioned in the book, Frank Langello, who became the executive chef is described by Buford as temperamental and abusive. I googled him to see what he was up to now and found out he was fired in early 2018 after misconduct allegations. The mentions of Joe Bastianich, Mario’s former business partner, were also interesting because I’m familiar with Joe from having watched him on the television show MasterChef.
One thing I’m genuinely curious about is how one affords to live in New York City and spend months in Italy while working without pay. Did he get a big advance? Had he done a great job saving and lived off that? Was his wife’s salary more than adequate? Are they simply independently wealthy?
Now I am off to read Dirt, and I bet I’ll end up reading his first book, Among the Thugs, because he is such a good writer.
An established magazine editor and successful author Bill Buford has always been an amateur cook, but in his late forties he decides that living in an ephemeral and materialistic world of slight success, fashion, and fame is not enough for him. He wants to understand the soul of things, and ultimately that means understanding where the food he eats comes from and how it is best prepared, and while at first that means writing a magazine article on Mario Batali, the search ultimately takes him to Italy where he learns to make fresh pasta, butcher pigs and cows, and while falling in love with tradition and heritage also come to see poignantly how they can change and disappear as well.
The book swings back and forth between two places. First there's Buford's hometown of New York City, where Mario Batali runs the finest Italian restaurant in America and where Bill Buford has situated himself as a kitchen slave. Then there are the hills of northern Italy where Batali learned the power and allure of true and traditional Italian cooking, and where Buford traveled many times in the search for the essence of food, and the origin of things.
Batali's Michelin three-star kitchen is a source of endless conflict, and Buford describes it brilliantly as though the kitchen staff were a ragtag motley platoon of misfits and maniacs caught at war. The hills of Italy, on the other hand, are an endless source of fascination and wonder for Buford, and it is in these sections -- powered by Buford's love -- that are slow and at times ponderous to read.
Like a brilliantly prepared Italian dish, "Heat" is full of subtle and sublime flavor, created by the author's wonderful and precise use of detail and food nouns, and while this like good food can activate all our senses and stimulate intoxicating memories it can also be at times too rich and thus at times a bit revolting. (Was an entire chapter on polenta really necessary?)
And this book can only be truly appreciated by the true gourmand, as it is so densely packed with culinary terminology and thinking.
While Buford's preparation and execution can be a bit much, I did come away learning a lot from this book, lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, as I deepen my culinary practice: How simplicity can take a lifetime to master, how a food tastes of its ingredients (case in point is how pasta is defined by the quality of its egg) and of the devotion of its practitioners (it seems that only petite Italian women with very small hands with nothing to do all day but make tortellini can make true tortellini), how meat is defined not by the breed of the animal but by the breeding of the animal (feed a cow real grass, and let it grow strong and big by letting it till the fields and roam the pastures, and you'll have excellent beef), and how food can unite families and define cultures like nothing else (Italians believe they invented food).
And so unfortunately with the advent of modernization, technology, and globalization, food culture is slowly being lost to us. Here is an Italian master's poetic and poignant description of what we have lost:
"In the seventies, the chianine were good. They tasted of the hillsides and clean air. They ate grass and had acres to roam in, and, because they were work animals, they were exercised constantly. The meat was firm and pure. It might take two weeks before it softened up. Today, the chianine do not have hillsides to roam in, because you use a tractor to work vines, not an animal. And instead of grass, they eat cereals, grains, and protein pellets: mush. They eat mush. They taste of mush. And after the animal is slaughtered, the meat behaves like mush: it disintegrates in days. A chianina is a thing to flee from!"
Only a very small sliver of the population can afford to work for many months for free, to shuttle back and forth between New York and Italy while maintaining a New York City apartment, and dine regularly on the very best hand-made, small-batch, "slow" food. It's one thing to illuminate those artisans, such as those of Northern Italy the author had spent time with, who are keeping old traditions alive. It's another thing altogether to expect that large-scale, factory-made food is going anywhere soon. With more and more people to feed, and more and more of them demanding increased quantities of meat, the privileges enjoyed by the Bill Bufords of this world will continue to be an extreme rarity, even as it serves to inspire the rest of us to care a bit more about our traditions, the food we eat, and how we prepare it.
Top international reviews
The very first time I didn't know who he was. I was standing in front of a building, which apparently is the appartment where he lives near Washington Square. This figure in orange crocs came storming out of the building, hopped on a Vespa and disappeared. At that time, I was being led around the city by someone who lives there. He told me who we just saw and why that was kind of a big deal. Next time I saw him on one of those tourist buses that drive around the city , doing an interview with Anthony Bourdain which is one of my favorite people in the world. Then it was somewhere near Times square, then once more in the Village. What is going on, I thought ? Is this the universe trying to tell me something or is Mario Batali omnipresent ?
I'm also in the same life phase as Bill Buford with the same interest in cuisine. I go to culinary school as we speak. I would love to leave my desk job behind a go work in restaurant and create something of value with my bare hands. My wife thinks I'm going through a midlife crisis. I like the temporary aspect of food. You create a plate with an experience that is temporary in nature. A bit like life itself. Bill Buford wanted to know more about Batali , the man and his chain of restaurants. He asked Molto Mario if he could come work for him for free and Mario agreed and put him on the staff of Babbo's , one of the more well known Batali restaurants. That's the premise of the book. A journalist climbs the ladder within a crazy environment of a restaurant kitchen. The best book ever written on life within the kitchen is of course Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, this one is enjoyable but it doesn't even come close.
Buford gets obsessed with Italian cuisine. He travels to Italy to try to learn the very best pasta. He wades through historical texts on meat and pasta to try to define what is 'original'. He applies what he learns in Mario's kitchen and then goes back to apprentice under a butcher. I once was invited to dinner in a restaurant in Tuscany as part of a wedding anniversary. I had the best meal of my life : "bistecca fiorentina" . The restaurant was in the little town of Lamole, with a stunning view over the Tuscan hills. Lo and behold, as I'm reading this book, Buford goes for a bite to eat in this very same restaurant with the crazy butcher fellow, who then makes a terrible scene in the restaurant.
I was honestly baffled by this. So strange. What are the odds ?
That being said, this was an enjoyable book. Kitchen Confidential is vastly superior and a lot more entertaining, however. Buford is someone who likes to push himself to extremes and obsesses over certain things in search for perfection. That quest gets a bit tiresome if you don't share that gene. Don't get me wrong It's a 'good book', a great read on life in the kitchen and how the quest for a perfect Italian meal had different layers. You're never really done learning. The obsessive nature of the author was a bit offputting . Another factor is that I think it's geared towards an American audience, because they tend to have a much more romantic view about Europe. You know, the people who travel to Paris and think it's the prettiest thing they've ever seen. I go to Paris and all I see is rudeness everywhere. The people who think a building that is built 100 years ago is "old". I'm writing this next to a cupboard that was made in 1830. So what ? We're used to "old things" over here. I guess being from "the new country" gives everything from the "old country" that little bit of faerie dust that in my own experience was missing.
At the end of the day I would still recommend this. But it's no Kitchen Confidential.
Love it so much have bought it for friends and family. It is laugh out loud funny as well as informative and beautifully written.
One for good obsessives
What follows is a vivid account of stress and dramas and camaraderie of a restaurant kitchen. It is brilliantly written and fabulously entertaining; full of intricate digressions and life stories. In parts it his hilarious; his account of a hunting trip and lunch with Marco Pierre White is laugh-out-loud funny.
In the final third of the book, Buford steps outside the kitchen and travels to Italy to learn how to make pasta and train as a butcher. In these pages the book loses its focus slightly, although to a foodie like me it was still entertaining. Indeed anyone with an interest in cookery will like this book.
A very readable journey that has a lot of similarities to Moonwalking with Einstein (where a journalist becomes world memory champion). 👍
With "Heat" Bill Buford delivers a very well written and tasty cocktail of biographical detail on all the main and supporting actors in his adventure into the world of good food.
My own profession as a food photographer and writer sometimes reminds me of an adventure into the world of professional kitchens, butcher shops, bakeries, vine yards. You meet all these interesting characters all the time and you eat and drink well.
I can recommend this book to everyone who loves biographies of crazy, passionate and or unusual people with strong opinions.
I can also recommend the book for people who do not already know their way around a professional kitchen and want to learn the basics.
Until I read this book I did not know that "journalist-turning-cook" is as common a genre as "boy-meets-girl" and this is the first of its kind.
PS: I also read the German version of this book, but I prefer the English original. The translation is very good technically but has not got the rhythm and flow of Bill Bufords writing