If You Can’t Take the HEAT…November 12, 2009
…try reading it instead. The book Heat, that is, by Bill Buford. If you have any modicum of interest in cooking, and/or a curiosity about the history of Italian food, and/or a fascination with Mario Batali, then you’ll love this book. A good part of the first third of the book is a biography of Mario, and how he became one of the most recognizable chefs in the country. It’s quite a remarkable story, filled with humor and sadism.
The second part of the book focuses on Buford’s experiences working in kitchens at Batali’s New York restaurants. Buford paints an incredibly visceral picture of the insanity that befalls anyone working in such a place. You can feel the heat and the sweat and the frustrations and the anxiety coming right off the pages. It’s pretty intense; Batali himself shows up on occasion to provide insults and deprecation. But the reader becomes engrossed with Buford’s progress in the kitchen, and you feel yourself rooting for him to succeed.
His success leads into the last third of the book, in which Buford takes several very long trips to the Tuscan countryside to apprentice in a butcher shop. This part of the story provides a wealth of information on the history of Italian food, and the history of Western cuisine in general, and Buford presents it all with humor and a lot of stories as told by old Italians. His experience in the butcher shop is very entertaining as well. He learns authentic pasta making from an old Italian woman, and in doing so we learn the history of pasta itself, which on the surface might seem dull, but ends up being quite astounding.
All in all, this is a very entertaining book. The Mouse House Kitchen highly recommends it. Enjoy!