Heat

by Bill Buford

This review, copied from Amazon.com, was written by Anthony Bourdain, one of the foodie gods!

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

I don’t suppose I can add more to what Anthony Bourdain said. It’s an interesting book, with lots of insights into the operation of a restaurant and a butcher shop, all very intriguing to a foodie like me.  I admire the author for his courage to really go and do something he likes, not minding the dirt, sweat, and at times humiliation in a kitchen, to start from the lowlinest, all to satisfy his curiosity, not for money, not for a future dream of opening his own restaurant.  I am curious though about his wife, whom he mentioned very little and seems unhumanly tolerate of his unusual pursuit. (living for months in Tuscany so he can apprentice at a butcher shop, hailing home a whole pig in plastic bag…)

I happened to be reading Ruth Reihl’s Garlic and Sapphire, so it was really interesting to read the two sides of how a critic tests out a restaurant.

My favorite paragraph is towards the end, when Mario asked if the author wants to open a restaurant.  The author reflects that no, he doesn’t. <i>”For millennia, people have known how to make their food… People don’t have this kind of knowledge today, even though it seems as fundamental as the earth… I didn’t want this knowledge in order to be a professional, just to be more human.”</i>

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Published in: on January 11, 2008 at 1:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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