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Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 30, 2006
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Buford's book starts smartly—he first met dynamic celebrity chef Mario Batali at a dinner party at his own home, where Batali sparkled until 3 a.m.—and continues at a fast clip as he conceives the notion of becoming Batali's "kitchen slave." Buford wanted to profile Batali for the New Yorker but also wanted to learn about cooking; he would be a "journalist-tourist" in the boot camp of a "kitchen genius." His subject became an obsession, and over the next three years, he investigated a rich menu of subjects: what makes a three-star restaurant work; what it takes to be a TV food star; the techniques and history of Italian cooking, not just from library research but also from repeated trips to Italy to visit Batali's relatives. Terrific culinary writing tracks Buford's successive passions for short ribs, polenta, tortellini and then the butcher's art, Italian-style, of pig and cow. Along the way, to his own surprise, Buford found that he had become a kitchen insider. This is a wonderfully detailed and highly amusing book from the writer who once took an insider's look at English soccer hooligans in Among the Thugs. 100,000 first printing. (June 13)
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Top Customer Reviews
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. Buford started his quest to understand what goes on behind the professional kitchen, in Mario Batali's restaurant, Babbo. He offers himself as an unpaid servant. He promptly cuts himself while deboning ducks and hunting for their "oysters."
And his whole world is never the same again. After months of culinary bondage, he flies to Italy to roll pasta with Betta (why you make pasta like an old woman, eh?) and butcher tall cows with warbling Dario and carve thighs with the Maestro (of the Monster Hands) in Tuscany.
I suffered with him as Molto Mario roots in trash cans, retrieving celery leaves and lamb kidneys that shouldn't have been tossed in the garbage. I puzzled over the importance of broccoli floret heads to customers. I winced as he burned himself --- dropping ribs in popping olive oil--- by hand. (There's some tremendously good, bloody vivid descriptions of Buford's kitchen's injuries.) Its almost like reading a Clive Barker book with lard and chickpeas!
I laughed as he hauls a whole pig (not a mere piglet) to his home in Manhattan so he can butcher it. I cackled as he drops munchkin pasta on the floor-- trying to roll it to impossible thinness. I marveled at how Buford "touched" meat for "doneness" and the resemblance of tortellini pasta to "innie" belly buttons. I snickered at the almost pornographic way . . . sausages were made. I groaned at creepy Riccardo and the ever-swelling polenta.
This book is pullulating with such jewels. And I haven't even spoken of the bizarre personalities behind that reduction of liver in butter sauce. There's Mario Batali, bigger than life and much engaged with pig fat. Marco Pierre White and his restaurant empire and his tasty thoughts on the aging of game birds. Yuck! Then there's the sous chefs, the prep chefs, the grill guys and the pasta guys. All fascinating and as unforgetttable, in their way, as Batali and White's tantrums! Andy and Frankie, Memo, Tony Liu and Alex with their dreams of owning their own restaurants. The clan of Latin cooks and servers who inexplicably all come from the same town . . .
Read this book. Even if you're not a foodie. Even if your idea of fine dining is a tin of sardines on instant rice! You'll love every minute of it. 5 Stars Plus Plus Plus!
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 that Buford is a sort of modern-day Don Quixote, venturing forth into the unkown driven by a vague but powerful sense of childlike curiosity... actually, maybe he is the Elephant Child, repeatedly spanked by the grownups for his "Satiable Curtiosity"... or maybe he's a new breed of Late-Empire reporter, dutifully recording the vicissitudes of our wealth-enabled excesses from the foxholes of gluttony. Fact remains that he has shown us something keenly observed, something that is right under our noses but almost invisible, and he has done it so well because he is so omnivorous in his hunger for experience and so teachable. Here's another stab at describing Mr. Buford: he is the anti-Bond, in no way jaded, un-blinkered by savoir-faire, open to the world, and fantastically observant as a result.
This is great reportage, great story-telling, great humor... I strongly recommend it, especially if you loved Kitchen Confidential and The Reach of a Chef. Outstanding.
In the end, Buford is a somewhat polished gem. I loved the detail he included in Heat about the move he made to grillman and the proximity in which he worked to a hot oven. This is probably the best book ever written about the horizon of knowledge it takes to be a top chef in the finest restaurants around the world. Here's how much I liked Heat. When I am out on a book scouting mission, if I find a used copy for a reasonable price, I buy it for friends that love to cook - and have restaurant cooking as an avocation.
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