Monday, July 16, 2007

Book Review: Heat, by Bill Buford

I recently finished reading Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. This book is not about personal finance – at least, not really. Heat is the author’s story of his experiences inside a number of different restaurants, in both New York and in Italy, and what he learned about food and the people involved in its production. One part biography of chefs like Mario Batali and Marco Pierre White, one part memoir, and one part essay on cooking, this book completely changed my outlook on what we eat.

A former editor for the New Yorker, Buford began by working in the kitchen at Batali’s New York restaurant Babbo in order to write a profile of it for the magazine. While there, he began to learn the intricacies of not only Babbo’s kitchen but the process of preparing food in a restaurant, and the nature and quality of the food we eat. This led him on a journey which involved quitting his job and moving to Italy to study in not one but two small town kitchens. There he learned more about how what we prepare and eat defines who we are.

As I read the book, I was fascinated by all of the little mini-lessons in cooking that Buford works in, (Polenta, he discovered, doesn’t need to be stirred. That’s why you can cook it so long, and that’s what makes it so good. ), the tips from the Babbo kitchen (Pasta water is used to thicken sauces and is the key to most everything), the investigations into the history and origin of food (when, exactly, did eggs replace water in pasta?) and the discoveries about what factors effect food quality (if steak feels heavy in your stomach and grainy on your tongue it is because of just that – the grain it was fed – and is an inferior product). Even moreso, though, I was fascinated by the light and passion with which the food was described. Each discovery is life changing, is an enlightenment. One egg can be so important.

In the end, this book reaches a place that’s truly amazing – Buford realizes that food knowledge that has been passed through generations may now be lost: “The Maestro will die. I will die. The memory will die. Food made by hand is an act of defiance and runs contrary to everything in our modernity. Find it; eat it; it will go. It has been around for millennia. Now it is evanescent, like a season.”
Read this book. Then go cook something, from scratch, with your hands. If it can make one this passionate, this aware, this human, it must be something really special.


Kris said...

Story Girl, I looooved this book. So informative and passionate. Along the same lines (if you haven't already), check out Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. He's trained as a chef, but guy can write like nobody's business.

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