There is a moment in every foodie’s life where s/he wonders if s/he could make it as a real chef – trade the part-time apron for a full-time position in a kitchen. For Bill Buford that dream became reality he chronicled in his excellent book Heat.

Heat is really three books in one. First is the story of his year and a half at Mario Batali’s kitchen. When I say he started at the bottom of the pecking order I mean the basement. This reader was astounded at his utter lack of cooking prowess and knife skills and wondered if his true skills were hidden to make his metamorphosis into true cook all the more dramatic.

 

Either way, his account of his rise through the ranks (and through the cooking stations) is recounted with sensitivity, perceptivity and humour. We are allowed to understand Buford’s frustration and his triumphs, and we get a behind the scenes look at kitchen culture and the various chefs personalities.

Heat is also a great primer about the boisterous life of the legendary Mario Batali (Babbo) recounted so honestly and vividly that my liver hurt as I read about his hard-living lifestyle.The truly amazing and touching parts of the book do not recount Buford’s time with Batali.  Rather, Buford’s time in Italy learning to make pasta and his time at Dario’s world famous butcher shop. 

Buford’s explanation of the art of making pasta is masterful.  After getting through this second of Heat’s triptych my view of pasta making went from black and white to Technicolor. In fact, the week after I read the book I went out and bough a pasta maker – a good half-way house to the real pasta making deal. Buford gives us a thumbnail sketch of the complexity and subtleties of making pasta and impresses the idea that to give it its famous “cat’s tongue” texture.

The part of the book that is surely to be a hit with those looking for sentimentality. Buford’s time at Dario’s butcher shop in Tuscany – touted to be the best butcher shop in the world – is nothing short of amazing. One can almost smell the aging meet and taste the meats from the animals Buford is taught to prepare. No longer will I associate butcher with mindless cutting – it is an art of the highest order.

Heat is an necessary addition to any foodie’s library and a fascinating read that will certainly engender feelings of jealousy. I yearned to have the opportunity (and luck!) that Buford had to live out his dream and rise up to the challenge of being a professional cook. When I put this book down I felt saddened that it ended…and started reading it again from page 1.

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