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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

Review

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures As Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

A lot of home cooks may wonder if they could make it as a professional chef. For 99 percent of us, the answer is no. The heat, the stress, the pacing, the extreme personalities one often finds in a working kitchen --- not to mention the encyclopedic body of knowledge required to work in a top-caliber kitchen --- combine to form an environment in which only a few manage to thrive.

Bill Buford is among the one percent. He endured the years of hard, sweaty, often repetitive work; the constant humiliation of being the one in the kitchen who knows the least; and the burns, gouges, scrapes and sheer exhaustion that go into the training of a professional chef. HEAT is the story of his experiences working in the kitchen at Babbo, Mario Batali's three-star New York City restaurant. Buford is very candid about his rookie mistakes in everything from complicated kitchen politics to the right and wrong ways to cube a carrot.

Buford is sustained only by his formidable curiosity. He really wants to know how to make tortellini by hand, the secrets of Florentine beef, when the egg was first used in Italian pasta, and what the big deal is about fennel pollen. In fact, he wants to know these things so badly that having survived Babbo, he takes Mario Batali's advice and goes to Italy to learn about Italian food. This requires him to find Italian chefs who will let him learn in their kitchens, again doing the lowest work for no money, until he knows enough to be trusted. After several months working with a Tuscan butcher, they let him touch a knife.

In Italy he confirms what Babbo had begun to teach him: that simple things are the most difficult and take a lifetime to really learn. Pasta, for instance, is just flour and water, maybe an egg, but there are hundreds of variations and just as many chances to get it wrong. If you manage to reach this point in the book and still think that opening a box and using dried pasta is good enough, then you should probably start over.

I read Bill Buford's first book, AMONG THE THUGS, certain that his subjects --- England's football thugs --- would eventually beat him to death. HEAT doesn't have that kind of tension or that tight a focus. On the other hand, AMONG THE THUGS didn't make me want to attend a football game, whereas HEAT did make me want to cook.

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Reviewed by Colleen Quinn on October 18, 2011

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures As Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany
by Bill Buford

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2006
  • Genres: Cooking
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1400041201
  • ISBN-13: 9781400041206