Friday, April 18, 2008

Food for Thought

There's something seductive about being able to peek behind the curtain and see what's going on backstage. And when the backstage is the kitchen of a famous New York restaurant it's irresistible. That's the story that first made me love Bill Buford. In the New Yorker he wrote about his experience as a 'kitchen slave' in the kitchen of Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant. His humiliations are many – he arrives without his own knives; he is unable to chop his carrots in uniform size; he is loudly chastised by Mario himself when he throws away celery leaves (that's where the best flavor is). Buford describes all this with such humor and humility that I was immediately hooked. From then on I scanned the table of contents of each New Yorker looking for more. His story of lugging home a whole pig (not a piglet but a full grown beast) and butchering it in his small New York apartment was hilarious. When he is finally promoted to the pasta station he describes the intricacies of 'belly button' pasta, as well the incredibly high pressure life of a line cook in the soap opera world of a restaurant kitchen. I loved it. I was peeking into a behind-the-scenes world, but I didn't have to worry about being scalded, stabbed or yelled at.

These adventures and many more can now be found in Buford's book Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. In addition to his restaurant adventures, Buford writes about the back story of Batali's rise to super stardom, and, as the title suggests, his time spent in a tiny village in Tuscany working for a famous butcher. Buford's passion for food and cooking is what makes his writing so engaging. It will leave you satisfied but hungry for more.

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