Among the Chefs

On the Nightstand:

Heat, Bill Buford (Knopf 2006)


Memoir, Professional Cooking, Italy, Mario Batali.


From Powells.com: "From one of our most interesting literary figures — 16 years as editor of
Granta, 8 years as fiction editor at The New Yorker, author of Among the Thugs, the best-selling expose of the world of English soccer hooligans — a sharp, funny, exuberant, close-up book about his headlong plunge into the life of a professional cook-in-training.

Expanding on his August 2002 New Yorker article, Bill Buford now gives us a richly evocative chronicle of his experience as "slave" to Mario Batali in the small, chaotic, highest-standards kitchen of Batali's three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, and of his apprenticeships with Batali's former teachers. In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes three frenetic years in the kitchen: trials and errors, disappointments and triumphs, as he worked his way up the Babbo ladder to a line cook... his relationship with the larger-than-life Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters... and his immersion in the art of butchery in Northern Italy, of preparing game in London, and of handmade pasta at an Italian hillside trattoria.

Heat is a marvelous hybrid: a memoir of Buford's kitchen adventure, the story of Batali's amazing rise to culinary (and extra-culinary) fame, a dazzling behind-the-scenes look at a famous restaurant, and an illuminating exploration of why food matters. It is a book to delight in, and to savor."


Back in 1992 my friend Scott emphatically recommended Buford's soccer hooligan memoir, Among the Thugs, and fifteen years later that book still stands as one of my most favorite reads. Riveting from start to finish, we follow Buford as he befriends football hooligans of every stripe, blue collars, racists and brawlers, venting their pent up rage, and stifled nationalism in the name of Manchester United. Often we find the young Buford enthralled by this fraternity of sports-loving scofflaws, and it is the tension between the journalists objectivity and the human desire to belong that gives Among the Thugs a thick tension like no other book I've read.

In the last couple of years I have finally figured out that cooking is far from the dull chore I always thought it was. After buying Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything last year, the nascent chef in me has grown in fits and starts. Still, I'm no surfer of cooking shows, and couldn't identify Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, or for that matter, Mark Bittman, in a police line up. I'm reading Heat, more for Buford's potent and lucid journalism than Batali's love of the short rib.