Heat by Bill Buford Jonathan Cape £17.99 Review by Kayleigh Donahue
Five years ago, Bill Buford, former Fiction Editor of The New Yorker, set out to write a profile on Mario Batali, famous in the US as much for his restaurant empire and television shows as his eccentric personality. The experience sparked a personal journey for Buford, taking him from the kitchen of Babbo, Batali's New York Times rated three-star restaurant in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City, to the Italian countryside, and back again; all of which he recounts in his 2006 memoir/ biography/textbook hybrid, Heat.
The idea was simple enough – try to understand the inner workings of Batali by experiencing the inner workings of his kitchen. Instead, Buford received an education every culinary student would salivate over.
"You learn by working in the kitchen. Not by reading a book or watching a television programme or going to cooking school," Batali told Buford before his cooking adventure began. "That's how it's done."
Buford splits Heat into two parts, his experience at Babbo and his time in Italy. He retells the personal struggles he endured (spending two hours cubing carrots only for them to be thrown away because they were not identical), to his triumphs (manning the grill on a particularly crazy night and receiving praise instead of abuse from "the kitchen screamer"). Buford spends over a year in the Babbo kitchen, but after feeling the addictive buzz that comes along with the atmosphere of a fast-paced New York City restaurant, he decides to explore another part of Batali's history: Batali's pilgrimage to Italy.
Following the educational trek Batali took before his restaurant success, Buford spends a good deal of time in the Italian countryside with a pasta-maker in Poretta and a Butcher in Panzano, ultimately learning more about himself than Batali. Along his journey, Buford examines how the practices in both pasta making and butchery reflect the centuries of tradition ingrained in the region (down to the moment in history when the egg first appeared in the recipe for pasta), making Heat is more than just a memoir of amateur kitchen mishaps or a biography on the life and times of Mario Batali.
Buford includes anecdotes about some of the trials and tribulations Batali experienced on his way to the top, but he also engages his readers with his candid kitchen and apprentice stories and the relationships he forms with people along the way. By the end of the book, Heat is no longer just about a "kitchen tourist" trying to stay afloat; Heat is what happens when an intrigued journalist, a largerthan- life chef and a few trips to Italy collide.
- The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin, Houghton Mifflin, 2004
- Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, Bloomsbury, 2005
- The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson, Ecco, 2004
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Harper Perrenial, 2001
- The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten, Vintage, 1998
- My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme, Knopf, 2006
- The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen by Michael Ruhlman, Viking Adult, 2006
- Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl, Broadway, 1999