What started life as a profile for the New Yorker of the star New York chef Mario Battali and his restaurant Babbo turned into a full time obsession for Bill Buford, the author of Heat. First he begged to be allowed to act as unpaid slave in the restaurant kitchen, then he followed this with trips to
Buford, during his time in
That he returned time and again for more abuse is testament to the narcotic of the total food obsession. The excursions to
This is a book with a real odour of machismo; the water boils and seethes, the knives slash and fillet, the oil splashes and burns. A man’s world. When women appear they are on the fringes, making delicate pastries, passing on the lore of their grandmothers, supporting their ever more crazy spouses and partners.
The word ‘berserker’ comes to mind. Berserkers, those most scary of all the Vikings, had a reckless disregard for their own safety, possibly having ingested quantities of amanita muscaria fungi to enable them to ignore pain and wounds. Heat suggests this full-on approach to the culinary arts, portraying a restaurant kitchen as nothing short of a war zone.
And then there are the filmic moments when everything seems to go into slow motion, and the whirring chopping browning blends into a zen motion and rhythm where fingers and hands and body move together in a fluid dance – probably a pasa doble. Maybe this – being in the zone – is what it’s all about.
As a roller coaster ride through the flames of hell it is a great read, often thoughtful and with huge educational value. This is what goes into the success of one great
Heat. An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford.
Jonathan Cape, London