Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Book Review: Heat by Bill Buford

Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

What could be more appropriate, at the height of summer misery and humidity, than to read a book called Heat?

And Bill Buford's book about his time working for and tracing the footsteps of uber-chef Mario Batali is, in fact, pretty hot - and in more ways than one. First, there's it's figurative hotness. It's all over the place these days, generating what can only be described as buzz (or, at least, what would've been described as buzz back in 1999). Piled on top of that is it's status as a mildly highbrow beach read. Buford's literary pedigree is unimpeachable (he's an editor at The New Yorker), making even the snobbiest readers feel right at home. But his story is insidery and gossipy enough to appeal to people more at home with the pulpier sort of non-fiction. Even fiction, really.

And then there's the real heat: what it feels like (literally) when the temperature is elevated way above 100. Buford eloquently describes a colorful cast of coworkers and mentors but, even better, he paints an amazingly detailed picture of what it feels like to work in a professional kitchen. The noise level (surprisingly quiet in Batali's kitchen), the movement and flow (just barely controlled chaos), the stress (lots of it) and, of course, the heat, which follows him from New York to Italy and back again.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tiny big jealous of Buford, of his way with words and his access to some of the most influential and just plain entertaining people in the food industry. But I could never hold a grudge - I loved his book and am now busy recommending it to everyone I know - even the ones who aren't obsessed with cooking and eating.

Verdict: Totally recommended. So get it now. You know, while it's hot.

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