The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

HEAT Bill Buford

Five years ago, on a visit to Venice, we hopped aboard Vaporetto 13 to have dinner at Ca' Vignotto on Sant'Erasmo Island. The meal, served in the early afternoon, included three pastas. The lasagna was unlike anything I had ever tasted, tissue-thin layers of pasta enveloping a delicate besciamella sauce. I have dreamed about that pasta.

After reading HEAT by Bill Buford, I know why I haven't experienced the taste since and why I am unlikely to even in Italy. The tradition of hand-made foods is declining.

Bill Buford, formerly fiction editor of the New Yorker magazine, is a home cook.
He invited Mario Battali the infamous chef of Babbo Restaurant in New York City to dinner, and somehow, gained permission to become a "kitchen slave" at Babbo.
Buford brings alive, the larger-than-life genius that Batalli is. He introduces us to the many cooks that make the restaurant function: the impossible Frankie; Andy,
whose obsession is to open a Spanish place, and the Latinos who truly make the kitchen work. As Buford, moves from kitchen slave to line cook we learn about the politics of the business, the sexism, the impossible standards for performance.
Along the way, Buford has many lessons to learn: he destroys 18 branzini, his first night on the fish station. Finally, he masters his station "cooking, fast, hard, effectively --the most satisfying evening of labor I'd ever experienced".

Not satisfied with the knowledge he has gained in his long apprenticehip, Buford decides to travel to Italy to learn pasta-making from Gianni and Betta, Batalli's teachers. It is there that he learns that the success of the pasta is due to the "pastina", a local woman who uses special rollers to produced the tissue-thin dough. In the process, he spends a great deal of time learning Italian so he
can read 15th century manuscripts, hoping to discover when eggs were first used in
pasta making. Obsessive!!

Buford returns to Italy, first to master the butchering of pork and later beef. The gifted, Dante-spouting butcher is his teacher but his real lessons come from the Maestro, the meat-cutter. He's is terribly disappointed to find that when he returns to New York, no one understands the cuts of meats he has learned about. There is much about the importance of local products in Italian food preparation.

The book is full of in-depth profiles of everyone he meets. The humour and there is alot of it, is mostly directed at himself. Amateur cooks will read and reread the
techniques and procedures he describes.
As Buford said in an interview, " One of the great charismas of food is that is about cultures and grandmothers and death and art and self-expressions and family and society and at the same time--it is just about dinner.

Buford is an exceptionally good storyteller. I borrowed this book from the Vancouver Island Regional Library, but I must have my own copy.


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