Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For a Journalist/foodie, a Fool's Paradise in Mario's Kitchen ; A New Yorker Writer Endures the Heat in a Celebrity Kitchen

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

For a Journalist/foodie, a Fool's Paradise in Mario's Kitchen ; A New Yorker Writer Endures the Heat in a Celebrity Kitchen

Article excerpt

At a time when celebrity chefs proliferate faster than pop stars and menus have become as dense as Russian novels, Americans, in a less-than-delicious irony, know less and less about where food comes from and how to prepare it. But not for long, as Bill Buford has arrived to chew the fat in delightful fashion, skewering conventional cooking wisdom while enjoying (enduring?) several nerve- racking apprenticeships.

In Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, getting out of the kitchen isn't an option. Even when the frayed nerves and tempers of professional chefs and cooks begin to hiss and steam, Buford refuses to remove his apron. (Except, that is, for one memorable occasion when said apron catches on fire in a Tuscan butcher shop.)

A self-described foodie with kitchen ambition beyond reason, Buford set out to solve the riddles of pastas, meats, vegetables, and seasonings - and became even more obsessed as he did so.

His coach, mentor, and, yes, warden is Mario Batali, a garrulous, demanding man who proves to be a dazzling character. Batali is lively, lewd, and shrewd. Everything about him is excessive, starting with a fixation on food-rescue that often leads him to dive into the kitchen trash and fetch bits and pieces of meats and vegetables suitable for creative, if overpriced, menu specials.

When he isn't downing cases of wine and copious quantities of every course imaginable (and some not), Batali rides herd on his staff, whips himself into a Food Network celebrity and makes guest appearances at a relentless pace.

Buford, a veteran writer and editor for The New Yorker, benefits from Batali's bombast as well as his own wry mixture of zeal and self-flagellation. The author's culinary odyssey begins when he convinces Batali to hire him as a kitchen slave at the chef's ultra- hip Babbo restaurant in New York.

Buford is a highly unwelcome addition to the kitchen staff. He doesn't even make it to the chopping block (his first assignment is helping with the staggering food preparation early in the day) before engendering scorn and abuse.

Being a novice in noshville often leaves Buford in the futile role of mixing (olive) oil and water. …

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