Lyons Made: A Welcome Reminder That French Cuisine Still Rules, Says Rachel Cooke
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
Fat Man in a White Hat
Like brawn, or certain kinds of stinky cheese, Bill Buford is an acquired-taste. On screen, the New Yorker writer and former editor of Granta sounds a little like Clive James. Admittedly, he is American, not Australian. But he, too, likes to repeat words and phrases for mesmeric effect, and there is something raspily nasal about his delivery that makes you wonder whether he might not be in need of Sudafed. However, he is altogether more manic than James, his arms waving about the place like the blades on a state-of-the-art food processor. Enthusiasm is his thing.
The BBC, ever keen to please, has styled its latest foodie acquisition as a Fat Man in a White Hat (16 March, 9pm), which does not really do it for me. At most, he is a moderately podgy man in a short-sleeved shirt. But he is certainly friendly. Even in repose, his face carries the ghost of a smile. I suppose the fat man thing is mostly designed to distract from the somewhat intimidating nature of his adventures--for Nigella, Delia or Hugh he most certainly is not. Yes, we are in France, mes amis, touring its most serious kitchens. So if lemon-raspberry plate trifle, chicken Basque and barbecued lettuce are your thing, do look away now.
Some years ago, Buford started getting interested in food. I mean, really interested. He took a sabbatical from his day job and wrote a book called Heat about Babbo, an Italian restaurant in New York, where he worked for free in order to learn the ways of its celebrated chef, Mario Batali. He also visited some of the kitchens in Italy where Batali had his most formative experiences.
Peasant food in the bag, he then headed for France, land of the sauce. Basically, he was going to pull the same stunt again, only this time he would use an awful lot more butter. Unfortunately, in his TV series, he gives us none of this background. Viewers unaware of his history will be confused. They will think: "Who on earth is this antic, bearded American?"
Watch him carefully, and it's clear that he already has cooking skills. …