Book Thirteen: Heat

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, Bill Buford

Food books are my comfort food. My mashed potatoes, my grilled cheese, my giant bowl of noodle soup, my hot chocolate. This is what I turn to when I need to be refreshed after reading something boring or disturbing or just plain bad. It was nice timing to read this after In Cold Blood, however, that was more a factor of something being forced on me, thanks to the Seattle Public Library system and that whole pesky due-date thing. I put a hold on this one, and what with it being recent and popular, I was something like 120th on the list. However, all of a sudden, it turned up as being ready for me, so I was kind of forced to read it now. But what a super, super book! I really had very little interest in Mario Batali, so it was nice to get a kind of roundabout introduction to him through Bill Buford trying to learn about him through cooking in his kitchen and studying with people that Batali had studied with. And, of course, what I came away with is that Batali is just plain crazy.

The only point at which the book lost me was the whole butcher thing, since as a pescatarian I'm not so down with appreciating the subtleties of different cuts of meat on cows and pigs. One of the lead-in quotes to a chapter starts with, "The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite." Which I totally agree with, and might add that a requisite for reading food writing is a good appetite for what they're writing about. And, up to the chapters that get into all the meat-talk, I definitely did with this book. Also, between the descriptions in this book of working in the kitchen at Babbo and Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, I've decided I would be sooooo not cut out for working in any kind of kitchen, no matter how much I like food and cooking. Their descriptions make it sound as if all restaurant kitchens are teeming with testosterone, something I know I couldn't even remotely handle. However, I can definitely appreciate their stories about it all.


Anonymous Michelle said...

You're pescatarian? Me too! :-) Anyway, I saw very positive reviews about Heat this winter, and really wanted to read it until coming across one that said the butcher/meat writing was a turnoff. I shouldn't have been swayed by one review. It sounds like you enjoyed the book overall, & it's worth a peek.

It's so true that working in a kitchen and cooking for $$ is very different from doing it for fun & for loved ones. When I was a career counselor, a few students came to me with those tentative interests, and I had to make sure they were aware of all aspects of the restaurant industry & not picking it based on superficial glamour, or b/c they "like to cook". It's something I myself didn't know until investigating these career paths with my students: high stress, high failure rates (starting up a business), and also high rates of substance abuse/addiction. And still male-dominated. I'd rather bake cupcakes at home.

Speaking of all this food, my *other* spot here (the themed blog) will be food-related--sort of--and above all, will be something different that I want to try for fun. Now I'm hungry.....

April 20, 2007 at 11:03 AM  

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