In Print

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

In Print

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and

Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

by Bill Buford

Knopf, 328 pp., $25.95

Heat began as an article Bill Buford had done for the 2002 New Yorker Food issue. The theme was to describe what it was really like working in a professional kitchen and how a professional chef's devotion to his craft differs from that of the amateur chef. Buford convinced Mario Batali to let him work in the kitchen at Batali's three-star Babbo Ristorante, starting as a prep "kitchen bitch" and ending up on the line as an accepted member of the team: an accomplished professional chef.

After a year in the Babbo trenches, he retraces Batali's steps to Borgo Capanne to learn how to make handmade pasta from Betta, who was Batali's first mentor during his three-year quest for the secrets of Italian cuisine. In England, he interviews Batali's culinary muse, the eccentric genius Marco Pierre White. Buford returns to Italy to study the art of Tuscan butchery under Dario Cecchini and the "Maestro."

Along the way, Buford presents the first in-depth portrait of Batali: a celebrated chef and Italian food expert capable of superhuman personal excess and legendary demonic despotism; a shrewd businessman, a generous friend, and the slave driver you'd loyally defend to your death.

We can feel the passion that drives a man to be the best butcher in the world or to produce perfect handmade pasta for decades. We come to understand, through Buford's missteps, how the true chef develops that mystical sixth sense of "kitchen awareness": the ability to function at the highest culinary levels with little conscious thought.

Heat is ultimately about the pleasures (and pains) of what it's like to obsessively produce high-quality food in a professional environment; it profiles the kind of person it takes to do it every day and why it's so important to them. Buford tells his tale in a revelatory and hilarious way that makes it a thrill for the reader: You feel like you're a part of that obsession. With apologies to Anthony Bourdain, Heat is the intellectual's Kitchen Confidential, a book about the business that you'll read with relish.

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