Heat is a memoir of a reporter turned amateur chef. While researching for a story on the Italian TV personality chef, Mario Batali, Bill Buford took a position in one of Batali’s kitchens. After that it wasn’t long until he gave up reporting in favor of furthering his cooking skills. Determined to learn how to prepare Batali’s Italian food correctly, Buford spends months in Italy in various apprenticeships in between stints at Batali’s restaurants back in New York. The book jumps back and forth as Buford finds an area of the kitchen in which he lacks knowledge, such as flaying meat, or hand making pasta, and promptly finds a butcher or a pasta master in Italy willing to teach him. Often these are the same masters that taught Batali, so Burford learns more about Batali’s background as he follows in his footsteps. While in Italy Buford not only learns from each apprenticeship how to authentically prepare meats, pasta, olive oil, etc., but he also researches the history of the food, the region it comes from, and why it is prepared exactly as it is. Between apprenticeships Buford returns to Batali’s restaurants only to find that to advance positions in the kitchen he will need more training, and off he goes to Italy again!
We listened to this audio book in the car during our morning commutes to work, but I found it more entertaining than just a book to pass the time. I would recommend it. The book is alternately fascinating while Buford discusses the history and culture of food, and funny as he shares anecdotes of working under Batali and the various personalities Buford finds himself apprenticed to. The book was not my choice (Micah and I try to switch off picking the next book). I did not think a book about food would interest me, but in the end I was proved wrong. I do enjoy history and a good laugh and this book had both. We found the anecdote about “Polenta” (known as “grits” in America) so funny that it’s become a weekend breakfast favorite at our house. You’ll have to listen to the book to understand…
Where to Visit
Italy. Like everywhere. I now want to rent a little villa somewhere and buy raw food from the local shops. I want to try authentically prepared meat and pasta because these were some of the most memorable parts of the book. And I want to see the vineyards and the olive orchards.
Alternatively, you could do as we did and visit a Batali restaurant. There are quite a few in Las Vegas. While not quite Italy, the food was amazing. The combined flavors were magnificent. And don’t be afraid to try the octopus appetizer. Yes it’s weird, but it wasn’t squishy like I imagined it would be.