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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Bill Buford
Heat
Random House

Rating: 9/10 ?


April 23, 2008
Here's the riddle: how does a book about cooking transcend its topical appeal? I, for one, have never had much interest (or aptitude) in cooking and, in fact, upon picking up Bill Buford's half-memoir, half-biography, Heat, had no idea who Mario Batali, a main focal point of the book, even was. It's embarrassing to admit, but I had to pull up Batli -- author of several Italian cookbooks, host of the popular Food Network show, Molto Mario, former chef at New York's upscale Pů restaurant and the culinary force behind several of the city's eateries including Babbo -- on Google Images just to see for myself what he looked like.

Though I've never worked in an establishment quite like Babbo, anyone with restaurant experience can attest that the images Buford evokes of kitchen life are accurate. I've personally been a part of the adrenaline of rushing out food to customers during a busy service: the sweaty, love/hate camaraderie of the line cooks and servers and hosts. The lifestyle and family meal gatherings of the staff (the plate of food cooked post-service that everyone eats from as they clean up) all resonate as accurate. When Bufford describes an alternate New York whose timetable represents the changing shifts from the prep kitchen to the line cooks, it all hits home eerily as something noticed but never quite articulated (especially if you've ever worked in a kitchen).

And while this all makes for an interesting read, the two things that truly stand out about Heat, recently released in paperback, are Buford's gift for creating memorable characters out of people that might ordinarily go unnoticed, and his wild-eyed immersion in the subculture and history of food and its preparation. The first of these leads to an inter-chapter chronicle of the drama and politics of Babbo's kitchen that is entertaining in a very human way. Which is to say that the acts and people being chronicled are mundane in nature (I defy you to find any kitchen without similar transgressions and hierarchies), but it's the fact that you find yourself so entertained by the happenings of Babbo that really makes this a feat of literary talent.

The inner workings of the restaurant are doled out in a style that many may have noticed in Erik Larson's recently popular The Devil in the White City, as chapters are interspersed with histories and back stories ranging in detail from Batali's upbringing, to home cooking experiments conducted by Buford himself. This technique seems to work similarly to a pop-band putting the hit single 7 or 8 tracks into an album; you're going to listen to those first six and maybe even start to like some of them. Even after Buford's narrative moves on to Europe, he occasionally checks in on favorite Babbo employees and sees what they're up to.

Buford's crazed plunge into cooking may be familiar to sports fans already (his book Among the Thugs is often cited by soccer fans as a quintessential artifact, key to understanding the very nature of football mania), but is essential to finding a crossover audience. If Heat had been constructed with any less enthusiasm and humility, readers like myself might have found it a less worthwhile read.

This enthusiasm leads to Heat being more than just a biography/memoir about Mario Batali and Bill Buford's experiences at Babbo, but a culinary history of sorts that links breakthroughs in pasta making to historical events. Most dismiss food as a necessity, but Buford successfully links culinary revolutions (like his desperate search for the first record of when eggs get added to the pasta mix) to historical events (the revelation that the difference between pre-corn polenta and post-corn polenta was so night to day that even the disease pellagra wasn't enough to stop the over consumption of corn). Buford's enthusiasm makes everything interesting: an entire chapter on the property-changing process than an emulsion, for instance, is captured with wonder that even someone who never plans on attempting such an intense (and by the sounds of it, complicated) task still reads at the edge of their seat. I know I did.

Buford's prose and style and sheer willingness is enough to challenge any potential reporter. Think you've got what it takes? Try spending nearly two years at Babbo, and another couple of years learning pasta-making and butchering from Italian specialists. The commitment and dedication to these tasks find themselves on every page. This is a culinary masterwork for non-cooks and cooks alike, allowing even cynical "food-is-fuel," TV dinner-eating fools like myself the chance for a little insight into the world of haute cuisine.

Reviewed by Cory Tendering
No biographical information is currently available.

See other reviews by Cory Tendering

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