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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Ruminations on Buford's Heat

I have recently finished Bill Buford’s book titled HEAT. Yes, it was well written in a hip journalistic style and garnished with expletives used liberally in a restaurant kitchen. There were flying sauté pans and it was a school of very hard knocks. I just couldn’t shake the fact that once the book was done Bill would return to his writing white tower and leave his culinary cohorts cooking endless Saturday nights in the pressure cooker of a restaurant kitchen.

Bill had culinary quests that he became impassioned about. Let’s go to Italy and find out when the first egg yolk was added to pasta (the Italians were intrigued by this quest and didn’t care about the when. They were more interested in the perfection of pasta with the addition). Butchering anyone? Find a butcher maestro to chain yourself to and master the pig. Just to remember the technique buy a pig in New York City and butcher it in your summer apartment.

Ever wonder about the creative force behind Mario Batali? We are teased with his intimacy with Mario, another screaming gonzo chef. For every even-tempered, woman-supporting-chef, there will always be the antithesis chef from hell who runs a kitchen on intimidation and brut force. Mario reinforces the latter.

Bill’s wife appears to be fully supportive of this mid-life crisis. Paying for numerous trips to Italy and accepting his minimum wage internship. She did rebuke him when he came home from working the line only to have food stench on his hands. What a swell guy…

There was oblique bragging about learning how to make Miriam’s tortelli, pasta that Mario never mastered. Bill came to the realization after three trips to Italy to learn its various subtleties that the end result had to be made by women or children with small hands. It wasn’t the type of thing that beefy muscled fingers could adeptly mass produce.

I guess I’m just a bit tired of these restaurant memoirs. It is a memory lane that I go down rarely and no matter how eloquently Anthony, Bill, or anyone else describes working in a professional kitchen my hands ache, feet throb, and I feel the layers of grease on my glasses when I finish the book. I don’t have romantic memories about cleaning a gas stove top after it has been flambéed or sautéed on for 10 hours nor picking up the floor mats that are saturated with food ooze. I am thankful for the skills I learned at zero hour. It was the supreme multi-tasking experience and thinking on one’s feet was paramount. I didn’t go to culinary school to learn my trade but I can’t imagine any school that could prepare you for the rigors of a Saturday night shift with a chef from hell abusing you to test your ego.

When all is said and done and I stop my complaining, it is an amazing, satisfying, and rewarding profession. Raise a glass to the humble masses preparing your food night after night.

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