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Bill Buford

For his profile of celebrity chef Mario Batali, New Yorker staff writer Bill Buford went to extremes, signing on as a "slave" in the kitchen of Batali’s three-star Manhattan restaurant Babbo. To understand Batali — famous for his own excesses — Buford had to understand Italian food. In the Babbo kitchen his great education began, as well as his friendship with Batali. Buford won a James Beard Award for his article, but that was only the beginning.

His book Heat expounds on that article, and it is a remarkable case of full-submersion journalism. What begins as the story of a famous chef becomes the chronicle of the author’s quest to sate his own intellectual curiosity. Buford graduated to line cook at Babbo before following in his teacher’s footsteps, traveling to Italy where he learned from Batali’s mentor how to make pasta by hand. Ultimately he went beyond even Mario’s training and studied meat under an unlikely pair of Tuscan butchers, who taught him the simplicity and unwavering tradition of Italian cuisine.

"I didn’t want this knowledge to be a professional," Buford writes, "just more human."

Alongside the author’s journey, the reader is treated to a rich seasoning of kitchen lore and fascinating character studies of various chefs, both volatile and sage. Buford is expert at describing food preparation, working great recipes right into the narrative, and he shares a tremendous amount of knowledge about old-world Italian cooking. The result is a triumph of great food writing — instructive, entertaining, naughty, and sometimes gossipy, but always interesting. By the end, readers may feel as if they too know more about food and will approach the kitchen with a renewed passion.

Signed fourth editions.
Price: 25.95

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