Julia Child and Bill Buford

Heat will be of particular interest to readers concerned with the problem of perverse fetishization, while many others will enjoy for its own sake Buford’s well-told account of his midlife apprenticeship to a famous restaurant in New York, the current world capital of extravagant cuisine. What makes his book unusual within its genre, apart from the quality of its prose, is that he takes more pleasure in watching cooks work than in savoring their dishes.
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In January 2002, the middle of the journey of his life, Buford, a distinguished magazine editor, abandoned his job and his common sense with such passion as normally afflicts the reproductive appetite of men his age. Quitting The New Yorker, he bound himself as a “kitchen slave,” an unpaid trainee, to his idolized friend Mario Batali, a Dionysian chef-proprietor whose appearances as Molto Mario on the Food Network have made him a national celebrity and his restaurant, Babbo, a shrine. But Babbo is more than an obligatory tourist destination with its ovate proprietor on display at the bar, a life-size Humpty Dumpty in orange pigtail, knee-length pantaloons, and kitchen clogs.

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Not only did [Julia Child] learn French cooking, she rationalized it, introduced it to the United States, and gave birth to a revolution in American taste which soon spread to all the prosperous parts of the world. Buford will find no better Virgil to lead him through French cooking, as Batali led him through Tuscany, than Julia Child, whose splendid posthumous memoir of her own culinary awakening in France, written in the last years of her long life, has just appeared.

Eating Out,” by Jason Epstein, The New York Review of Books, June 8, 2006, reviewing “Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany,” by Bill Buford, and “My Life in France,” by Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme.

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