Most food writing is shit. It wallows in superlatives as brazenly as real estate hustings. But really good writing about food makes the heart soar.
This is in the second category. Partially because Buford is so craven, so desperate to GET what it is like being young, dumb and full of come in a kitchen more stuffed with wise-asses and borderline personality disorders than the average martini olive.
Lots of guys take up lycra and the bike for their mid-life thingo. Or get expensive mistresses. Or foreign cars (the same thing, really). Buford rather sadly wants to cut it on the line in a four star restaurant. He is known as “kitchen bitch”.
Happily for the reader, as a long-time food obsessed New Yorker staff writer with serious “chops” (sorry) in the descriptive department, it’s a pretty great ride for the reader.
Things I learnt from Bill Buford:
1.Mario Batali is deeply unlikeable.
2.Kitchens are the most unreconstructed misogynist bastions imaginable. Still.
3.Italians love a gesture. The thing that makes it ineffably charming, which gives it gravitas, is that they LIVE by such gestures. Even if it makes their lives in some ways suck.
I was tempted to deduct points from Buford’s giant schwing (sentimental and gee whiz all at the same time which is some feat for an erection) for artisanal production. YES, food made by hand is better. YES, frankenstein food production is a truly terrible side-effect of globalisation. But I’ve heard it a lot. And it doesn’t explain how in reality non-yuppies in urban settings can readily afford organic/local meats and produce. Other than to grown it, which is a HUGE leap for many folks. People don’t want to eat shit, but gee, nutrition is pretty good nowadays. Have you SEEN the SIZE of the feet on sixteen-year-old girls?
I didn’t deduct the points because this book isn’t so new, and perhaps the Michael Pollan-esque message was a bit fresher then.
Buford scores because he makes it fun instead of holier-than-thou. You won’t forget the Tuscan butchers he trains with in a hurry, either.