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Bill Buford's "Heat"


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I'm pretty sure the book implies that Giada and her style of cooking is the future of the Food Network and Mario is the past.

This is a great book. This started as an article in the New Yorker and I was interested to see the author has a new article about pastry chefs in this week's issue. Might be the basis for his next book.

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But, something is bothering me and I think it’s Mario Batali.  Not the book, but Mr. Batali himself, or at least the books portrayal of him.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s brilliant.

I read the book last week and also enjoyed it very much.

The portrayal of Batali is superb - I think - in all of its facets. Here is this self-invented Italian's Italian (almost a charlatan in this respect) who appears to be a brilliantly intuitive chef - but also a shameless self-promoter who is slavishly obsequious towards anyone that might further his career and reputation. What redeems the portrait is of course the man's undisputed prowress in the kitchen. The rest is packaged as a combination of the harmless eccentricity that often accompanies such genius and a healthy dose of good old American ambition. And who can find fault with this? You don't, after all, bite the hand that feeds you

Heat is an excellent summer read. Just the thing for the beach or deck chair.

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Got this for my birthday last week and tore through it on vacation. Like Soul of a Chef and Kitchen Confidential, I didn't want to get through it so quickly but couldn't put it down. It's right up there with those two for favorite behind the scenes, cooking literature books.

The only way this book could've been more tailor made for all my geeky interests is if it ended with a duel between Darth Vader and Mario while U2 played in the background. A bio on Mario, including lots of stuff on all of his shows, obsession with ingredients and cooking styles, and ending with a trip to Italy and a discourse on Italian cuisine? I almost couldn't believe all the directions he went in. Andy, the executive chef, was someone I was rooting for the whole way through. Certainly no fault of the book's, but I'd have loved to read Buford's take on the del Posto opening and various dramas that came with it.

It'll be interesting to see if he pursues the angle he ends the book with.

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:biggrin:

The only way this book could've been more tailor made for all my geeky interests is if it ended with a duel between Darth Vader and Mario while U2 played in the background.

Perhaps with help from a computer-graphics specialist, the youthful Carrie Fisher could take part in the scene. With Mario's presence, we can justify her hairstyle:

It'll be interesting to see if he pursues the angle he ends the book with.

During the Q & A of his book-signing that's what he said he was planning to do; another eG member is right in noting connection between his current NYer article on pastry chefs and future book. He's exploring the whole "Catherine de' Medici made French cooking" interpretation of culinary history even though it has been said to be quite a bit more complicated than that. He's been reading Pizza Napoletana's beloved Latini and plans to cross the Alps over to France himself.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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FYI, the New Yorker article is about Will Goldfarb of Room 4 Dessert in NYC and a little on Buford's experience of trying to be a bartender at the restaurant. Worth reading, but not as in depth as his original article on Mario that inspired the book.

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Andy, the executive chef, was someone I was rooting for the whole way through.  Certainly no fault of the book's, but I'd have loved to read Buford's take on the del Posto opening and various dramas that came with it.   

It'll be interesting to see if he pursues the angle he ends the book with.

I just finished this book this week and really enjoyed it. It was great to hear about Mario since I have never seen him on TV and was familiar with neither his television nor his real life persona. Also interesting to get a glimpse into Joe's personality, as I've only ever seen him on his mother's show playing the knowledgable, dutiful son. His business persona does not really come through on those appearances. Man, can he and Mario drink! And eat! That meal that Buford describes toward the end made me clutch my stomach and my head, and I was just reading it!

Have to say, Buford went into this research with all his soul. The story about the pig in NYC (not to give too much away to those who have not yet read the book) had me amazed. I remember how inquisitive our doormen were growing up. I can only imagine how this scene got them talking.

Kevin, I was also hoping for Buford's take on the opening of del Posto. And regarding Andy, there was a little blurb in this month's Food & Wine about the new diner-style of restaurants, and Andy's restaurant is featured. I was happy to see that!

I would also love to see a followup going through the history of French cuisine. Isn't it nice to have something to look forward to? :smile:

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The blog Things that Piss Me Off isn't too excited about Bufford:

If, as the latest "Contributors" appears to suggest, Bill Buford is the official New Yorker food writer, they are going to have to invest in some better fact-checkers. In a series of errors reminiscent of his earlier offenses, Buford writes:

"Dessert is a modern concept. Chaucer didn't eat one. Neither did Shakespeare. Even as late as the sixteen-sixties, in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and nearly two centuries after Columbus returned with the first parcel of New World sugar... there won't be a single mention of chocolate cake."

If anything, Columbus brought sugarcane to the new world, since it was unknown there before the conquest. This fact is so elementary, and easily ascertained, that it is hard to imagine Buford doing any research at all, unless it consisted of perusing equally erroneous Haaaagen-Dazs advertisements.

Buford goes on, like all English majors, to confuse the word with the thing, saying that no one ate dessert before 1550, which is ridiculous. The course of fruits and cakes in Chapter 60 of the Satyricon may not fall at the absolute end of Trimalchio's banquet, but it is still recognizably a dessert: Petronius calls it a pompa, presumably in the sense of an ostentatious display, but it also means a (farewell) procession. Certainly more of a dessert than Buford's emetic/emblematic DQ banana split.

and...

The more important issue** is that Bill Buford*** is apparently going to keep writing stories about restaurants larded with irrelevant excurses on food history that are simply wrong. Remember, this is not an isolated incident: his original Batali piece featured a discussion of fifteenth-century squash ravioli. Since squash is endemic to the Americas (as you'll recall, "discovered" in 1492), this was a problem.

I used to think the New Yorker was as infallible as the Pope. I've learned recently that it does make mistakes. It just doesn't run corrections.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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The blog Things that Piss Me Off isn't too excited about Bufford:
If, as the latest "Contributors" appears to suggest, Bill Buford is the official New Yorker food writer, they are going to have to invest in some better fact-checkers. In a series of errors reminiscent of his earlier offenses, Buford writes:

"Dessert is a modern concept. Chaucer didn't eat one. Neither did Shakespeare. Even as late as the sixteen-sixties, in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, and nearly two centuries after Columbus returned with the first parcel of New World sugar... there won't be a single mention of chocolate cake."

If anything, Columbus brought sugarcane to the new world, since it was unknown there before the conquest. This fact is so elementary, and easily ascertained, that it is hard to imagine Buford doing any research at all, unless it consisted of perusing equally erroneous Haaaagen-Dazs advertisements.

Buford goes on, like all English majors, to confuse the word with the thing, saying that no one ate dessert before 1550, which is ridiculous. The course of fruits and cakes in Chapter 60 of the Satyricon may not fall at the absolute end of Trimalchio's banquet, but it is still recognizably a dessert: Petronius calls it a pompa, presumably in the sense of an ostentatious display, but it also means a (farewell) procession. Certainly more of a dessert than Buford's emetic/emblematic DQ banana split.

and...

The more important issue** is that Bill Buford*** is apparently going to keep writing stories about restaurants larded with irrelevant excurses on food history that are simply wrong. Remember, this is not an isolated incident: his original Batali piece featured a discussion of fifteenth-century squash ravioli. Since squash is endemic to the Americas (as you'll recall, "discovered" in 1492), this was a problem.

I used to think the New Yorker was as infallible as the Pope. I've learned recently that it does make mistakes. It just doesn't run corrections.

As my S.O. is fond of saying, "never let the facts get in the way of a good story." :wink:

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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The blog Things that Piss Me Off isn't too excited about Bufford:
If, as the latest "Contributors" appears to suggest, Bill Buford is the official New Yorker food writer, they are going to have to invest in some better fact-checkers. In a series of errors reminiscent of his earlier offenses, Buford writes...
The more important issue** is that Bill Buford*** is apparently going to keep writing stories about restaurants larded with irrelevant excurses on food history that are simply wrong. Remember, this is not an isolated incident: his original Batali piece featured a discussion of fifteenth-century squash ravioli. Since squash is endemic to the Americas (as you'll recall, "discovered" in 1492), this was a problem.

I used to think the New Yorker was as infallible as the Pope. I've learned recently that it does make mistakes. It just doesn't run corrections.

I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but I can't imagine that a journalist's research into culinary history wouldn't result in a few errors. Afterall he was not trained in that field and given the fact that the topic is just starting to join traditionally respected branches of historical study, it's a difficult area to explore for anyone, especially when it comes to determining the reliability of secondary sources. I personally am a little skeptical about the premise behind his next project, but Buford now reads Italian and he has been consulting primary sources from the periods he is investigating. Let's hope he has help deciphering archival materials.

However, the fifteenth-century text of Maestro Martino (ca. 1465; ms. now in Library of Congress) from the court of Mantua includes a recipe for pasta stuffed with zucca, or a large pumpkin-like winter squash.

Completed in the third decade of the same century, one of the prophet figures Donatello carved for the belltower of the Florentine cathedral may have been called "Zuccone" early on, though literary sources do record this irreverent nickname until a later date. (It was inspired by the figure's bald head, one that resembled a zucca.)

I think zucchini, or "little squash" may have come from the New World. Perhaps Pizza Napoletana, Eden and others with greater expertise might fill in some blanks.

Here's the first English translation of the book I mention, although you'll find there is also a nifty new version on a CD that you can read on your computer; Alice Waters lent her name to the project so it might sell: The Art of Cooking.

Here's the "Pumpkin-Head."

This Italian source is linked as a cached source so you can scroll down to see that Martino's book does include tortelli (large version of tortellini) stuffed with zucca.

And if you want to see what zucche (plural of "zucca") look like, see the background of the painting offered in a study I found on the history of stuffed zucchini--one of those weird surprises online searches offers: Basket in upper right quadrant of Figure 1, scroll down.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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i think the pre-Colombian exchange zucca was probably a kind of gourd, like a calabash. it's important to recognize that though "fruttivendola" was painted only 100 years later, that was an important century, especially as regards cucurbits.

zucchini, oddly enough, is almost certainly a modern invention. the first recorded mention of it is in a 1902 seed manual. before that there were marrow squashes and cocozelle squashes that resembled zucchini, but weren't.

edit: to keep this on the topic of the buford book, i really, really enjoyed the book. he's a terrific writer. but he does play fast and loose with historical interpretations (the "sounds true" school). in particular, he really seems to gloss over the historical implications of some italian dishes, mistaking foods eaten out of desperation for culinary inventions. italy, too, has had a very busy century (even half-century). it's important for context to remember that even 60 years ago, the majority of tuscany was populated by sharecroppers, not british vacationers.

Edited by russ parsons (log)
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Fascinating information. Thanks.

I'm not terribly concerned about writing making mistakes. It's part of life. The blogger is pretty hard of Buford, but I guess New Yorker writers are fair game.

I'd be curious to know if anyone can verify and deny Buford's claim about dessert being a modern invention.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I'd be curious to know if anyone can verify and deny Buford's claim about dessert being a modern invention.

Perhaps as a concept and a separate, final course as opposed to having sweet things mixed in with savory ingredients and/or dishes?

How are you dating modernity? "Early modern" is used for dates in 15th and 16th centuries instead of Renaissance these days.

There were sweet things--pastries, ice cream, et al in Ancient Egypt. Sumeria earlier? I don't know. Of course, the Chinese did everything first, right?

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Russ is right: Italian had the word zucca in the fifteenth century, but there was no squash in Italy.

So Buford (inadvertently) raised an interesting question: what is fifteenth-century zucca? At the time, I guessed some kind of bottle gourd, but I have no idea.

Maybe an "expert" would know the answer; but all you have to do is pay attention to arrrive at the question.

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here is the response from our own archestratus, aka, Clifford Wright:

In pre-Columbian times the Italian zucca could refer to the following as well as to certain melons. (You can read more in my Mediterranean Vegetables if you have it.)

Bottle gourd, (also called calabash gourd) Lagenaria siceria (Mol.) Standl. (syn. L. leucantha Rusby; L. vulgaris Ser.)

Loofah Luffa acutangula (L.) Roxb.(smooth loofah) and Luffa aegyptiaca Miller (syn. L. cylindrica) (angled loofah)

Colocynth (Citrullis colocynthis (L.) O. Kuntze)

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How are you dating modernity?  "Early modern" is used for dates in 15th and 16th centuries instead of Renaissance these days.

Early Modern can also encompass the 17th century.

Are you suggesting that Early Modern and Modern could be synonymous? I would have to take issue with that.

I would say that the Modern period begins with the Enlightenment.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I read the book, Heat, and found it very enjoyable and enlightening...I plan to read the New Yorker article but have not done so yet...but guess what debuted today on The New York TImes Best Seller List?? I was delighted to see it there. :rolleyes:

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Everyone who's read the book knows this, but for those who are reading this thread trying to decide whether to read the book, or for those who are "halfway through" it bears pointing out that the book is, contrary to some impressions, hardly about Batali at all. The entire last third of the book (except for the epilogue), nearly a 100 pages, is basically Mario-less, being devoted to Buford's experiences with Dario Cecchini. While a great deal of the first 2/3rds of the book is about working at Babbo, Mario himself only pops in intermittently. There are chapters devoted specifically to Mario and his career, but they are digressions similar to the other digressions about this or that that alternate with the Babbo stuff. The book is really about Buford and his explorations of working at a restaurant on one hand and Italian cuisine, its history and practitioners on the other.

That doesn't make the book any less worth reading though.

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I am really enjoying this book, my 4th of July holiday read.

As far as I know Buford was not a journalist, but a fiction editor. Different profession altogether.

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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I am really enjoying this book, my 4th of July holiday read.

As far as I know Buford was not a journalist, but a fiction editor.  Different profession altogether.

is it?....

edit: thought it was fiction writer.

Edited by dano1 (log)
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And yet his book Among the Thugs, about soccer violence (also well worth reading, and quite horrific), is certainly reportage, just as participatory as Heat and more dangerous, to the point of life-threatening.

Edited by emsny (log)
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unfortunately, i think there is a tendency among some journalists--even serious ones--to not take seriously the role of food in history. this isn't as bad as it used to be. read waverly root on italy if you want some real howlers, but it continues. if i can offer a self-justifying explanation, until fairly recently food hasn't been taken seriously by real historians either. this left a void that folklore rushed to fill. a lot of what passed for food history was, i think, really nothing more than people without historical knowledge being pressed to provide historical facts and politely struggling to oblige. i think a lot of what passed for food history was actually more or less plausible stories made up by maitre ds.

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...I can't imagine that a journalist's research into culinary history wouldn't result in a few errors.  Afterall he was not trained in that field and given the fact that the topic is just starting to join traditionally respected branches of historical study, it's a difficult area to explore for anyone, especially when it comes to determining the reliability of secondary sources. 

Yes, as mentioned above. Journalists are vulnerable to criticism from experts who have far more experience and training in fields that are new to them. Sometimes the object of criticism is due to a gross factual error, a lack of nuance or specialized knowledge, a false step taken in determining a reliable source of expertise to consult, or sometimes it is due simply to differences of interpretation and/or opinion. It's rare that you have, say, an Adam Gopnik with a Ph.D. in art history writing long articles on Eakins or book reviews complaining about all the press concerning "Da Vinci" when the guy's name is "Leonardo." Then there's Simon Schama, et al.

Perspectives and historical understanding change over the years with the uncovery of new documents, the self-flagellation of Western academics over Eurocentric biases in their field with the rise of non-academic interest in Arabic Studies and so on. Different opinions are held simultaneously by experts of equivalent knowledge and brilliance. How is a writer outside the field supposed to keep up, to judge?

One way is to specialize, which of course many journalists and critics do. Look at the amazing John Lahr on theater history.

That said, Buford is new to his topic. He's clearly more interested in entertaining reportage than historical research as the author of Heat. Therefore, historical research is cursory at best, superficial or sloppy at worse; I am more inclined to credit him for reading Maestro Martino's 15th-C text than to persecute him for accepting blindly a translation of a recipe for pasta stuffed with "zucca" as "squash."

His next book is being crafted very deliberately as a historical investigation, so it might be best to start sharpening daggers now, but wait a while before lunging forward to thrust into the nice man's soft, well-fed flesh. He ought to have his own knife kit now and will be better equipped to defend himself.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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His next book is being crafted very deliberately as a historical investigation, so it might be best to start sharpening daggers now, but wait a while before lunging forward to thrust into the nice man's soft, well-fed flesh.  He ought to have his own knife kit now and will be better equipped to defend himself.

Sorry if I missed this upthread, but what's the new book about?

I'm about fifty pages from the the end of Heat and enjoying it very much. I've actually liked the bits about the Babbo kitchen best, and the parts about Buford's soul-searching and development as a butcher less, but overall, very enjoyable.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Going only by the book (I haven't read "the original Batali piece"), I can't say I see anything to reproach in Buford's (or his research assistant's) methodology. Even if there's an error, he's pretty transparent about how he gets there:

For example, the squash bit starts on p. 107. He describes tasting a memorable dish made with pumpkin. He writes "The dish was called tortelli di zucca (zucca means "squash") and was so memorable it provoked me to find out where it came from." So far so good, nothing questionable about the translation in this modern context. On p. 108 he admits forthrightly, "At the time, my research was informal and limited because . . . I couldn't read it [italian], and most of the early Italian food books haven't been translated into English, except for one." That book is the one about (not by, apparently, as was implied above) Martino already mentioned. In the next several pages, the word "squash" only appears once. It is a direct quotation from his source, "They are revoted by chard, squash, . . ." (110). Later on the page, Buford writes, "The Maestro's torta di zucca. . . calls for grated pumpkin." Again, it's obvious there can only be one source for this information. He cites the book used in the end acknowledgements ("The following books were especially useful. . . Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, edited and translated by Mary Ella Milham (1998).")

What about this translation? A quick google search yields that Milham is/was a classics professor. The book is described thus, "Milham starts out with a biography of Platina. She discusses his sources and gives a history of the text and its many editions. She also discusses the identities of the friends he mentions and includes a bibliography of Platina's other books. Then comes the De Honesta itself, with the original Latin and the English translation on facing pages. . . . This is definitely a scholarly work. The text is heavily footnoted. There are three indices (the index to the introduction, the index nominum proprium and the index verborum medicorum et culinariorum), a detailed textual history with sigla, stemma and stemmatic proofs, and a list about ten pages long of works cited." (http://www.greenmanreview.com/book/book_faas_romantable.html) For what is worth, this site also links to a discussion of the available editions, and universally, Milham's translation is praised.

I guess what I'm saying is that though some of the accusations above might be strictly accurate ("accepting blindly a translation" "determining the reliability of secondary sources"), come on, given the kind of book Heat is, could he or should he have done any better? For the most part, I'm impressed by what he does, and how transparent he is about it. Later, when he is reading Italian better, he does consult sources as close to primary as he can get, and asks for the best expert opinion he can get. (Without going back to the book, I'm thinking particularly of his attempt to determine the first mention of the use of egg in pasta.)

Edited by Leonard Kim (log)
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