Book Reviews: Heat & Kitchen Confidential

HEAT by Bill Buford

As an ardent foodie, I spend a heck lot of time thinking and doing food. Cook it , take pretty pictures, write about it and finally eat it. Sometimes I wonder if I missed my calling as a maharaj, bawarchi, khansama or chef with my own paper hat painting my kadai canvass with mirchi , sriracha and jalapeno. But then I wonder what it would be like to be a professional cook, to cook all 365 days in a year. These two books are an attempt to gain some insight into this What if?

Chef Anthony Bourdain is familiar to many of us from his No reservations show on the Travel channel. Watch it on youtube below- Good for a few laughs at the least. His autobiographical book- Kitchen confidential published in 2000 is his and a professional cooks life described with no saucy detail left out.

Bill Buford on the other hand is one lucky son of a gun. A writer by profession , by his own admission, an amateur cook, knows enough celebrity chefs, AND gets to go work for them (the professionals) AND even publishes a book about the experience.

Both books complement each other, the professional and amateur providing fascinating insights into the inner workings of the restaurant business. I would definitely recommend reading them both.

Now Anthony Bourdain often resorts to shock jock posturing, casually flinging incendiary comments,- on vegetarians, "Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn..." Emeril and many other people who attract his ire. Behind all this posturing though, is a story of an attempt to make a living by cooking. His intertwined drug addled personal epic distracts from the essential business of cooking which he does manage to describe in good detail. He points out, rightly i think, the importance of consistency over any sort of " artistic" delusions in professional cooking. The business itself is well covered from the birth pangs of restaurants, to menu planning and organizational skill required by chefs , to effective management tips.

To me as a woman, his descriptions of the professional cooking workplace sounds like a very sexist hell, male dominated and crude.

What i took from the book was the insight that the humble line cook is the star of the professional kitchen and an unthinking military style following is a very prized commodity in an underling but despised in a leader.

Bill Buford is more obsessed with actual food. The best pasta, the best meat and so on. He tries to learn how to make the best pasta by working at Babbo, Mario Batalis flagship restaurant in New York. I like Bill's book mostly for the gossipy stories of Mario Batali ( Ha he was a pot head too!) and Babbo. As for Bills quest for the best pasta, i found myself caring.... not so much. He is obsessive about details, going on and on about finding out when the egg made its entry into pasta dough. Maybe if this book was on indian food, i might have been interested. I am a cook and know that most of the time I just wing it. The first occurence of egg in pasta was most likely an accident, and in the nature of food, an un documented one.

In sum, both books are cool for their eye opening insider view of the restaurant business. Anybody willing to do it for indian restaurants?


Anonymous said...

hello... i just went through some of your recipes here... quite a nice selection i must say,... i am a huge fan of anthony bourdain.and his antics if we can call it that.. his book kitchen confidential.. is amazing...insights uncommon and mind boggling...very very entertaining... rupa