Heat - Bill Buford Alfred A. Knopf Publishing by Kimberly Boyd 08.10.06
On a typical evening, not so long ago, I would come home from work and find myself staring blankly at the oven, at the cupboard, into the refrigerator, looking for dinner. In my mind, these devices were designed to lead me quickly and easily toward the completion of a meal which I could throw down in front of my family, devour without thinking, and then move on.
The food, the consumable matter, which we ate, was irrelevant to the experience because the goal was to fill in the space between our ribs with whatever could be made with the least amount of fuss. And if everyone left the table full and without complaints of something being burnt or raw, then I felt it was a job well done, and most importantly, just done.
Eating is a necessary function and so, therefore, is cooking. I had learned how to cook simply because someone had to feed me. In my culinary experience, I had graduated from Top Ramon in high school, moved through the various forms of the quesodilla and stir fry in college, and believed that, with the addition of grilled proteins and the occasional spicy pesto, I had done pretty well as a working mom/ household chef. It was a duty I could perform, but that was the end of the experience. As such, I often groaned through the process. Even more limiting was my assumption that everyone experienced cooking this way, with the exception of a few famous chefs on TV.
Then along came Bill Buford. With his book, Heat, he transformed my experience of cooking. Despite some obvious differences (Buford is an accomplished writer and editor for the New York Times), he and I had experienced similar cooking misadventures, trying something very complex on special occasions only to end in a smoky and embarrassed heap on the kitchen floor. Then one day, as his story begins, he met chef Mario Batali and had the moxie to ask for an opportunity to work in the kitchen of Batali's three-star restaurant, Babbo. Batali acquiesced, and for about 2 years, Buford lived through the whirlwind that is the professional kitchen.
Although he was worked literally to the bone as a kitchen slave, he found himself drawn to the eccentric people, surprising ingredients, and demanding, yet artful preparations of the food. It is in this environment of contrasting flavors, subtle textures, and fresh, earthly ingredients that he finds the heart of haut cuisine. He tastes food that has been prepared with creativity and care, and he learns how to bring this love to his own table. Food becomes a passion, and this leads him to Italy where he apprentices under a pasta maker and a butcher. There his experience of food, while at the elementary roots of food preparation, becomes even more tangible and rich.
What a wonderful gift to discover that there can be magic and beauty in an everyday function of life! With this book, Buford has given me this gift. Over the time I've spent with his book, I have felt a change in my perspective. Now I am no more trained a chef than I was a month ago. I am a more conscious chef. I am a be here now chef. I am relishing the challenges that cooking offers. As I enter the kitchen to prepare dinner, I am now looking for those flavors, for freshness, and for whatever I can add to bring some loveliness to the eating experience. In the grocery store, I have started trying to pair sweet ingredients with sharp, creamy with spicy.
I have even found myself wiping the edges of the plates! (In all honesty, I have to add that my husband, who also read and loved the book, has been equally invested in this process of reshaping our family dining experience.
While I can't claim complete independence in this change of approach, I feel that the sharing of this enlightened kitchen experience is yet another gift that Buford unintentionally gave us.) The end result of this is that my family is receiving a gift from me now, cooked with love, and giving is the best reward.