Fresh hell

Illustration By Mark Stivers

The one time I worked assisting a chef, I was yelled at and sliced open my finger. Clearly, I can’t take the heat, so I’ve stayed out of the professional kitchen—but it’s a lot of fun to read about, particularly in Bill Buford’s new book Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. The hapless “kitchen slave” stint was with Mario Batali at Babbo in New York, where Buford’s myriad mistakes included trying to sear meat without using tongs (result: blistered fingers), multiple self-inflicted cuts and—horrors—showing up on the first day without knives. Buford followed his food obsession to Tuscany, several times, where he learned to make pasta and butcher meat. His frank, absorbing description of the rigors of restaurant work makes me glad I can eat it without producing it: “The grill station is hell,” he writes. “You stand at it for five minutes and you think: So this is what Dante had in mind.” Buford’s tell-all tale is perfect foodie summer reading, the more so as it’s guaranteed to make you feel gratefully, relatively cool.