Top critical review
Recommended. But it's no "Kitchen Confidential"
on 6 January 2017
Let me first state that I have a very strange relationship with this book. I'm from Europe and have visited New York City 5 times now. Each and every time, strangely enough, I run into Mario Batali.
The very first time I didn't know who he was. I was standing in front of a building, which apparently is the appartment where he lives near Washington Square. This figure in orange crocs came storming out of the building, hopped on a Vespa and disappeared. At that time, I was being led around the city by someone who lives there. He told me who we just saw and why that was kind of a big deal. Next time I saw him on one of those tourist buses that drive around the city , doing an interview with Anthony Bourdain which is one of my favorite people in the world. Then it was somewhere near Times square, then once more in the Village. What is going on, I thought ? Is this the universe trying to tell me something or is Mario Batali omnipresent ?
I'm also in the same life phase as Bill Buford with the same interest in cuisine. I go to culinary school as we speak. I would love to leave my desk job behind a go work in restaurant and create something of value with my bare hands. My wife thinks I'm going through a midlife crisis. I like the temporary aspect of food. You create a plate with an experience that is temporary in nature. A bit like life itself. Bill Buford wanted to know more about Batali , the man and his chain of restaurants. He asked Molto Mario if he could come work for him for free and Mario agreed and put him on the staff of Babbo's , one of the more well known Batali restaurants. That's the premise of the book. A journalist climbs the ladder within a crazy environment of a restaurant kitchen. The best book ever written on life within the kitchen is of course Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, this one is enjoyable but it doesn't even come close.
Buford gets obsessed with Italian cuisine. He travels to Italy to try to learn the very best pasta. He wades through historical texts on meat and pasta to try to define what is 'original'. He applies what he learns in Mario's kitchen and then goes back to apprentice under a butcher. I once was invited to dinner in a restaurant in Tuscany as part of a wedding anniversary. I had the best meal of my life : "bistecca fiorentina" . The restaurant was in the little town of Lamole, with a stunning view over the Tuscan hills. Lo and behold, as I'm reading this book, Buford goes for a bite to eat in this very same restaurant with the crazy butcher fellow, who then makes a terrible scene in the restaurant.
I was honestly baffled by this. So strange. What are the odds ?
That being said, this was an enjoyable book. Kitchen Confidential is vastly superior and a lot more entertaining, however. Buford is someone who likes to push himself to extremes and obsesses over certain things in search for perfection. That quest gets a bit tiresome if you don't share that gene. Don't get me wrong It's a 'good book', a great read on life in the kitchen and how the quest for a perfect Italian meal had different layers. You're never really done learning. The obsessive nature of the author was a bit offputting . Another factor is that I think it's geared towards an American audience, because they tend to have a much more romantic view about Europe. You know, the people who travel to Paris and think it's the prettiest thing they've ever seen. I go to Paris and all I see is rudeness everywhere. The people who think a building that is built 100 years ago is "old". I'm writing this next to a cupboard that was made in 1830. So what ? We're used to "old things" over here. I guess being from "the new country" gives everything from the "old country" that little bit of faerie dust that in my own experience was missing.
At the end of the day I would still recommend this. But it's no Kitchen Confidential.