For the food obsessed among you who might be looking for that perfect summer vacation read to stuff in your bag, then Heat by Bill Buford is the choice! I just got done with it last week, and LOVED it. Buford writes of being a kitchen slave in Mario Batali's NYC restaurant Babbo, where he worked his way through virtually every position in this most "professional" of restaurant kitchens. Professional if you ignore the rants, raves, and irrational emotional torture that happens when Batali or any number of coworkers vent, which they seem to at any moments notice. Buford also spends time trying make perfect pasta in Italy, and working with a half-crazed Tuscan butcher in the village of Panzano, where he finds himself becoming almost as obsessed as the characters who populate this tale. The book keeps coming at you, giving great insight into what happens in a real restaurant kitchen, the things the public never sees. He doesn't pull any punches, calling out Batali's sometimes boorish behavior, chronicling his prodigious drinking capacity, and sending praise to this most idiosyncratic of chefs.
Perhaps my favorite passage, and something anyone who hasn't worked in a restaurant should read, because folks, this is SO true :
"Around midnight, the kitchen was something of a demilitarized zone, meant to be closed but still serving food, owing to the insistence of the maitre d', John Mainieri, who sometimes accepted late seatings and was openly loathed by members of the kitchen staff as a result. In theory, it is possible to argue your way into a restaurant just as the kitchen is closing. But I urge you, the next time you find yourself trying to persuade the maitre d' to accommodate you, to recognize that members of the kitchen know you're there. They are waiting for your order, huddled around the ticker tape machine, counting the seconds, and heaping imprecations on your head because you cannot make up your mind. They are specualting- will it be something light, a single course perhaps? ("That's what I'd order." someone says, and everyone loudly agrees.) Will I be able to drain the pasta machine? Will the grill guy be able to turn off the burners? Or will the diners- and late ones are simply referred to as "those fuckers" - be so clueless as to order a five-course tasting menu? It happens, and the response of the kitchen- a bellowing roar of disgust - is so loud veeryone in the restuarnt must hear it. By now the kitchen is different. At eleven, beer is allowed, and for nearly an hour the cooks have been drinking. The senior figures have disappeared. No one is in charge. The people remaining are tired and dirty. The floors are greasy and wet. The pasta machine is so thick and crud-filled that the water has turned purple and is starting to foam. Do you need more details? Let me rephrase the question: Do you think, if your meal is the last order received by the kitchen, that it has been cooked with love?"
God, so fucking true. This book comes at you with one insight after another. Buford tells a great story and whets your appetite at the same time. Grab a copy, and get hungry!