heat

My Summer Reading List: Heat

Originally posted on July 08, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List, I reviewed Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Cheflebrity Anthony Bourdain. Beyond all of the hype Kitchen Confidential is simply a book about a chef who becomes a writer. This time around I am reviewing Heat by Bill Buford. All awards and accolades aside Heat is simply a book about a writer who becomes a chef.

Bill Buford HeatOh those midlifes. In my first 40 years on earth I’ve been a musician, a dot com guy, a writer and a chef. I wonder what 50 holds for me?

I could sit here all day trying to wax poetic about the transformation Buford made from literati to culinarian. but I don’t have to. I’ll just steal Buford’s words, “In the beginning, there was a writer, the ghost was the chef. In the end, there was the chef, the ghost was the writer.” Heat reads like two different books. The first is one of those culinary adventures that are so en vogue and the other a biography of Mario Batali.

The idea for Heat began when Buford threw a dinner party back in 2002. Batali was a guest at that party but by the time it ended the then-editor at the New Yorker had decided that someone needed to do a profile of the Iron Chef. Unfortunately Buford got no takers so he resolved to do the story himself. A fateful decision to say the least.

Buford elected to take six months to work in the kitchens of Babbo, Batali’s three star Italian restaurant located in New York’s Greenwich Village. When the story was done, Buford wasn’t. He resigned his post at the magazine to continue work his way up the ladder at Babbo. Before long he was on a plane to Italy to learn the old ways. His journey would find him hanging with Marco Pierre White in London, hand rolling pasta in Tuscany and butchering a pig in his New York apartment.

Heat is very well written as one would imagine from a writer of Buford’s experience and does a wonderful job of showing his journey from white collar to chef whites. Those thinking of making the career change to the culinary arts would be well served to read this book before turning in that letter of resignation.

Next: The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten.

My Summer Reading List: Tender at the Bone

Originally published on June 4, 2009.

Recently I ventured over to amazon.com and purchased a box full of foodie books to read over the summer. As I complete each one I will review them here for all to see. The list is an impressive one and I have chosen to lead it off with Ruth Reichl’s 1988 opus Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table.

Ruth Reichl Tender at the BoneOthers on my summer reading list include Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), Heat (Bill Buford), The Man Who Ate Everything (Jeffery Steingarten) and The Making of a Chef (Michael Ruhlman).  I know what you are thinking, “Shouldn’t he have read those already?”  The answer is yes I should have.  You know what?  I haven’t seen Rainman or Switch Blade yet either.  I’ll get around to it.  But first, Tender at the Bone:

First published in 1988, Tender at the Bone was way ahead of the curve.  After all, the phrase foodie didn’t really even exist at the time nor the Food Network for that matter.  Bobby Flay was still in Culinary School.  Emeril LaGasse was only known for being the guy who replaced Paul Prudhomme at Commander’s Palace.

Tender is the story of a lifetime immersed in food, a coming of age tale a lifetime in the making.  When reading, one feels that Reichl is telling you her life story over a bottle of red and a plate of brie and grapes rather than leafing through an autobiography.  On more than one occasion I was left thinking, What an amazing life – she should write a book about it.  That’s how easy the prose is, it reads more like conversation.

Ruth Reichl grew up during an amazing period of strife and growth in America’s history but she was not a bystander; she was in the thick of it.  When hypocritical Northerners ridiculed the Deep South while keeping minorities at a safe distance in their own lives Reichl was color blind.  While many hippies dreamed of joining a commune, Reichl lived in one.  And through it all there was food.

Tender at the Bone is a must read for anyone who loves food and believes in the force that food can be in a person’s life.  There is a reason why Reichl sits at the head of the table of food writers with the likes of Bittman, Ruhlman, Steingarten and Burford.  The reason?  She is damned good at what she does.

Next: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

My Summer Reading List: The Man Who Ate Everything

Originally posted on September 3, 2009.

The unifying theme of the books on my reading list has been the narrative – my life in food. Ruth Reichl’s journey from awkward youth to renowned food critic (Tender at the Bone), Anthony Bourdain’s autobiographical “adventures in the culinary underbelly” (Kitchen Confidential) and the article that turned into a career change and then a best selling book (Heat) for former New Yorker editor Bill Buford. This cannot be said of Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything.

In 1989, Steingarten was just your run-of-the-mill Harvard power-lawyer working for an average, everyday Manhattan mega firm when he was offered the position of food critic for Vogue magazine. I knew this from watching Iron Chef: America, where he is the curmudgeonly judge with an opinion about everything. I also knew that The Man Who Ate Everything was both a James Beard Book Award Finalist and a Julia Child Book Award Winner. But before he could assume his new post, he had to agree to eat everything. No small task for a self-proclaimed finicky eater.

The Man Who Ate Everything, unlike the other books on my list, is a collection of essays about food. Some are related to one another and even in chronological order; most are neither. When reading, one is left with two impressions about Steingarten’s skill as a essayist: he is a brilliant investigative writer and he is damned funny. He takes little information at face value, preferring to research all information on any given subject. He was one of the first to observe the contradiction between the French fat-laden diet and France’s astonishingly low occurrence of heart disease, now known as the French Paradox.

Steingarten does not hesitate to punch holes in long accepted beliefs on diet and nutrition, after all he does far more research than many of the so-called experts. Often he takes the USDA to task for their lack of knowledge on health issues. More importantly, he underscores that though they have not done their homework, they still issue doctrine about what homo sapiens should and should not consume.

Among the myths he debunks are the unfounded beliefs that salt, alcohol or cholesterol cause heart disease. For instance: The French Paradox cannot be dismissed. It should have been noticed decades ago. And its contribution is to encourage researchers to discover the many other common causes of heart disease besides the saturated fat in our diets. The French Paradox is an embarrassment only to those nutritionists and physicians who had refused to recognize the obvious. We have known for some time that half of all heart attacks occur in people with average or low cholesterol, and that half of all people with high cholesterol never have heart attacks.

In addition to providing much fact-based insight, the author also does a wonderful job of painting pictures with words. His journeys to Italy, France, Asia and Tunisia leap off the page with metered narrative, but he is also very proficient (as Iron Chef: America fans can attest) at dry wit and one liners:

Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, “La major salsa del mundo es la hambre,” the best sauce in the world is the hunger. Cervantes had obviously never tasted ketchup.

I have little doubt that I will read this book again and again as it is packed with knowledge and wisdom. I am grateful that Steingarten traded jurisprudence for food writing. The world is lousy with lawyers and has precious few gastronomic writers.

Next I will conclude my summer reading list with Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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