Heat by Bill Buford
So I tagged this "reader recommendation" even though not a soul actually told me to read it. I found it listed on my Sister-In-Law's Amazon wish list and thought to myself "hey - that goes perfectly with my food memoir streak! AND it's Italian food, which I haven't read, yet. Excellent!" So then I checked it out from the library, thinking if it is good then I'll pluck it off her list and send it to her for Christmas.
Well, it is that good. (It's no longer on her list, though, and not due to me!)
In fact, I have only two complaints about this book: firstly, there are no recipes. NO RECIPES, BILL! Way to hold out. There are descriptions of techniques, and a little insight into why restaurant food never tastes as good as it does in your home kitchen (batch size and measurement techniques, for starters) and that's all well and good...but throw us a bone, man! On the other hand, I must now go to Italy, find a grandmother, and convince her to teach me how to make pasta. So it's not all for nothing.
The second one - he referenced so many texts, and listed some of them in the acknowledgements, but I'm going to have to give this a re-read to truly retain all of the information. Which might have been his plan, because re-reading is really the best excuse ever for buying a book. So now I'll buy one for myself, and that means I'm more likely to buy it as gifts...I'm on to you, Buford.
So basically - he starts off as a journalist who decides he wants to learn how to cook - a lost art, in his opinion (mine, too.) He calls up his good friend Mario Batali (how has HE been off my radar?) and becomes a slave in the Babbo kitchen. Amongst these adventures, he gives us Batali's backstory, and then follows his footsteps to Italy. In two distinct small towns he learns the lost art of pasta making (no machine!) from a Grandmother and butchery from The Maestro. No kidding, that's what he calls his mentor. Divine.
So if you're into food, Italian food, culture, food history, or just a good read - this Buford's for you. If you're a vegetarian (&etc) be warned: beef cheeks are just the tip of the iceberg. He does reflect a little on eating animals, mentioning that Vegetarians are the most aware that the bacon on your plate was once a pig in someone's pen, and he speaks of all of them with the utmost respect. So it's not gross...but I'm a carnivore.
I could go on and on filling your head with spoilers but I won't do that to you. You should read it. Because it is very good.