I have just returned home. It is a little surreal, this re-entry. Catching up with emails, having a good back and forth about another knife skills class, checking in on the orchids, opening mail, perusing blogs.
I am honored to be one of the "Customers of the Day" at Coney Island Shortcakes! A new food group being introduced at Coney Island is a Big Deal. Much of the food there is neither food nor natural. And it is terrifically inspiring to see two people motivated by the love a place, with little or no food experience, make a great thing happen.
I also make an appearance on Luisa's definitive blog, The Wednesday Chef. We had an absolutely perfect evening together when I was in NYC. It pays to ask for a rain-check a whole year later. One of the very best thing about blogging is meeting your heros and heroines, putting faces to the written word, and sharing great food.
Thanks to the small prod by a reader I bought Bill Buford's new book, Heat for my East coast trip. A powerful book. I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times, as well as crying during particularly astute pages on actual kitchen people as well as intensely inspiring, well researched chapters about the minutiae of ingredients and food stuffs. Finally a book by a writer adept in one craft (writing) paying homage to another (cooking.)
Over at megnut Patrick Guilfoyle has given Heat quite a mixed review. Upon Patrick's request that I check out his post and comment if I wished to do so, I left my own impression. Sometimes comments are posts in their own way.
Here was my response:
This is an interesting critique. I have been very moved by the book on the other hand. Finally, a book about kitchens written by an actual writer! That in itself was fabulous.
"That’s wrong: kitchens aren’t different from real life - they are just real life in a kitchen." I think this is the heart of the dilemma. Because kitchens are indeed, or so I feel, whole other worlds. They operate with slightly different rules (like the military in a way) as the work itself is so physical, and in-the-moment, or rarely follows Federal, State or City labor laws.
Indeed the sexism expressed in the book is intense. I have often been the only female born person in kitchens I've worked and how I've dealt with it is to be as salty mouthed as the rest of them. My mother used to remind me that choosing ones battle's wisely was important. (My mother was a radical feminist author and politico, so I had some of the best training around.)
Mr. Buford is definitely describing New York kitchens. They are tough and harsh and dangerous. But so are many competitive fields. Imagine if we got a real glimpse into the ballet world where dancers permanently injure each other on purpose!
I think it is difficult that the author is a visitor. But he addresses it more than once, so I forgive him. At least he takes responsibility for this fact, unlike the hordes of upper class kids graduating from culinary schools that tell them they are chefs at graduation. At least Mr. Buford, no spring chicken, goes from a very sought-after position at one of the most competitive literary magazines in the country to actually working on the line.
I commend Batali for allowing this as a possibility, even if he is rarely in the kitchen.
Because of this strange generosity or side-show, we get the benefit of a book which, although difficult for many, describes the inside of a professional restaurant kitchen with such detail as to make us all stop and think about that plate of pasta, those turned carrots, the tiny brunoise of carrot we barely notice, we eat; and to be so uncomfortable about the un-apologetic facts of an unbearably difficult craft and the industry created around the demand for its product.
The facts are this, as they are in the rest of the country: women still get paid less for equal work. Cooks rarely get paid for all the hours they spend in the kitchen. Few cooks get paid enough to afford health insurance. Latino(a) cooks are the invisible sous chefs and chefs of most kitchens on either coast. "Celebrity chefs" are almost all male, and even more of the time savoury chefs. To be famous in this industry you have to forsake your health and most relationships. Few chefs are still cooking on their own line past 40 years old. Those able to afford culinary school have no idea that the industry is still considered a working class profession and that few of them will make more than $40,000 yearly.
I urge you to re-read the sections on pasta and butchering. They have inspired me beyond words. Few chefs go to such lengths to really understand the historical aspect of food and preparation. Or are humbled by it.
Thank you for the thought provoking review.
Summer seems a slow time for posting and reading. The outdoors calls. I hope that wherever you are, whomever you're with, whatever your pleasure, you lay languid, enjoy the moment and are gathering inspiration as you go.