Topic: Food

A Kitchen Story and Oysters

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I have a crush on Bill Buford.

For those of you who don’t know his work, he is a writer of sterling pedigree — staff positions at Granta, and The New Yorker — and the man can indeed write. He writes the way I wish I did and the way I wish all the writers I read would. He writes with detail, yet the cadence of his prose is always beautiful, never heavy or turgid. His research goes deep. In the case of Heat, the book he authored which I am currently reading, he turns to centuries-old texts written in Latin for answers to questions about Italian cuisine.

For pasta queries he goes to the director of the pasta museum in Italy. To scratch his itch to learn how to be a better cook, to fully understand cooking, he interns at Babbo under celebrity chef Mario Batali. He takes on a lifestyle (long hours, sharp knives, temperamental chefs who hurl things and scream, and well…live fire) that many 20-somethings find unbearable.

He does it because he has passion that he doesn’t fully understand and he knows a professional kitchen will have a good story. And it does. I won’t reveal the details of his saga/memoir/tutorial, but he does travel to Italy several times to learn about pasta and charcuterie, cuts and burns himself (a lot), and dishes up some juicy gossip.

I come from a professional cooking background and reading Buford’s non-fiction reminded me of those sweaty adrenaline-rush moments, when it seemed impossible to properly cook and plate all the food on the order tickets before me and then, somehow, hitting a rhythm and getting it done — seeing that food in the “window” going out to the dining room. It’s heady stuff.

Heat, came out last year, but it got placed in the stack of books, about three feet tall right now, next to my bed, so I have arrived late to the game. (The last Harry Potter installment is in the stack, too.) If you have ever had an inclination that being a professional cook is “fun” or maybe owning a restaurant is something “you’d like to do,” read this book.

Buford has also been on my mind, because he wrote a terrific piece about oysters in the New Yorker. It was a few years ago, but I can’t help but think about it, because right now is when I love oysters the most. It seems like people eat a lot of oysters in the summer, and I think it’s a perfectly safe thing to do despite the “months with ‘r’ guideline,” but for the next few months, oysters are at their peak.

The local waters are super cold and clean and oysters are doing nothing but getting ready for spring when they become amorous and consider settling down and starting oyster beds. If you can get to a fresh oyster this time of year, by all means do it. And from the “toot your own horn department,” check out this piece on oysters from Yankee‘s September 2006 magazine — all things being equal, it’s a great piece with gobs of information and really celebrates oysters.

The folks at Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts, are rock stars in the oyster world and with good reason. They “farm” pristine, flavorful beauties and they care about the waters they are farming in. But I am a fool for Wellfleets, Cotuit, Connecticut Blue Points, PEIs, Tomahawks from Martha’s Vineyard, Moonstones from Rhode Island — I think you get the point.

If you are an oyster fool like me, B & G Oyster in Boston (it’s a small restaurant, so this will sell out) is hosting an Island Creek Oyster dinner on March 6 (oyster ceviche, oyster beurre monte, po’ boys, souffles…). 617-423-0550. I’ll be there, most likely with a glazed look in my eyes, in an oyster induced trance.


Read more about regional dishes in New England is Delicious.

  • Lessons from Bill Buford? You have to have a streak of masochism a mile wide to participate in a star chef’s kitchen. The system runs on “kitchen slaves” who so love the business, and so need to learn at the knees of these chefs, that they work for nothing, injure themselves, and adapt to living with abuse heaped on them…in conditions abhorrent to most humans They love the food they create but can’t afford to eat it.

    The book has some great cooking & dining tips (when during the week not to go to a restaurant, some actual recipes, etc.), and is a fascinating read. I don’t understand how the system can work, but we foodies are the better for it.

  • I too have a fondness for Bill Buford; his descriptions of the intricacies of pasta water (after he spent time in a kitchen running the pasta station, see “The Pasta Station,” The New Yorker, September 6, 2004, p. 114) was fascinating reading.

  • It’s 9:20 a.m. and I am craving oysters, pasta and charcuterie. I am going to wait until after lunch to read your blogs from now on.


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