The book is Heat and Bill Buford, its author, is just about as food-obsessed as the chefs he profiles in all their sweat-stained glory.
Buford quickly makes clear, for instance, that kitchen work at Babbo, chef Mario Batali's highly praised New York restaurant, was a virtual pressure cooker for the staff, cooks and assistants who couldn't afford to eat the food they were preparing.
Then there was Batali himself, an overextended Italian-American with larger-than-life appetites and a temper to match—and he's one of the more stable characters Buford finds in his tour of Italian, British, and American kitchens and butcher shops. (Don't even ask about Buford's Italian butcher, Dario, a man so immersed in Tuscan traditions that he insults vegetarians as well as Italian chefs who stray from the old ways.)
Buford, a successful editor and literary man, is an enthusiastic and entertaining guide to this culinary world, unafraid to throw his mind and body into the action, even when he doesn't know what he's doing.
Heat, first published in 2006, is now out in paperback from Vintage Books. We got a copy on sale at Borders, but Heat is worth the money even if you have to pay full price.