The writer shares his experiences while working on his new book

By Karen Valby
Updated June 02, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
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The first time New Yorker writer Bill Buford met Mario Batali was when he invited the famous chef to his home for a dinner party. Batali — known as ”Molto Mario” to Food Network fans and as co-owner of New York’s three-star Babbo to foodies — took over the kitchen and wound up playing air guitar at 3 a.m., drunk on quince-flavored grappa. ”He’s the most larger-than-life person I’ve met,” Buford says of the subject of his delicious new book, Heat.

To research the book, Buford subjected himself to three years working as a slave and line cook in Batali’s cramped back kitchen. ”The chefs were testy at first,” he says, ”but after a while I was just in the trenches with them, and they stopped thinking of me as a writer.” Inspired by that literal trial by fire, Buford traveled to Italy, where he learned how to butcher a pig (”Let’s say you’re working on a rump…”) and how to prepare homemade pasta. Along the way, his tender writer’s hands took a beating. ”I considered writing an autobiography of my hands,” he laughs. ”I was just going through all the scars and burns, gnawed fingertips and scabby bits, spots where my arm hairs melted together, the zebra marks of the grill. It was spectacular!”

Buford, 51, is back at The New Yorker, writing about food while adjusting to life as the new father of twins. ”It’s trickier now to roll in at 3 o’clock in the morning reeking of all you’ve had to drink and eat,” he laughs. ”But I’m still cooking all the time. A lot of baby food.”


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