This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
Today’s Summer Reads book was a LONG read (976 pages on my e-reader and something like over 15 hours long as an audio book – with quite possibly the longest subtitle ever – Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking ) that took me a little while to get into but which ended up being good pick for a summer read as I found myself reading a chapter here and there – it’s not a book I powered through in 24 hours – it’s got a LOT of information, characters and locations to keep track of.
From the publisher:
In Dirt, Bill Buford–author of the best-selling, now-classic, Heat–moves his attention from Italian cuisine to the food of France. Baffled by the language, determined that he can master the art of French cooking–or at least get to the bottom of why it is so revered–Buford begins what will become a five-year odyssey by shadowing the revered French chef Michel Richard in Washington, D.C. He soon realizes, however, that a stage in France is necessary, and so he goes–this time with his wife and three-year-old twin sons in tow–to Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France. Studying at l’Institut Bocuse, cooking at the storied, Michelin-starred Mère Brazier, Buford becomes a man obsessed–to prove that French cooking actually derives from the Italian, to prove himself on the line, to prove that he is worthy of these gastronomic secrets. With his signature humor, sense of adventure, and masterful ability to immerse himself in his surroundings, Bill Buford has written what is sure to be the food-lover’s book of the year.
Now, I remember reading Heat when it came out – it was a book I read pretty much in one sitting. Dirt is definitely not that book (or at least it was not for me). There is a lot going on and, well, it’s a long book! If you love France and French food, there is a lot in here you might enjoy – Lyon and its revered food scene, French food in general, life in France, the “romance” of upping and moving to France (though his wife might beg to differ as it appears Buford didn’t spend that much time with his family during their stay in France – which ended up being a lot longer than the originally planned 3 months) and if you love eating you’ll really enjoy the food descriptions. If you’ve been to Lyon (as I have), you’ll enjoy revisiting some places you might recognize.
What I found a little overwhelming at times was the sheer amount of content in the book – indeed, I feel it could have warranted three separate books (of the subtitle – Buford’s kitchen experiences as one, the “family moves to France” as another and “searching for the secret/ origins of French cooking” as a third). I found myself wanting to read more about the twins and Buford’s wife and how they were getting on while he was living his “dream” in revered French kitchens (not so dreamy, as it turns out). As soon as I realised this was not a 48-hour read (the first chapter is around 150 pages), I decided to tackle this in more bite-sized pieces (no pun intended) and once I did that, reading a chapter ever few days, it was easier to digest (again, no pun intended). There’s a lot to keep up with in terms of characters/ places and reading smaller sections made it easier to keep track of all of this. Definitely more than one book here!
I enjoy Buford’s writing about his kitchen experiences and quest to discover the origins of French cooking, but I really wanted to read more about his family and hear how they were adapting. I was also sad when he left “Bob” the first baker he apprenticed with when he arrived – also felt a bit sorry for “Bob” as it seemed like Buford left as soon as a better offer came along, though that was always his intent. I found reading about the time working at the boulangerie quite fascinating – in a way, sometimes moreso than the famous kitchens – and wish I’d known about “Bob’s” when I was visiting! Buford is very well-connected which makes his quest to “stage” in the famous kitchens of Lyon much easier than it would be for most people; he definitely seems to know the right people and happen to be in the right place at the right time for making some of the important career connections!
If you’re a Francophile foodie, you’ll probably enjoy the depth of information offered in this book (not just about the restaurants but also the parts where Buford is on the road, finding the best versions of various foods like cheeses and sausages and really learning where the food comes from) – it will have you making notes and getting sidetracked looking up restaurants/ names/ places as you read (this is part of why it is a long read, on top of being a lot of pages!). A book to dip into over the long lazy days of summer, a book to have you dreaming of your next trip to Lyon (but maybe a book that will have you reconsidering if you’ve ever harboured dreams of going to work in a French kitchen…).
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