Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

You almost don’t need to read the book after getting through the world’s longest title. I learned about Bill Buford after I wrote a post offering a list of summer reading books. Holly, a frequent contributor to comments on the blogsite, suggested both Heat and Dirt, by Bill Buford. I read Dirt first, about experiences in a French restaurant, and had mixed feelings about it. I loved the stories, but I truly hated the life inside of a French restaurant kitchen. It’s brutal. This book, however, focuses on Italian kitchens, and more specifically, an Italian butcher shop.

Vegetarians beware – there is significant talk about cutting and eating animals. Though the pig story in Dirt is worse. It’s respectful, but it is detailed.

But it’s also about far more than a butcher shop.

There are ample ways that the author learns how to be an accomplished Italian cook. He learns from many Italians in a variety of places in Italy throughout the book. He has multiple experiences, some of them insanely crazy, in famous Italian chef Mario Batali’s restaurants. The good news – and this is what I hoped – the book did not ruin Italian kitchens for me. These restaurants can be filled with all of the food romance and passion for food that all of us believe Italian kitchens have. There is still the intensity, but it’s not even close to French intensity. And as I experienced in my first trip to Italy this summer, there is an emphasis and fresh ingredients and simple recipes. It’s great stuff.

The book made me want to cook, to talk with friends about cooking, and to keep learning how I can be better.

I truly enjoyed the book, and recommend it highly.

You can purchase it here.

Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of American in 11 Pies

In the debate on best desserts. and in the pie vs. cake debate, pie wins for me 100% of the time. Ive had some good carrot cakes, and I’ll eat a sheet cake with a whipped cream frosting, but pie rules. So when I saw that this book was written, I had to read it.  The book begins strongly, advocating for why pie  is a great way to study America

  1. It’s a truly American dish. Damn right it is.
  2. Like America itself, it’s highly adaptable.
  3. It’s totally unnecessary, and you can tell a lot about a culture by how it chooses to spend its optional time and tastes.

Over and over in the book, Anastopoulo points out that just our current pie recipes have been altered so much as America has grown and changed. Pies were created and altered by European, Native American. African slaves, and other cultures around the world. As much as I like the idea of this book (did I mention I love pie?), it did not hold my interest enough to read every word. I skimmed to the end, but I’m still happy to have read it.



You can purchase the book here.

Salt: A World History

I saw this book in the airport bookstore, and bought it for my Kindle. I love reading on my Kindle, as I can always go back to the book, I carry it with me at all times, and I can take my notes from the book and my highlights from the book and upload them to Evernote, which is my filing system for just about everything. When I took history courses in college, once I got beyond the western civ courses that were requirements back in the early ‘80s, history teaching started to look a lot different. The professors never presented just the historical facts and stories. They always presented their facts with a slant on how students should view it. It could be a Marxist teacher, showing that every single historical decision and event was guided primarily by a desire for economic improvement. It could be from a humanitarian viewpoint, showing that humans throughout history have tried to be better towards each other and to make the world a better and more humane place for all. There were many other ways, but it took me a while to see that that kind of perspective allows for greater insight into how history occurred.


Mr. Kurlansky writes the book Salt, showing that this precious mineral (which you can buy in a nice blue box for just a couple of bucks) was the key to much of our human history. I was taught that the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were where our earliest humans settled because of the water. He writes it was really the salt that was there. He looks at the Civil War from a salt perspective. He looks at so many different things, and it’s all fascinating. He talks about how salt played such a role in the Roman history, in the explorers history, the United States history, and more. It is totally fascinating.


As a cook, I think that salt is underrated. People warn us to be careful with salt, but as my friend and true chef, Antonio, told me, if you just add salt and pepper to most things, and you add enough of it, food can be just about perfect. So yes, I love salt, and I really liked this book. It gave me a lot more insight into one of the things that I use every day in my house. I have not yet read his Cod book yet, and I may, though cod is not as big a part of my life as salt is. Good read, if you like this kind of stuff!



100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials

This is a great cookbook from my favorite cooking magazine people – Cooks Illustrated. They always explain the science behind why a recipe works and show what they tried and what they did not try. This is such a great book that it is now my go-to wedding/house warming gift for young people just starting out in life. It’s a great resource for anyone, and has fantastic recipes that can be used for anything.



Kitchen Confidential

After the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, I began to learn a lot about this TV celebrity that so many in the world were inspired by. I have to admit that I am not a very good TV watcher. I have missed so many great series. Dr. Dale recommended that I watch West Wing and I “binge watched” the entire seven seasons of West Wing in just over seven years. That’s not very good, by the way. So, I have never seen an episode of Mr. Bourdain’s show, but I do love cooking and I am fascinated by the idea of what restaurants are really like. I sometimes wonder if I can take my recipes from my cooking website, principalchef.com, and turn it into something else. After reading this, I know I have no hope of doing that at all, so I’ll just keep enjoying cooking in my backyard and in my kitchen.


Bourdain’s book is absolutely fascinating. Often profane, and drug-laced throughout the first part of his adult life, it’s a miracle that he lived through it, and a bigger miracle that any food of quality at all emerged from the kitchens he was in. Yet it did because of his sense of adventure, his love for food, and the long-lasting friendships that he developed with high-quality people in the kitchen. He tells of ill-fated restaurant dreams, of improperly managed restaurants, and of the occasional restaurants that were big successes. He is an outstanding storyteller, and an excellent writer, which, I guess, is why his TV show was such a success. If you can get past the profanity, not be turned off by his addictions, and be ready for the misogynistic nature of the kitchens he worked in, it’s an excellent read.


Master of the Grill

This is another book from the good people at America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated. So I do a heck of a lot of outdoor cooking. I even built a new outdoor kitchen this year which is something I’ve been wanting for a long, long time. It features my barbecue grill and my Big Green Egg smoker/grill. I even have a website where I keep a lot of my recipes – www.principalchef.com. This is a fantastic book for people who like to grill. Good, clean instructions. Research-based. Well-written. And it shows a wide variety of recipes. This will be the companion book to the book above, 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways To Make The True Essentials, that I will use for gifts from now on. Again, highly recommended!

Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto

Some of you who know me know that I love to cook, and I love to barbecue on my Big Green Egg. Whenever I go to any place in the south, and lots of places in Los Angeles as well, I try to find great barbecue. There’s great barbecue in Arkansas where I grew up, but Texas is kind of the mothership for lots of great barbecue. I need to make a culinary journey to North Carolina to enjoy the barbecue and the golf, but that is yet to come. This is the story of how Franklin Barbecue, perhaps the most famous barbecue in Texas, came to be. Franklin is a place where people start lining up around seven in the morning, they start serving around ten in the morning, and they are sold out by 1:00 or 2:00 pm. They cook several things, but they are famous for their brisket. A brisket is cooked in many different ways, but this is all about smoking it until it’s perfect. He tells the story of how he would cook a brisket in his backyard on the most rudimentary and cheap of devices, and invite friends over to try it and critique it. He did this for years, saving up money to buy each brisket, as it’s a good $40 piece of meat and that doesn’t come easy. He shares how he started his restaurant and what they look like today. He also shares his recipes in the book as well.

I decided to make 2019 the Summer of Brisket in my home, but I would not say I was overly successful. I only tried to make two the whole summer. They were good, but they were not fantastic. I have a friend in my neighborhood, my friend Chris, who does brisket perfectly, but he has been out of the area for a while. I need his mentorship and Mr. Franklin’s mentorship, and I still hope to be able to pull this off. It’s a good read, if you like barbecue. My vegetarian wife was not particularly attracted to this book, but as always, she puts up with me and my pursuits. Life is good.