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Bill Buford Reads from His Kitchen Memoir, 'Heat'

Buford, now a staff writer for <em>The New Yorker,</em> spent 15 months as a "kitchen slave" for celebrity chef Mario Batali.
Buford, now a staff writer for The New Yorker, spent 15 months as a "kitchen slave" for celebrity chef Mario Batali.
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Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Bill Buford's acclaimed Heat chronicles the time he spent in the impossibly cramped kitchen of a three-star New York restaurant.

What began as a "preposterous" idea — researching a magazine profile of the flamboyant Food Network star Mario Batali by working as his "kitchen slave" — became a personal quest. When Buford began, he was a writer capable of making a simple supper at home; he set out to transform himself into a competent line cook in a professional kitchen. Working the line at Babbo, Batali's acclaimed Italian eatery, he became so immersed in the process that he forgot he was writing a book.

Heat is Buford's second act of book-length immersion journalism. The first was the 1992 bestseller Among the Thugs, an inside account of the violence perpetrated by English soccer fans.

Buford, now a staff writer for The New Yorker, was editor of the British literary quarterly Granta for 16 years.

"I'd been at a desk for years," he told Charlie Rose in an interview last year. "When you're in the kitchen, there's no reading. There's very little language. I found the change exhilarating."

In fact, he endured long hours, singed arms, sliced fingers, and withering criticism. He even got fired by Batali. But one fine evening, at the end of his 15-month trial by fire, he realized he had gained what the trade calls "kitchen awareness" — cooking by instinct. "I completed a task and knew what I had to do next and what I needed to do after that one was done," he writes. "I was seeing the kitchen in a way I'd never seen it. I seemed to be seeing everything."

This reading of Heat took place in February of 2006 at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Linda Kulman
Linda Kulman, the editor of’s weekly feature Book Tour, is an avid reader, veteran journalist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She worked as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report for a decade, where she reported for every section of the magazine. Most recently, she covered religion and consumer culture. Kulman’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and on She has collaborated on four non-fiction books, working with a variety of notable figures. Early on in her career, she worked for several years as a fact checker at The New Yorker. Kulman also earned a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.