This immersive and powerfully written account by the author of Heat is the true first-person story of a successful author (founding editor of Granta, fiction editor of The New Yorker), who upended his life because he decided that to understand what French cooking was, he had to cook in France, in a restaurant in the gastronomic epicenter of Lyon no less. Not only did he uproot his wife and twin sons, he let what was supposed to be a three-month hiatus turn into a five-year stint.
Buford’s storytelling prowess alights on the smallest details to make people, places, and actions vivid. His prose is tight, his dialog spartan but revealing. If his great adventure seems a mad self-indulgence, his story never loses its way in self-reflection. An astonishing cast of characters appears, albiet many of them briefly: Antoine Westermann; Marc Veyrat; Patrick Henriroux, the chef of La Pyramide, which still operates with two Michelin stars; Paul Bocuse; Regis Marcon; Michel Bras. But it’s the work in the actual kitchens of France, with those who do the actual cooking, that provides the revelations for Buford and for us.
Immediacy comes before romance in this book. There is passion, but no gauzy poeticism. Buford’s account has the precision of a superbly prepared dish and the heat and sharp edges of the kitchen that produced it.