Bill Buford was the founding editor of Granta literary magazine and the fiction editor of the New Yorker for eight years. His first nonfiction book, Among The Thugs, explored the fickle psychology and brutal reality of soccer hooligans hellbent on committing acts of violence in the UK. For his 2006 book, Heat, Buford threw himself into a culinary apprenticeship at Mario Batali’s acclaimed Italian restaurant Babbo in New York City as well as in other restaurants in Italy. Fifteen years later, Buford has gone all-in with his culinary obsessions, moving himself and his family to the gastronomic mecca of Lyon, France, where he trains as a chef.
In Dirt, Buford tells sharp-tongued stories of attending a pig slaughter, befriending a local baker, and apprenticing with some of the most decorated chefs in the world, including Michel Richard, the acolytes of the late Paul Bocuse at Institute Bocuse in Lyon, and the demanding chefs at three-Michelin star restaurant, La Mére Brazier, which first opened in Lyon in 1921. Gradually, the Lyon locals come to accept the expat and his family into their community.
With characteristic ease and humor, Buford’s writing captures the intensity of working in a professional kitchen, where “unregulated bullying and humiliation” remain acceptable paths to perfection, where there is only one correct way to peel asparagus, and where it has always been and will always be about following the rules. In the process, the author plumbs the latent connections between Italian and French gastronomy and reveals the secret to what make Lyonnais food so exceptional: “a chef’s access to nearby ingredients” in a storied place where the soil is sometimes revered more than those who walk on it. At times hilarious, ascerbic, intimate, and heartbreaking, Dirt is a juicy read even if you don’t know your brunoise from your bavarois. Read more about Dirt here.