Heat! Meat! Sex! Death! Oysters! Best Books About Food!


I love fresh oysters!

Yes, and I love Italian food, too! Like this gorgeous bowl of Linguine with Clams – oh, and burgers, too! And meat! I love it all!

So what am I on about? How about books that explore, celebrate and ponder the role food has in our life? These three books capture oysters, italian cooking and meat, meat, meat – and not always in a good way!

It’s time for more great books all about food!

Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by
Bill Buford (Author) – Published in 2006

My good friend Leslie reminded me that I hadn’t focused on “Heat” yet, and it’s a crime because this might be one of the ALL-TIME BEST BOOKS about food – the love of it, the mystery behind it, and the Chefs who make it so – no more so than legendary Mario Batali!

Bill Buford—author of the highly acclaimed best-selling Among the Thugs—had long thought of himself as a reasonably comfortable cook when in 2002 he finally decided to answer a question that had nagged him every time he prepared a meal:

What kind of cook could he be if he worked in a professional kitchen? When the opportunity arose to train in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo, Buford grabbed it.

“Heat” is the chronicle—sharp, funny, wonderfully exuberant—of his time spent as Batali’s “slave” and of his far-flung apprenticeships with culinary masters in Italy.


Mario Batali is legendary for flying through lower Manhattan on his scooter, sporting his signature orange clogs – and Buford’s attempt to keep up with him – in every way imaginable – makes for an hilarious adventure.

In a fast-paced, candid narrative, Buford describes the frenetic experience of working in Babbo’s kitchen: the trials and errors (and more errors), humiliations and hopes, disappointments and triumphs as he worked his way up the ladder from slave to cook. He talks about his relationships with his kitchen colleagues and with the larger-than-life, hard-living Batali, whose story he learns as their friendship grows through (and sometimes despite) kitchen encounters and after-work all-nighters.

Among my favorite anecdotes: the night that Batali and his business partner Joe Bastianich had a business dinner in Italy – just the two of them – that lasted six hours, and they consumed 12 bottles of wine between them!

Or how about this anecdote from the book: one morning Mario woke up after an all-night party binge – in soaking wet swim trunks. The trunks weren’t his, and he was in a house that didn’t have a pool!

Bill Buford captures these stories with an affection that is unmistakable, and also captures the world of working in a high end restaurant – and don’t miss the part that highlights the Author’s attempt to butcher an entire pig by himself – in his apartment!

Linguine with Clams from Babbo, via Bill Buford

olive oil
small pinch chopped garlic
small pinch red chili flakes
medium pinch finely chopped onion
medium pinch pancetta
“slap of butter” (a couple tablespoons)
“splash of white wine” (1/4, perhaps)
4 ounces pasta
1 big handfuls clams (cockles, the little ones, are preferred)

From Heat:

…begin by roasting small pinches of garlic and chili flakes and medium pinches of onion and pancetta in a hot pan with olive oil. Hot oil accelerates the cooking process, and the moment everything gets soft you pour it away (holding back the contents with your tongs) and add a slap of butter and a splash of white wine, which stops the cooking. This is stage one.

In Stage two, you drop the pasta in boiling water and take your messy buttery pan and fill it with a big handful of clams and put it on the highest possible flame. The objective is to cook them fast–they’ll start opening after three or four minutes, when you give the pan a swirl, mixing the shellfish juice with the buttery porky white wine emulsion. At six minutes and thirty seconds, use your tongs to pull your noodles out and drop them into your pan–all that starchy pasta water slopping in with them is still a good thing; give the pan another swirl; flip it; swirl it again to ensure the pasta is covered by the sauce. If it looks dry, add another splash of pasta water; if too wet, pour some out. You let the whole thing cook away for another half minute, swirling, swirling, until the sauce streaks across the bottom of the pan, splash with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley…

There is so much more to love about this book – if you haven’t read it, do so right now…we’ll wait!

Casa-Mono restaurant

And you can read my review of Chef Batali’s Casa Mono restaurant HERE:


Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover’s World Tour by Robb Walsh – Published in 2009

When award-winning Texas food writer Robb Walsh discovers that the local Galveston Bay oysters are being passed off as Blue Points and Chincoteagues in other parts of the country, he decides to look into the matter.

Thus begins a five-year journey into the culture of one of the world’s oldest delicacies. Walsh’s through-the-looking-glass adventure takes him from oyster reefs to oyster bars and from corporate boardrooms to hotel bedrooms in a quest for the truth about the world’s most profitable aphrodisiac.

On the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Gulf coasts of the U.S., as well as the Canadian Maritimes, Ireland, England, and France, the author ingests thousands of oysters—raw, roasted, barbecued, and baked—all for the sake of making a fair comparison. He also considers the merits of a wide variety of accompanying libations, including tart white wines in Paris, Guinness in Galway, martinis in London, microbrews in the Pacific Northwest, and tequila in Texas.

“Sex, Death and Oysters” is a record of a gastronomic adventure with illustrations and recipes—a fascinating collection of the most exciting, instructive, poignant, and just plain weird experiences on a trip into the world of the most beloved and feared of all seafoods.

Amazon Best of the Month, January 2009: Once called “the Indiana Jones of food writers,” Texan Robb Walsh has developed a cult of devoted readers who have ridden shotgun with him on his obsessive culinary adventures–from the quest for the perfect cup of coffee, to barbecue battles, to Dr. Pepper bootleggers.

Who better then to take a five-year quest in search of the perfect oyster, “the world’s most profitable aphrodisiac,” than the James Beard Award-winning author, who hangs his hat as the restaurant critic for The Houston Press and has written several books, including Are You Really Going to Eat That? and The Tex-Mex Cookbook. Sex, Death, and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover’s World Tour chronicles a global culinary road trip that takes Walsh from his local Galveston Bay to the coasts of North America, and off to Ireland, England, and France.

Fact-filled and laced throughout with his wry humor, Walsh recounts the hundreds of oysters shucked and prepared in myriad ways, and offers a fascinating history that goes beyond the expected, revealing coastal rivalries, recipes, shucking tips, and what to drink with your oyster.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser -Published in 2002

Here is what Amazon has to say about this brilliant investigative book: Fast food has hastened the malling of our landscape, widened the chasm between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and propelled American cultural imperialism abroad. That’s a lengthy list of charges, but here Eric Schlosser makes them stick with an artful mix of first-rate reportage, wry wit, and careful reasoning.

Schlosser’s myth-shattering survey stretches from California’s subdivisions where the business was born to the industrial corridor along the New Jersey Turnpike where many fast food’s flavors are concocted. Along the way, he unearths a trove of fascinating, unsettling truths — from the unholy alliance between fast food and Hollywood to the seismic changes the industry has wrought in food production, popular culture, and even real estate.

He also uncovers the fast food chains’ disturbing efforts to reel in the youngest, most susceptible consumers even while they hone their institutionalized exploitation of teenagers and minorities.

On any given day, one out of four Americans opts for a quick and cheap meal at a fast-food restaurant, without giving either its speed or its thriftiness a second thought. Fast food is so ubiquitous that it now seems as American, and harmless, as apple pie. But the industry’s drive for consolidation, homogenization, and speed has radically transformed America’s diet, landscape, economy, and workforce, often in insidiously destructive ways.

Eric Schlosser, an award-winning journalist, opens his ambitious and ultimately devastating exposé with an introduction to the iconoclasts and high school dropouts, such as Harlan Sanders and the McDonald brothers, who first applied the principles of a factory assembly line to a commercial kitchen. Quickly, however, he moves behind the counter with the overworked and underpaid teenage workers, onto the factory farms where the potatoes and beef are grown, and into the slaughterhouses run by giant meatpacking corporations.

Schlosser wants you to know why those French fries taste so good (with a visit to the world’s largest flavor company) and “what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns.” Eater beware: forget your concerns about cholesterol, there is–literally–feces in your meat.

Schlosser’s investigation reaches its frightening peak in the meatpacking plants as he reveals the almost complete lack of federal oversight of a seemingly lawless industry. His searing portrayal of the industry is disturbingly similar to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, written in 1906: nightmare working conditions, union busting, and unsanitary practices that introduce E. coli and other pathogens into restaurants, public schools, and homes.

Almost as disturbing is his description of how the industry “both feeds and feeds off the young,” insinuating itself into all aspects of children’s lives, even the pages of their school books, while leaving them prone to obesity and disease. Fortunately, Schlosser offers some eminently practical remedies. “Eating in the United States should no longer be a form of high-risk behavior,” he writes.

A film was made by Richard Linklater in 2006 – it wasn’t entirely successful, but it made a strong attempt to dramatize the most important aspects of the book, and it’s a movie worth watching.

A thought-provoking and disturbing book – check all of these out now!

Categories: Awards, Books / Media, cookbooks, documentary films, Food, Food Review, Hamburgers, London, Movies, New York, Obscure Movies, Politics, Recipes, Restaurants, Talent/Celebrities, Technology, Travel, Travel Memoir, TV Show, Uncategorized

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1 reply

  1. Agree 100% Hood Canal in September! Sue and I spent a great few days at Frenchman’s Cove Thursday late afternoon to Sunday mnoring. (she had to get me to SeaTac as I had to be in Fresno this mnoring for a 9 am meeting) The Labor Day crowds were gone and we hiked, boated, grilled and chilled. We also picked apples in the orchard and huckleberries in the woods. Sue made an apple-huckleberry crisp that was heaven with vanilla ice cream! There were lots of fish jumping and there were new migratory ducks in the cove that we did not see on Labor Day weekend. The tide was mostly up all day and there were a lot less lights at night across on your side. We got up Friday and Saturday night about 2 in the mnoring and stargazed. Pretty much a perfect long September weekend. BTW, my brother in law in Portland brought up his boat Labor Day weekend. Much more cruising range than our little rowboat with its 5 horse outboard. He and I went all the way down to your oyster farm Saturday mnoring. It sure gets shallow down your way! We saw all the containers in the water that must hold the oysters . We could look back north and see Teiku Point and Hood Point, but Frenchman’s Cove is not visable from your place.Only thing bad about September is that summer crab season is over. We had a good crab feed Labor Day Sunday. Hopefully it will open up in the winter.Best regards;Bruce in Seattle

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